Nestled between the Taconic Hills and the Berkshires, with our rocky soil, abundant wildlife and short growing season, many crops present challenges. Two crops which are especially challenging are sweet corn and eggplants. Here are some of our best tips for growing these challenging but delectable crops.
We begin our eggplants fairly early in our heated greenhouse, as early as the end of February or the beginning of March, a full 8 weeks before we intend to set them outside. Eggplants like plenty of warmth to begin with so if you can spring for a plant heating pad, it will help initial germination. Be cautious of putting your seedling tray on a heater, as they can overheat or dry out and die. Also, if you are able to use a grow light do so, since windowsill light at that time of the year will not be strong enough to make your plants strong, and will tend to make them stretched and spindly. Every day that is over 70, put the seedlings outside during the warmest hours of the day to get the best sunlight. If possible cover the seedling trays with a clear plastic or glass domed lid to protect them from drafts and keep moisture in, but be careful to check seedlings with lids on during very sunny days so that the plants don’t overheat. (Even early spring sunlight is many times brighter than grow lights, which are many times brighter than windowsills.)
Prepare the Garden
When all danger of frost has past, (for us it’s at the end of May), prepare your garden bed for your eggplants. Don’t put too much compost on the bed, just a little bit. Eggplants, like peppers, which have too much compost will produce lovely leaves, but not many flowers and fruits. When you want to plant out your eggplants, get ready with hoops and rowcover, so that you can cover them the very moment you plant them. This will do two things: make sure they are warm in case of cool nights, and most importantly it will help hide them from the fleabeetles! We recommend leaving the rowcover on until the plants begin to be too tall to fit underneath, or are at least 15-18 inches tall. At this point, the plants should be strong enough that a little fleabeetle damage shouldn’t trouble them. Mulching around the base of your eggplants can also help to dissuade the fleabeetles. Colorado potato beetles, the other scourge of eggplants, need to be picked off by hand here—we have some, but they are not our primary pest.
Eggplants need a long time to get going. Be patient with them! We often only start harvesting the first fruits in the end of July, but will often still be harvesting in October, until frost ends the season.