The eggplant is one of the most beautiful and one of the most ornamental of the classic garden vegetables. This member of the famous Nightshade family is very sensitive to low temperatures and can be set back if planted too early in the season here in Nevada. The plant enjoys direct sun and a long, consistently hot growing season. Also, most varieties of eggplant grow very well on decks, patios and balconies in 12 inch or larger containers. They like to be watered, and they like a rich soil that drains well.
We sell seeds, potting soil and seedling pots if you would like to start your eggplants indoors during the early months of spring, or we sell a variety of well established plants that can be planted directly into the garden after all danger of frost has passed. (Scroll down for more information about growing eggplant in our area.)
Eggplants look good mixed in with pepper plants and the compact bush-type cherry tomatoes. They all are good neighbors to each other with the eggplant probably being the larger of the three nightshades. We don't recommend planting directly next to larger tomato plants as they will block the sunlight from reaching the shorter, more dense eggplants.
In the old days, the majority of eggplant planted had no specific common name (besides "eggplant"), but it appears to have resembled what has come to be known as "Black Beauty." The Black Beauty and other classic eggplant types need 70 to 80 days to produce fruit. The fruit is dark, dark purple to black in color. The fruit is large, oval shaped six to eight inches in length, three to five inches in width at the base. A single fruit can often carry an entire meal.
Besides the classic and Black Beauty types, there are many different eggplant varieties, grown both for the fruit and for the size and color of their foliage. The fruit produced, even though diverse in size, shape and color, all taste just like eggplant and they all cook like eggplant. Some chefs prefer the long, green eggplant's because they are easy to peel and they roast well. The fact is, all eggplants are easy to peel and they all roast well. We suggest planting several varieties, especially if you are an eggplant fan.
We carry an eclectic selection of eggplants each spring. They get snatched up quickly, so come in early.
Eggplants like warm, even hot temperatures. They begin to thrive when daytime lows reach 70 F. and beyond, and when nighttime temperatures finally climb out of the 50s. When you notice that daytime temperatures are becoming consistently warm for days on end, it will be time to set your eggplants into the ground.
Because of our cold spring nights, it's not the best idea to plant seeds directly into the garden. If you want to grow eggplant from seed, you'll need to start them indoors or in a heated greenhouse. If you do plant from seed, soak the seeds overnight before planting them in a well drained, somewhat sandy potting mix. Four inch peat pots work pretty well. Plant them close to the surface, between 1/4 and 1/2 inch deep. You'll need to keep the seeds moist and the soil temperature warm. It takes eggplant seeds a week or so to germinate.
Eggplants need the entire growing season to produce well (between 3 and 4 months of good summer-like weather), so starting seeds early or buying nice, healthy seedlings is the way to go. When it's time to plant the seedlings, give them plenty of growing room (1 1/2 to 2 feet apart) in a place that receives full sun. The plants can get rather large and they seem to enjoy space between themselves and other plants. If you are to plant them in rows, space the rows at least 2 feet apart as well. Be careful with their delicate little root balls, as they are known to be susceptible to plant shock, and help them acclimate to the outdoors with a few days of hardening-off.
Once well established and growing big, you can stake eggplants to help support their sometimes large, heavy fruit. You can even cage them like tomatoes, but usually a single stake to support the main stem will suffice. Eggplants also do very well in containers at least 12 inches in diameter. You might want to cover the top of the soil with a prepared organic mulch. This is especially the case with container gardening in high desert and mountain environments because plants in pots have the tendency to dry out faster than they do when in the ground. (You can prepare your own mulch from year to year. We also offer very high quality organic mulch at our garden shops.)
The soil needs to be rich and well draining. Offer them what you would expect to offer typical food producing plants. Give the potting soil a good dose of organic compost. During the heat of the summer and periodically throughout the growing season, give your plants a controlled shot of organic fertilizer. (We offer organic fertilizers. Come in and talk to us about how to properly fertilize your garden vegetables). From year to year, it's a good idea to rotate the same soil with other vegetables.
You'll want to pick the fruit when it's beautifully eatable. That is, firm, healthy, with a satin sheen and big enough to be usable in recipes, but not too mature. You don't want to let them get old and hard (and ultimately bitter).
When the season is nearing its end, you can make sure your plants concentrate their remaining fruit producing energies on the fruit already present. When you start to feel the autumn harvest approaching -- somewhere between two and four weeks before the picking time -- you can gently begin the anticipatory task of nipping off newly appearing buds. The plant will quietly panic and respond by focusing its efforts on what fruit is actually already in the works. A final prefrost harvest of nice sized, beautiful fruit is the intended result. Once the frost hits, the eggplants will die. If any fruit remains on the plants, check to see if they are still shinny and if they feel nice and firm, but not overly dry, hard or even overly soft with shriveled skin. If the remaining fruit has passed its prime, pick it, then throw a banquet for the earthworms at the local compost pile. They will love you for it, especially if the fruit is squishy. If the fruit is hard, just bury it under the surface, water it and in no time the frost bitten fruit will be your every worm's delight.
Earthworms and many humans, alike, enjoy eating eggplant. Although even generally editable nightshades like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants, seem to disagree with some humans, even when properly cooked. If you happen to find these vegetables disagreeable, it's probably best to grow them as ornamentals or as gifts for your friends and neighbors. At the same time, if your body does take well to the edible nightshades, then you'll find many online articles promoting the superfood benefits of these wonderful plants. One thing for sure, eggplants are high in fiber. And another thing about them: if cooked properly, eggplants are incredibly delicious.
This delectable dish serves 8 as an entree, 6 with seconds. It was inspired by an internet recipe from the cooking website, allrecipes.com. This version has been worked over to more reflect the northern deserts and foothills where we live, what we grow in our own vegetable gardens and what we can find in the local farmer's markets and produce stands.
Turn your oven to high heat broil. Peel the eggplants, then slice them into 1/2 inch slices. Place slices on a grill topped broiling pan, sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Broil the eggplant slices on the middle shelf for 5 minutes, then flip them over with a fork, sprinkle lightly with sea salt and broil for another five minutes. You might need to broil two batches to accommodate all the slices. Remove from oven. It's alright if they cool down while other preparations ensue.
Turn the oven setting from broil to 375 F.
Crumble the bread in a medium bowl and mix with the turbinado sugar.
Saute the onion, garlic, celery, carrot and bell pepper over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes longer. Stir in the fresh oregano, basil, paprika and pinch of red pepper. Remove the skillet from the stove. You don't have to worry about this cooling down a bit either.
The assembly phase can be varied, of course. Layer it in a way that makes you happy!
Spray a medium sized casserole dish with olive oil then place a single layer of eggplant slices on the bottom. Take half of the bread crumbs and sprinkle over the layer of eggplant. Then sprinkle half of the mozzarella on top of the bread crumbs. Place the second layer of eggplant slices on top.
Add the remaining breadcrumbs, the chopped olives and 1/2 cup parsley to the onion and tomato mixture. Spread this on top of the second layer of eggplant slices. Sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped walnuts on top of that.
Swirl the soy milk, half and half and the remaining 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts in a blender until the walnuts have merged with the milk. Pour this mixture over the top of the casserole. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella over the milk topping.
Bake for 30 minutes. The top will begin to brown slightly and look all bubbly scrumptious. Remove the casserole from the oven, top with the remaining two tablespoons chopped parsley. Present the casserole to the table. It can handle five or so minutes of cooling, but it can also be served right from the oven.
Tasty Layered Eggplant Casserole goes well with a simple baby spinach salad topped with some chopped walnuts, raisins (or cranraisins or both), and some fat-free raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The walnuts in the salad will compliment the subtle walnut flavor of the casserole. For a beverage, pour a good red table wine and chilled sparkling Sierra water.
Everyone who loves eggplant probably has stories to tell and favorite recipes to share when it comes to the most famous of eggplant dishes, Eggplant Parmesan. Certainly, one of the most enjoyable days of late summer is when the eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, onion, pepper and basil can all be picked perfectly fresh, perfectly ripe, directly from the garden. The traditional way to prepare the eggplant is to peel and slice the eggplant, dip the slices in whipped egg, coat them in bread crumbs, then fry them in hot olive oil, but there are some low-fat alternatives. Instead of frying the eggplant slices in oil, try grilling them on the outdoor hibachi, or you can cook them in your hickory smoker, or you can broil or bake them in the oven.
Come in and ask Nancy for her famous Eggplant Parmesan recipe.
Are some nightshades poisonous? Yes. But there are, of course, many wonderful nightshade varieties that millions of people eat on a daily basis, like tomatoes and peppers, but even some of the edible nightshades, like potatoes and eggplants, need to be thoroughly cooked in order for the body to digest them properly. On the other hand, some nightshades are poisonous hallucinogens, and thus, extremely dangerous. Those are the ones you don't want to touch, and definitely not eat.
Mystery surrounds the all consuming, take-me-to-god, Datura plant, also called Deadly Nightshade. Other names include the Devil's Apple, Devil's Weed, Jimson Weed, Desert Thorn Apple, Moonflower, Belladonna. Some names refer to subspecies.
Datura is a common plant to many southwestern desert regions. The plant is famous for making desert road trips magical when driving at night with a full moon illuminating their beautiful, large, white, trumpet shaped blooms along the roadsides, glowing. Datura is equally infamous for the ritualistic use made of the plant by ancient and modern shamanistic visionary cultures and traditions. It is said that Datura has inspired and guided native vision quests for many centuries. Now we know that Datura is not a plant to fool with. It's beautiful to look at in the wild, but if you don't know exactly how to handle and prepare it (even touching its leaves and roots can poison you!), it can easily and quickly make your soul disappear. And it can send you into that nothingness screaming from hallucinations you haven't imagined yet. It's true. Datura is one of those desert powers that is much bigger than we humans are. These days, it's good to respect those powers by enjoying them at a distance, with your eyes, and it's wise to leave the Deadly Nightshade completely alone.
We do not recommend collecting, growing, eating, smoking or otherwise ingesting any parts of the Datura plant (family: Solanaceae; Species: Datura). We think it's stupid to try.
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