If you decide to raise the seedlings yourself, start them eight weeks before the last expected frost. Plant in pots in which you have placed a layer of vermiculite or sphagnum moss over the potting soil. Sow three seeds in each pot, 1⁄4 inch deep, and water thoroughly. Keep the pots in a warm place: a temperature of 24°C is needed for germination, which may take three weeks.
When the seedlings reach 11⁄2- 2 inches, clip off the two weakest ones, leaving the best plant in each pot. Reduce the temperature as the seedlings grow, but be especially careful when you harden off the plants-that is, when you expose them to outdoor conditions to prepare them for transplanting into the garden. Temperatures below 10°C will set back eggplant.
When you choose a spot for eggplant, try to avoid the vicinity of tomatoes or peppers, and, if possible, do not plant in soil where eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes previously grew. Because these plants are related, they are all susceptible to the same soil-borne diseases.
To prepare the soil, dig in about 1 bushel of humus, plus 1⁄2-1 pound of 5-10-5 fertilizer for every 10 feet of row. Set out the eggplants on an overcast day or in the evening so that the sun will not wilt the tender seedlings. Dig shallow holes about 2 feet apart, in rows 3 feet apart, and fill these 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.
To protect eggplants from cut-worms, make a collar of stiff paper (or use a paper cup with its bottom removed) and set this around the stem and into the ground an inch or more deep. If the leaves droop or seem wilted, cover the plants for a few days with newspaper tents.
To help your eggplants flourish, keep the ground well watered and weed free. Mulch around the plants to conserve soil moisture and prevent weed growth. Black plastic mulch is preferable because it also warms the soil, but you can use any available mulching material.
If weeding becomes necessary, do it by hand.
When the blossoms set and the fruits begin to form, count the number of fruits on each plant. For a healthy crop, each plant should bear no more than six fruits, so pinch off any extra blossoms.
Between 55 and 80 days from the day you planted the eggplant seedlings in the garden, the fruits will be 5-6 inches long and 4-5 inches in diameter, and will have glossy, dark purple, pink, or white skins. At this point they are ready to pick. Once the sheen on the skin fades, the fruit is past its prime. Never try to pull the fruit off the plant-you may take some of the stalk with it. Instead, use a sharp knife to sever the stem about an inch below the fruit.
Place the harvested eggplants in a cool place and use them as soon as possible. Eggplants do not store well.