Monday, March 21, 2011

Eggplants in Ottawa: On your mark...

Long, asian type eggplant on highly productive plant.

The first year I tried to grow eggplants, they were pathetic. I mean ragged eared, mangy, whining puppy pathetic. I got one fruit out of it but it was whizened, overripe, small and probably bitter though I didn't taste it. What I had done wrong was assume that it would grow with the usual level of neglect I dole upon my plants.

Eggplants in the north are prima donnas.

They need heat! They need sun! They need water! They need nutrients! Provided you choose a short season variety (80 days or under is probably best), start early like tomatoes, and give them what they want, you can get an excellent crop in Ottawa.

This year, I'm growing Applegreen, Slim Jim, something unlabelled which I'm going to name 'Surprise,' and Rima F3 seed produced by in the Toad's Garden blogger in Denmark.

Sun & Heat: If you don't have an area with near full sun then they will struggle but I'm all for experimenting. More sun of course means more heat.

Here is an eggplant seedling that produced beautifully planted in the ground with plastic mulch.

To warm the soil, think raised beds and sandier soil. You can also warm it up by incoporating partially finished compost or by using plastic mulch. Some people grow in pots which is good but make sure you choose a small variety, and use a water rententive 'soil' so they don't dry out easily. Another option, one commonly employed in cool, cloudy, often coastal climes is to grow things like eggplants and melons under glass or in a polytunnel. This will cut down on the amount of solar input but has the added benefit of warming up the air and cutting back on rain splashing foliar diseases. Ottawa normally gets a decent summer so they do well (for me at least) with their heads uncovered as long as the soil is warm. Other ways of increasing heat include planting against a south facing barrier like a wall and slanting the planting beds to the south.

Flowers on a the variety Little Fingers if memory serves

Water & Nutrients: Incorporating some unfinished compost near the planting bed can provide extra water and nutrients. You could bury a plastic jug* with a pinprick hole or use ollas (terra cotta pots)* next to the planting soil to provide a slow but steady supply of water. Every once in a while give them some compost tea instead. I can see this type of watering being of most benefit if you are planting in pots or in very dry conditions.

Okay, so I'll wait while you start your eggplants and we'll do part two in May.

* Pop bottle drip watering in a pot from The Fifth Street Palace Blog
** Ollas - unglazed ceramic pots for watering. The ones traditionally used are shaped like jugs but I've seen people glue two pots together, sealing the bottom drainage hole and using the top (upside down pot) to add water. These are especially useful for drought prone areas. A serious link here from someone whose done their experimentation about DIY ceramic pot watering system. Just one pot method.

Using terra cota pots in a self watering system for starts: seedlings, cuttings.

Other uses for milk jugs



Seed Offers

Need some eggplant seed? If you promise to tell me how they do, I have some more Rima F3 seeds produced by a European amateur plant breeder. I'll happily send some along with a few Applegreen while supplies last. Let me know how they do.

I also have some cabbage seed from a cross between San Michele (blush savoy) and Red Rock Mammoth. Both are long season and these are seeds from the Red Rock Mammoth pod parent. It was an uncontrolled breeding meaning that I didn't chaperone them so I don't know if you'll get a plant that is crossed or is just Red Rock Mammoth. Actually 'just' is unfair because, in my garden, it was disease and pest resistent, stored well, tasted great and shrugged off the cold.

For those of you waiting for my excess seeds, I'm nearly finished sorting these out so I"ll drop them off this week sometime. If you want me to add either of the above, let me know.


Last Snow Day?

I was starting to think that the two people who bravely guessed late March might be right but now I'm leaning toward early April. At least, I hope it's early April!


meemsnyc said...

I only had one pathetic eggplant last year. Because the squirrels ate all of mine.

Daphne said...

I've found the variety is very important with eggplants. Two years ago I didn't use plastic. It was one of the coldest Junes on record but I still got eggplant. Which is amazing in our area (which is a maritime climate and has cool summers usually). The Asian ones do much better than the Italian type most of the time.

Ottawa Gardener said...

I agree Daphne. The asian ones generally easier for me too. For the me, the one that has produced without coddling is Applegreen though I've heard mixed things about Rosa Bianca. I'm always amazed when I search local seed companies that not more long asian types are for sale. It might be because of demand, don't know, but like you, I find the Italian ones aren't as well adapted to shorter/cooler growing regimes. I love to be proved wrong of course.

Squirrels! I was volunteering for Canadian Organic Growers at the Green Expo in Ottawa and the most common complaint I had was about squirrels! This was interesting because in my first gardening years I used to have an issue with the plague of tree rats but then somehow we came to a truce. Now I'm in the country and there are equally large numbers (if not more) squirrels AND chimpmunks AND other rodents. We'll see.

CallieK said...

I don't do well with eggplants either- last year I got one lone white eggplant that didn't get eaten by the local possum. It did however have a few nibbles in in form something.

I would love to try some of the variations you have to see if they tolerate my somewhat shady garden. If you are willing to mail them to Toronto- I can send you something else in exchange- tomatoes? Hot peppers? Anything on your wish list?

Ottawa Gardener said...

I'd be happy to send you some seeds if you send me your observations. No need to trade as I have too many seeds to begin with. Please email your address to the sidebar and I'll try to get those off as soon as possible!

amy said...

I been looking for some local advice on growing eggplants for some time now. Your post comes at the perfect time!
Any chance that I might be able to try out some of your extra seeds? I would be more than happy to report on how they do in my small, but loved container gardens.
Also good to know that I'm not the only one who has had a lot of problems with squirrels. They even look to eating my cacti last year! Any advice on how I might coax them into a truce? The only temporary fix that I found last year was cayenne pepper.