One of the most important crops in my summer garden is eggplant, but I must admit, I’ve had some serious failures in the past… as we all do as gardeners…
but hey, that’s how we learn.
I live in the northern rivers region of NSW, a high rainfall area with heavy soils. The rain in summer is often torrential, which can spell disaster for eggplant bushes. They’re very prone to root rot, and simply fall over in monsoonal conditions if the drainage is not good. So this year, I have tried to elevate the rootball as high as I can.
To start with, I created individual planting mounds for each plant, and on top of that, I placed 250mm plastic pots with the bases cut out, filled them with compost-enriched soil and planted my seedlings into that. So far so good… but one of the other benefits is that the pots make watering and fertilising the bushes far more efficient because it directs the moisture and nutrients straight to the roots, with very little soil runoff… so the bushes are looking strong and healthy and loaded with fruit.
Another major issue I’ve had in the past is leaf-eating lady beetles. Now these aren’t the warm and fuzzy creatures that do good in the garden… eating aphids and such… they’re another type. These deceiving little creatures devour the leaves, leaving the plants with no means to photosynthesize, so they are denied the energy they need to flourish. Look out for them; they’re the common orange ladybeetles with black spots. And it’s not only the adults… their babies are just as hungry. The ‘pupa’ as they’re called look nothing like the adults. These are small yellow furry things. The only good thing about them is that they squash easily between the thumb and forefinger… the adults do too, but they make a bit of a crunching sound, which can be unsettling if you’re doing it just before breakfast. And that’s just what I’ve been doing this summer with great diligence. Every day when I water the veggie patch, I get in and check the plants thoroughly removing every mother and child I see. Sounds nasty, but if you let them take over, they will and your plants will suffer.
One other thing I’ve been watching out for is fungal disease. Whenever a leaf looks pale and spotty, off it comes… into a plastic bag and into the rubbish… never in the compost. That alone seems to slow down the spread of leaf diseases, which can be devastatingly cruel in our humid subtropical climate.
So there you go, sometimes in gardening, you’ve got to experience the pain before the gain, but that just makes the harvest even sweeter… and this year, we’re enjoying an absolute bounty of eggplant.
I prefer to grow the long black finger-like fruit – they’re so productive, and just so easy to prepare when cooking. I don’t let them stay on the bush too long – as soon as they look the size, off they come with a sharp pair of secateurs. They’re less bitter when young, and don’t need to be salted like older fruit. If you’re not ready to eat them, just put them in the fridge where they’ll stay fresh for a week or more.
So what do I do when I’ve got too many eggplant… well, they turn up in everything…, pasta sauces, lasagna, moussaka, ratatouille, spicy pickles, baba ghanoush, chargrilled and tossed into salads … you name it. Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly generous… I’ll give them away… but don’t hold your breath.