Add exotic eggplant to your garden and greenhouse

These aubergine beauties are ?delightful to grow and ?delectable on the table.

The exotic aubergine – lovely to look at, 
delightful to grow and 
delectable on the table!

Four hundred-odd years ago, Linnaeus, the father of botanical Latin, dubbed this member of the nightshade family Solanum insanum. Hence eggplant was considered poisonous by scholars and horticulturists for centuries. Nevertheless, people throughout the hotter parts of our planet consumed them routinely, keeping their sanity intact. At some point, the innocent eggplant was reconsidered and re-named Solanum melongena, meaning “soothing, mad fruit.” It often goes by the French appellation aubergine.

Eggplant varieties range from glowing, glossy shades of black-
purple to mauve, rose, white, green and stripy. They’ve been bred in many forms – Rubenesque-shaped, tiny orbed, or as dozens of skinny variations popular in Japan, China, India, Thailand and the Philippines. 

All eggplant bears varying shades of lavender/purple flowers, attractive to humans and beneficial insects. Diminutives like ‘Bambino’ and ‘Little Prince’ (both dark purple/black) or ‘Millionaire Hybrid’ (white blushed with lavender) look beautiful and grow well in large-ish containers placed on a hot patio – they can take the heat! 

Healthy eggplant recipes

Eggplant Pizza

Baba Ghanoush

Eggplants are heavy feeders – young seedlings should be fed half-strength liquid organic fertilizer every two weeks, and adult plants appreciate a rich growing medium amended with compost and/or manure. They’d love a sprinkling of alfalfa meal, rock phosphate, kelp and worm castings.

Sow by early March in a greenhouse or indoors with excellent light and bottom heat, ½ cm or ¼ in. deep and 2.5 cm (1 in.) apart, in sterilized seed starter. At 5 cm (2 in.) tall, transplant out one seedling per 10-cm. (4-in.) pot. Provide heat, bright light, and ventilation. Harden off in early June, transplanting outdoors when evenings are reliably a minimum of 13°C (55°F). Harvest on the small side, while they are still perfectly shiny. Don’t allow the fruit to get large and form seeds inside – the taste then becomes bitter and unpleasant. 

If it’s too late to grow eggplant from seed, purchase seedlings from a garden centre. As well, late summer into fall, farmers’ markets sell lots of locally grown eggplants, so plan to enjoy them in rich, creamy Thai curries and as baba ghanoush or grilled to a turn on the barbecue.