Growing Eggplant in The Northern Territory
Eggplants are known by many names and various varieties have been cultivated in vast regions of the globe. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are attractive bushes which make a stunning addition to any vegetable garden. They love the heat, so they thrive in the Top End and can be planted all year round. If you’re growing them through the wet season, remember to make sure they have good drainage. The usually have better yields in the dry season, but can still be successfully grown through the wet season.
Eggplants need their space. If you follow square foot gardening, or companion planting methods, be sure to give them enough space to grow. They don’t like to be shaded, or to compete for nutrients.
Eggplants are heavy feeders. Be sure to work some compost and well-rotted manure into your soil before planting. Eggplants are best planted on ridges or mounds raised to 30cm-50cm. The mounds improve drainage and prevent water-logging during the wet season.
Soak seeds in water overnight.
Eggplants need really warm soil to germinate. You can start them in the garden while the soil is warm, but its easiest to start them indoors, preferably on a heat mat. Simply cover the seeds with soil and keep them warm and moist. If you want to get a head start on the growing season, then its quicker and easier to plant seedlings.
Plant seedlings at least 50cm apart and stake for support. The bushes can grow quite large and they need a bit of extra support to protect them in windy weather. Stakes or cages are both good options for support. It’s also a good idea to add some bonemeal to your planting holes. They like the extra calcium in the bonemeal and it helps them to produce a strong root system.
If you’re growing them through the wet season, plant them on mounds or in containers or raised beds or improve the drainage.
Pinch out the growing tips for a bushier plant and limit fruits to 5 or 6 per plant for better a size and quality of fruit. In the warm Top End climate, eggplants can be over-wintered. Simply prune them back and keep them protected during any particularly cold spells.
Make sure your eggplants get watered regularly, but don’t let the soil get soggy or water logged. They can handle the soil drying out, but will really struggle in waterlogged soil. They can be grown in containers and moved under-cover during heavy rains.
If your soil was well prepared, then your eggplants shouldn’t need feeding again until the flowers appear. As soon as they start to flower, give them a low-nitrogen feed to encourage flowers and fruit. Compost tea, a balanced organic fertilizer or a tomato fertilizer are all good options. Feed every 3 or 4 weeks through the fruiting season.
A thick layer of organic mulch helps to stop water from evaporating during dry weather. Lucerne, pea straw or sugarcane are all great, organic options. The mulch will break down and add organic matter to your soil over time, so keep topping it up throughout the growing the season.
You can pick the fruit at any stage, depending on your requirements. As soon as the fruits reach the size you would like, use a sharp knife or secateurs to cut the fruit from the plant. The fruits should be firm and glossy. If they start looking dull, they’re past their best. They can still be eaten, but will be slightly more bitter and spongy.