Sunday, August 3, 2008

Eggplants, eggplants, the viable fruit?

Eggplants are a funny thing. The agricultural branch of the Ohio State University considers them "...of limited importance." We use eggplants in our household somewhat infrequently, but when we do use them, they are given a certain reverence. They're a bizarre, mealy, almost bready fruit, related to the tomato and potato, but from their loins is borne the heavenly baba ghanouj.

Two years ago, I decided to try my hand at growing eggplants from seed, when I saw an ad in Seed Savers for a lavender and white Italian eggplant by the name of Rosa Bianca. At the time, I was living in a duplex, and had a long, 18 inch by 20 foot flower garden I was allowed to use, but was not allowed to remove the heavy clay in that bed due to the landlord using the clay as a failsafe against basement flooding. It was facing the south with good sun, however, and I fertilized it, so I was hoping I could still pull it off. How wrong I was.

By the time of the first frosts, despite all the pampering I could do outside of removing clay, the plant only had two eggplants on it, one the size of a cherry tomato, the other the size of a nectarine. I was frustrated and disappointed, and decided that eggplants simply needed a longer season than I was able to provide them, and thus, didn't try to grow them last season.

This season, however, I'm in a house, and built a few raised beds filled with a decent balance of aged horse manure, hay, topsoil, a little clay, sand, and peat. As such, I decided to try my hand at eggplants again. While the ones I grew from seed (Purple Haze) died in the basement (I really misjudged the climate down there, I guess), I picked up three plants from the nursery (two standard Black Beauties and a Fairy Tale), and put them in next to my peppers. Now they're going gangbusters. The Fairy Tale plant (shown at top) has at least eight eggplants on it, and they're growing rapidly. The Black Beauties (on bottom) are being a bit more conservative, with one that has an avocado-sized eggplant, and the other that has a grape-sized one. Hopefully they'll pick up with the heat of summer.

I've found that interplanting chamomile with my peppers and eggplants is really working out; I think I'll do that again next year. The chamomile has invited hundreds of those little hover wasps (Tachon...something?) to my garden, which have really kept down the insectoid pest population. Now, if they'd just swarm together into an invertebrate Voltron and fend off the rabbits, I'd plant chamomile everywhere. In addition to the hover wasps, the chamomile is shading the fruit of the peppers and and eggplants, making the peppers feel like they're packed together (which they seem to like for some reason), and making a nice apply smell when I brush past. I really ought to go out there and dry some, but I'm just afraid of taking the flowers away from those nice wasps.

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