The most common eggplants in Zambia are the yellow eggplant (Impwa) and the purple pear shaped eggplants. But egg plants come in a range of shapes, colors and sizes. There’s no doubt that without eggplants, the culinary world would be missing a bright star. Chefs around the world use this versatile vegetable in dishes closely tied to both their culture and their cuisine.
Basics on how to plant and grow Aubergines
Most eggplant varieties have a fairly long growing season, taking more than 75 days to fully mature. The best thing about them is they love our Zambian warm weather. They need lots of warmth and space to thrive. Furthermore, they grow better in raised beds. Also, they maintain higher soil temperatures and drain better. So, plant them in a space that gets full sun exposure.
Preparing the soil
Eggplants love loose, sandy soil. So, ensure your soil drains well. Also, enrich it with lots of manure and compost before planting. Your soil can be slightly acidic, but a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is best.
Planting your seeds
It’s important to follow the instructions on the seed packet for your variety of eggplant. But most varieties of seeds are covered very lightly in soil and watered very gently. The seeds should germinate in 7 to 14 days. They need lots of light (about 14 hours per day) and water to grow sturdy enough to transplant.
TIP: Grow seedlings on recycled newspaper which you can plant directly into the soil, protecting the seedlings from root disturbance.
The transplanting process
Only transplant seedlings once they’ve grown two sets of leaves and about 12 cm high. This usually happens at about 3 to 4 weeks old. Also, take care not to damage the roots and remember to keep the soil moist so they don’t dry out.
Watering and fertilizing
Water your eggplants regularly if you can. But it’s best to water in the morning. In addition, try to keep an eye on the soil especially during dry periods and don’t let it dry out. Keep the roots well mulched (7-11cm thick) to keep them moist as this will produce more flowers. These flowers which become the fruit. So, the more flowers the better your harvest. One eggplant can bear from 6 – 12 fruit each. When flowers start forming, use 1/week of potassium rich fertilizer.
Tip: Carefully weed to prevent root competition but try not to damage the eggplant roots. Also, watch out for pests like bugs and pick them off often.
Most varieties of eggplant are ready for harvest after 60 to 90 days. They are ready for harvest when the skin becomes shiny. The smaller eggplants have better flavour. Furthermore, the more you harvest the more grow. Clip them off with shears to avoid damaging the plant (twisting or pulling can break the plant). Harvest as often as possible to encourage new growth.