Eggplant thrives best in warm, sandy soils

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Eggplant can be grown successfully in any good garden soil. The only major setback for it is the weather. As a member of the same family as the potato, pepper, and tomato, the culture is quite similar. The eggplant is hardy; however, the plants should not be set out until all danger of frost is past.

Eggplant will produce best in sunny weather. It was cultivated for many centuries in the southern Asian countries, but was not known in Europe and Asia Minor as food. It requires a relatively long, hot growing season for good production. In the North the plants may be started in a greenhouse or in the house and moved to the garden after the soil is thoroughly warm.

The plant is a heavy feeder and requires a deep rich, porous oil that is reasonably moist and well-drained. Sandy loam is better than clay.

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If you decide to raise the seedlings yourself instead of buying the plants, start them about eight weeks before the last expected frost. Eggplant requires 100 to 120 days to mature from seeds.

Plant the seeds in pots in which you have placed a layer of vermiculite of sphagnum moss over the potting soil. Sow three seeds in each pot one-quarter inch deep and water thoroughly. Keep the pots in a wam place.

When the seedlings have reached 1 1/4 to 2 inches, clip off the two weakest ones, leaving the best plants in each pot. Reduce the temperature as the seedlings grow. This will harden them off and prepare them for transplanting in the garden.

When you choose a spot in the garden for your eggplants, avoid the vicinity of tomatoes or peppers and, if possible, do not plant them where eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes were previously grown. Set the plants out on an overcast day or evening so that the sun will not wilt the tender shoots.

Dig shallow holes about two feet apart in rows three feet apart and fill with water.

When the water has drained out, plant the seedlings, leaving a slight depression around each plant to hold water.

Water again as soon as you have planted the seedlings. About 80 days from the time you plant the seedlings in the garden, the fruits should be 5 to 6 inches long land have a glossy dark-purple skin.

If you decide to buy plants, they will flourish in almost any type of soil, provided it has been well fed. The eggplant requires moisture equal to about one inch of rain a week and good drainage is essential.

Eggplant does not like weeds, so weed around them carefully.

It is generally conceded that warm, sandy soils are best adapted for eggplant. They do not like hard, dry clay, but generally moist loose soil. For the best yield a liberal amount of compost is necessary. Remember that drought will delay growth and therefore maturity.

The damage that can hurt eggplant is wilt. This is a soil-borne disease that also affects tomtatoes and potatoes. The best prevention is crop rotation.

As for varieties, Black Beauty is the most generally known. It is sturdy and produces large fruits. For short growing seasons, Early Beauty Hybird and Black Magic are recommended. Early Long Purple is more of a dwarf, earlier maturing, and therefore may prove better for cool sections of the country.

Eggplant is easy to cook and does not require salting. Simply peel and cut into slices about one-quarter inch thick. Either dip in an egg batter or cove r with flour and saute in olive oil.

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