by P.H. Rolfs from L.H. Bailey’s Cyclopedia of American Horticulture, 1903
This plant is a native of the tropics, probably from the East Indies, but its native land is not known. It is cultivated to a greater or less extent throughout the entire tropical regions. The first reports of its use as a vegetable come from India. In the United States it is cultivated as a vegetable as far north as New York, but it usually grows to greater perfection in the southern states. The demands for it during the early months of the year have not been fully supplied. Its cultivation demands as much a specialist as either celery or tobacco, while the specialization must be in a different direction from that of either one of these. Nearly all of the fruit that grows to proper size is edible, and there is no special demand for particular flavors. Eggplants are forced under glass to a limited extent for home use. They require the temperature of a tomato house, and great care must be taken to keep off red spider and mites. In order to insure large fruits, practice artificial pollination. Non-pollinated fruits will grow for a time, but always remain small. Fig. 750.
Soil. Eggplant will grow on almost any soil in the South, but it develops to greater perfection on a rich, deep, loamy soil free from debris. In the clay districts this is not easily obtained, but there are often small fields that are sufficiently dry and yet contain enough sand to make Eggplant growing profitable. No matter whether clay land, loam or sandy land be employed for raising this crop, it will be necessary to plow deeply and thoroughly. The land should be drier than that required by cabbage or beets. In fact, it will stand a greater drought than the ordinary vegetables. On the other hand, we should not attempt to grow a crop on land that is composed of large particles, such lands as are ordinarily called thirsty in the vegetable-growing sections of Florida.
Fertilizer. There is considerable difference in various sections of the country as to whether manure may be applied or not. In the south Atlantic and Gulf states it is not advisable to use stable manure. If this form of fertilizer is at hand, the gardener should make it up in the form of compost, when it will be found to be a very useful material. There have been no experiments performed to indicate which forms of chemical fertilizers are the best. In the absence of such work, we can only give general directions in regard to what may be used. The following formula will be found fairly well balanced for Eggplant in the South. If the soil contains a great deal of humus, less nitrogen may be used. If the soil is poor in this element, nitrogen, a greater amount of nitrogen may be used. On moderately fertile land 500 to 1,000 pounds will be sufficient, while on poor lands as much as 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per acre may be employed.
- Nitrogen – 4%
- Potash – 9%
- Available phosphoric acid – 5%
The following table of fertilizers will suggest useful amounts of the different elements when we wish to employ 500 pounds of the above formula to the acre (particularly for the South):
- 350 lbs. cotton seed meal; or,
- 200 lbs. dried blood; or,
- 150 lbs. nitrate of soda; or,
- 100 lbs. sulphate of ammonia.
- 500 lbs. kainit; or,
- 90 lbs. muriate of potash; or,
- 200 lbs. sulphate of potash + sulphate of magnesia.
- 250 lbs. acid phosphate; or,
- 200 lbs. dissolved bone.
Propagating the Seedlings. The time required to bring plants into bearing from seeds varies with the conditions of the soil and temperature. During cool weather the plants grow very slowly, but during hot weather they grow rapidly and mature fruit in much less time. Those who wish to have early fruit and are able to use hotbeds or propagating houses should sow the seed 120 to 150 days before the fruit is wanted. Prepare the hotbeds as for other seedlings, and sow in rows a few inches apart. When these are beginning to look spindly, they should be pricked out and transferred to another bed. In this each plant should be given about a 2-inch square; then they may be forced until the plants crowd one another in the bed, when they should be transferred again. When the plants have attained the size of 6 inches, and the atmosphere will permit, they may be set out in the field.
A somewhat more laborious, but at the same time more successful plan, is to plant the seedlings in 2-inch flower pots, and then shift to larger ones as often as the plants become pot-bound or crowd one another in the bed. Fig. 751 represents a plant, three-tenths natural size, just taken from a flower pot and ready to be shifted to a large one. By shifting until 6-inch pots are reached, the Eggplant may be forced along without injury to blooming size or even to a size when fruit is beginning to set, and then set out in the field without injury to the plants or crop.
Eggplant growers should bear in mind constantly that from the time of sprouting the seeds to the harvesting of the crop, the plants cannot stand a severe shock in their growth without detriment to the crop. When the plant is once started it should then be forced right along, and never allowed to become stunted during its growth. The amount of damage done by neglecting plants before they are set to the field varies with the severity of the shock and the length of time during which the plant undergoes the disadvantageous conditions. If it becomes necessary to harden the plants off before setting them to the field, this should be done gradually.
Culture in the Field. After the field has been thoroughly prepared in the way of plowing and fertilizing, which should have been done at least two weeks before the plants were set out, the rows should be laid off from 3 to 4 feet apart. The plants may be set from 2 to 4 feet apart in the row, varying with the varieties to be used and the soil. Tillage should be continued, and varied according to the conditions of the weather. During a wet season it is well to cultivate the land as deeply as possible, while during dry weather cultivation should be shallow, simply sufficient to keep the weeds from growing, to keep the soil well aired, and to keep a mulching of dry soil on the land. Under ordinary circumstances it does not pay to prune or pinch out the buds, but where the season is short this may be resorted to with some advantage. If it is desirable to have the fruit attain a certain size before frost, one may begin to pinch out the blossoms and new growth about three weeks before its usual occurrence. This same process will be of advantage where the fruit is to be brought into market at a certain time.
Marketing. As a rule, it is better to cut the fruit from the plant than to break it, especially if the work is done by careless laborers. After cutting, it may be placed in large market baskets and hauled to the packing house. For distant market, the fruits should be wrapped separately in heavy brown paper. The proper crate for this vegetable is the barrel crate. As this is considered one of the staple vegetables, we do not gain much by using fancy wrappers or packing it in fine crates, hence we may use such material as may be left over from shipping fancy vegetables. It also stands shipment to distant markets, so that, if there is no danger of reduction in price, it is quite as well to ship by freight as by express.
Varieties. There are only a few varieties offered in the market. The New York Improved Spineless matures a little earlier than the Black Pekin. The New York Purple (Fig. 752), Black Pekin, and the New York Spineless are excellent for shipping purposes. The above varieties are the black-fruited, and the most popular in the United States, while the white-fruited sorts are said to be the most popular in Europe. For home use, the white-fruited varieties are preferable, but as these make poor sellers in the United States, we must raise the purple sorts for market. For home gardens, the early and small Early Dwarf Purple (Fig. 754), is useful. It is particularly recommended for northern climates. There are three main types of Eggplants, as follows: The commoner garden varieties, Solanum Melongena, var. esculentum, (Figs. 752, 753); the long-fruited or “serpent” varieties, S. Melongena, var. serpentinum; the Early Dwarf Purple type, var. depressum (Fig. 754). The so-called Chinese Eggplant is a different species.
Seed-growing. This is by no means a difficult operation, and may be done profitably in certain sections of the South. For this purpose all defective or dwarfed plants in the field should be cut out. By a little attention one will be able to know when the seeds have matured sufficiently for gathering. At this time the eggs usually turn a lighter color or even somewhat yellow. The fruit should be gathered and carried to the packing house, where it may be left in a pile for 2 or 3 days, as there is very little danger from rotting. When a sufficient number have been collected the laborers may be set to paring off the extra amount of meat on the outside of the seed. The remaining core may then be cut longitudinally into quarters or eighths, using a dull knife to avoid cutting the seed. After a quantity of these have been pared, they may be placed in a barrel and covered with water. The barrel should not be made more than two-thirds full. In a day or two fermentation will set in and the meaty portion will macerate from the seed. The seed may then be separated from the meat by means of sieves, using first wide-meshed ones to remove the meat and then finer-meshed ones to screen out the seed from the finer pulp. The seed should not be allowed to stand more than 2 or 3 days in the macerating barrel, as the heat evolved by fermentation and the heat of the summer is liable to cause them to germinate. After separating the seed from the pulp, it should be dried in the shade and wrapped in secure packages. By covering with tin foil or oil paper, the atmospheric moisture will be kept out and molding prevented.
Diseases. The most destructive of diseases in the lower South is a blight fungus which attacks the plant just beneath the surface of the ground, causing the softer tissues at this point to rot off and the plant to die. The fungus is not able to penetrate the harder portion of the stem, consequently the plant lingers along for weeks after being attacked. A number of attempts have been made to cause this blight fungus to produce fruiting organs so that it could be classified, but up to the present this has proved futile. In such cases as this we have no remedy. After the plant is attacked, it is usually doomed. Much, however, can be done in the way of preventing the spread of this fungus. If all plants are destroyed as soon as found to be affected, the fungus cannot perfect its sclerotia, or resting state, and thus its propagating is prevented. The normal home of this fungus is in decaying vegetable matter. If, therefore, we keep our field free from this sort of material we will do much to prevent this fungus from being present. Some soluble form of fungicide, as Eau Celeste or potassium sulphide, may be sprayed about the roots of the plants to good advantage. Practice rotation of crops.
A second form of blight is caused by Bacillus solana-cearum. This disease has its origin of infection in the leaves, and is introduced by means of insects which have fed upon diseased plants and carried the infection to the well ones. The disease works rapidly down the tissues, and causes the death of the leaf and finally of the whole plant. The only remedy for this is to destroy all plants that are affected with the disease as soon as detected, and kill off all insects. When this disease is known to be present in a section, it is best to set the plants as far apart as practicable. In this way the danger of infection from insects is somewhat reduced. When the disease is known to be present in a field it should not be planted to this crop.
Insect Enemies. Among the most annoying of the insect enemies we must place the cut-worm (larvae of Noctudiae). These insects are almost omnipresent, and when nearly full grown are liable to cut off plants that are 4 or 5 inches high. It is not common for one insect to cut off more than a single plant, but in ordinarily fertile soil there are enough cut-worms present to destroy the entire field. So that, on the whole, it becomes very annoying. Where these insects are quite destructive it is possible to kill them with poisoned bran or poisoned cotton-seed meal, sweetened with syrup or sugar.
Another insect that does more or less damage is the cotton-boll worm (Heliothis armigera). This insect does its damage by boring a hole into the stems or the fruit. In the latter case it causes it to rot before it is picked, or possibly in transit. As the fruit becomes larger there is less danger of attack from this insect, so that the main trouble occurs in the earlier stages of its growth.
The Eggplant aphis (Siphonophora cucurbitae) is one of the most annoying pests to this crop. It usually makes its appearance about the time the crop is fit to ship, and appears in such numbers that the plants are ruined in the course of a week or two. The insect attacks the lower surface of the leaves, making it difficult to reach the pest with insecticides, but persistent efforts and a good tobacco decoction, applied with a fine nozzle, will give considerable relief. Anthracnose (Glaeasporium melongenae) does not cause great damage to this crop, but is one of the agents that reduce the profits. “It may be recognized by its producing decided pits in the fruit, upon which soon appear minute blotches bordered with pink.” Bordeaux mixture may be used to good advantage for preventing this disease.
Phoma Solani frequently causes damping-off in the hotbed. It often renders a whole bed worthless. Plans affected with this fungus usually fall over as if eaten off by some insect. Some plants, however, continue a miserable existence and finally die. Careful examination will reveal the point of injury, which is at the ground level. The best preventative is to use well drained beds, and then avoid excessive watering. When damping-off is detected in a seedling bed, the atmosphere and surface soil should be dried as rapidly as possible, followed by one application of fungicide.
Many Faces of Eggplant
by Glenn G. Dahlem, Ph.D. of Honolulu, HI
All American farmers know what eggplant is, most of them know just how to grow it, and lots of them do so. What many farmers may not be so sure about though, is all the different kinds of eggplant there are, and why this could be important to them. Oh yes, they know that those large purple, egg-shaped things are much in demand among upscale restaurateurs. They also know that over in Japan, this same-tasting purple delicacy exists in the shape of cucumbers, and that elongated version is starting to show up in US supermarkets. A few less farmers know that over in India, they grow eggplant too, but when those eggplants ripen, their skin is white!
Agricultural historians say the first record of eggplant farming was written in China in 544 AD. The plant was brought to Europe and the Middle East by Arab traders during Medieval times. Today, the five leading countries for eggplant production are China, India, Egypt, Turkey and Iran. The vegetable is known around the world mainly by three different names. The English-speaking countries use the term eggplant. The rest of Europe and the Middle East call it aubergine. Most of Asia favors the name brinjal. There are three other eggplant varieties besides the large purple bulbous one most common in the United States and the thinner elongated Japanese version. A somewhat in-between combination of these two shapes also often having a slight banana-like curve is one. Two others are smaller and round, reaching about softball size. While one of these is the traditional purple color, the other, lacking the color-related gene, is white. Farmers wishing to grow such lesser-known varieties might have to do a bit of research among various agricultural sources to find seeds. Eggplant requires a long growing season of about 120 days. It cannot handle even light frost and objects to extremely cold growing conditions below 55 degree nighttime temperatures. It also has problems with unusually hot conditions such as those of Southwestern American summers. Most farmers prefer to start eggplant by setting out plants, rather than directly from seed. Plants can be started in cold frames or greenhouses, or indoors in flats exposed to window sunlight. Some garden stores offer started seedlings. Set plants about 20 inches apart in rows for conventional varieties, and as close as just over a foot for the exotic round type. Many farmers prefer to stake plants. A rule of thumb is to follow the same general husbandry practices used when growing green bell peppers.
The nice thing about eggplant is almost everybody likes to eat it. Whether a farmer wants to cook it at home, or sell it to a grocer or restaurant operator, there will seldom be a problem.