It’s safe to say I am a big fan of eggplant. With varieties that produce low calorie, high fiber fruits in all sizes, shapes, and colors – what’s not to like? For the last few years I have been experimenting with growing eggplant in containers. I grow them in the ground too in the vegetable garden, but growing in containers is easy, and a great way to have eggplant even if you don’t have a garden plot.
I can think of several advantages to growing eggplant this way. For one thing, they generally produce earlier. Eggplants love heat, and containers warm up faster in spring than garden soil does. For folks in colder climates or areas with short growing seasons, this can be a real advantage. Also, eggplant are susceptible to several diseases, including verticillium wilt, blights, and viruses. By growing in containers with good quality disease-free potting soil these soil borne problems can be avoided.
The only real disadvantage is one that applies to growing anything in a container, and that is the watering issue. Containers need frequent watering in hot weather, at least daily and sometimes more than once a day. Letting the plants dry out will stress the plants and reduce the overall yield.
To successfully grow eggplant in a container, I start with one that is at least 12 inches in diameter. I have found that larger containers up to 16 inches in diameter will grow larger plants, and therefore more fruit. Self-watering containers are great for growing eggplant, and help with the watering issue by providing a reservoir of water for the plant to draw on. Another type of container that is becoming increasingly popular with gardeners is Grow Pots (or Smart Pots). I will be testing peppers and eggplants in Smart Pots this year, and comparing them with plants grown in plastic containers.
Eggplant is a pretty heavy feeder, so I use a good quality potting soil that has plenty of organic material in it. I also add a little compost to the mix, and some organic, slow release fertilizer (I like Espoma Tomato-Tone). That regimen has worked well for me the last few years, resulting in lots of tasty eggplant.
There are many eggplant varieties that do particularly well in containers. Two of my favorites are Hansel and Fairy Tale, which also happen to be All-America Selections. Gretel is another AAS winner that is good in containers and has slender white fruits.
Both Hansel and Fairy Tale bear a multitude of tasty eggplants over the growing season. This year I’m also growing Millionaire and Pot Black in containers. Millionaire is a widely available long slender purple Japanese type, while Pot Black is a new variety that produces small round purple fruits and was bred especially for container culture.
Eggplant is pretty versatile in the kitchen. It regularly plays a starring role here in stir fries and in such dishes as my Grilled Eggplant Parmesan and Grilled Eggplant with Tahini Yogurt Sauce. Grilling eggplant is a great way to prepare some of the smaller fruited varieties. When Fairy Tale is grilled, the flesh almost melts in your mouth.
Growing eggplant in containers is an easy way to add this wonderful vegetable to your own gardening repertoire, if you’re not already growing it. And if you’re not growing eggplants yourself from seed, your local garden center should be able to supply you with all the plants and supplies you need.