2018 Garden is In – But Oy The Weather…

2018 Garden enjoying sun

2018 garden enjoying sun

So, my garden is now, totally in the ground.

This year I planted garlic, onions, lettuce, beets, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers (still considering zucchini), green beans, asparagus, of course and herbs like basil and Italian parsley.

I finished putting the last Bianca Rosa in the ground Saturday morning.

Bianca Rosa eggplant

Baby Bianca Rosa eggplant

Saturday evening, we got 70 MPH winds, driving hail and torrential rain with a side order of thunder and lightning and the threat of a tornado!

The baby eggplant survived…and seem to be settling in to their truck bed.

But I live outside of Philadelphia…in Pennsylvania! We don’t get tornadoes. Oh, wait, we do now courtesy of the non-existent global warming and the ever increasing turbulence of our weather and of the very earth itself.

It has rained every day since last Tuesday. It is going to rain again tonight. In fact, we are under a flood watch from 4PM today to 2AM tomorrow morning. We might get a day or two of clearing, then all that rain that is currently drowning Floridians will be…here.

Tomato plants hanging on to their trellis

Tomato plants hanging on, literally

Even my tomatoes have toughed it out…although they are looking just a bit “wan.”

As with every year, there are, of course challenges – bugs…rabbits, deer. But this year, it seems that Mother Earth is setting about re-balancing her planet – with or without us.

But there will be vegetables and fruit in my backyard this summer. Most of these plants will survive. And so will I.  I will keep on gardening, keep growing.

My garden will grow

My garden will grow

And I will keep praying that we, the humans who inhabit this planet, slow down a bit, become more aware of the risk and start backpedaling from taking, using, devouring and otherwise destroying this magnificent home on which live and orbit the universe.

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How To Plant Asparagus, Again!

My husband and I got good news last Thursday, really good news. His most recent PET scan was clear! We did a little jig then sat down and tried to let it sink in a bit. No new melanoma! No metastases.

Old asparagus bed slowing down.

20 year old asparagus bed

So, what does this have to do with planting asparagus? Everything!

My current asparagus bed is close to 25 years old. To say it’s slowed down is a bit of an understatement. The bed is actually a bit glacial when it comes to putting up tasty green spears of asparagus.

I needed a new bed but I was afraid to plant new crowns…in case the diagnosis for my husband was not a good one. Asparagus is one perennial that, once planted, keeps on giving. I just wasn’t sure we would be here to enjoy it.

 

So, my celebration last Thursday culminated in me ordering 20 new, Jersey Knight male asparagus crowns! I ordered 1 year old crowns as they are usually a bit “healthier” than 2 year old crowns — meaning they will grow a bit more vigorously in their first few years and be less prone to rotting.

No matter what I ordered, my first question the next morning was, “What was I thinking?”

I think I’d actually forgotten what it meant to “plant” asparagus. Okay, you only have to do it once to reap the rewards..but doing entails some pretty hard work especially at my ripe old age of 70!

Asparagus is planted in trenches

Trenching for new asparagus crowns

The crowns are on their way so, this morning, just 3 days after ordering, I was in the garden, digging. I picked a spot that gets almost continuous sunshine all day long. That’s just what asparagus likes.

Asparagus crowns need trenches

2 trenches done & 3 to go

 

Asparagus crowns need to be planted in trenches.

My soil is a bit on heavy side so I only had to dig down 6 inches…and the trenches should be 12 inches wide.

I cheated a bit on the width but I got the length I needed in each trench to be able to put 4 crowns in each one. If you’re doing the math, you might notice that I only have 4 trenches dug. I will probably need the 5th trench but I just can’t face it, right now. Tomorrow is another day.

 

In fact, tomorrow, I will dig the other trench but I need to prep all 5 trenches to receive their new crowns.

What’s the next step? I will need to add a dash of organic compost to each hole. When the new asparagus crowns arrive, I will also soak them in compost tea (compost and water) for about 30 minutes before I plant them.  When I do put them in the trenches, I’ll make sure they are crown side up. Also, I’ll be careful to gently spread the crown out and give the roots room.

Once in the trench, I won’t put all the soil back in the trench on top of the crowns. I’ll just add 2 to 3 inches of soil to the entire trench,  gently tamping the soil down – NOT packing it. Once the crowns are set, I usually just water them in with my watering can, again, gently.

Two weeks later, I’ll add 2 to 3 more inches of soil to the trench. Then I’ll keep watch on the bed and add more soil to the trench until it is slightly raised.  Then, all you have to do is make sure you mulch the rows and water the new bed regularly during its first 2 years in the ground. A note of caution, don’t over water. An accepted rule of thumb is water once a week unless it’s rained then you can skip watering.

Do not harvest any asparagus the first year. Harvest sparingly in the second year. The crowns need to put all their energy into sinking tap roots and growing their root structure. The third year, start cutting but make sure you leave enough for some stalks to fern and grow up.

Our dog cooling under the asparagus ferns

Dogs like to cool down in the asparagus

Leave the ferns over top of the bed, letting them die in place and not cutting them until the next Spring.

Dogs love to cool down under them and the dead ferns provide protection for the crowns during the winter.

Once Spring arrives, cut down and remove the dead ferns.

Then sit back and wait for beautiful, green, healthy and delicious asparagus!

 

Grow So Easy – Growing Garlic

Garlic is easy to grow and has much more taste if it's homegrown.

Growing garlic is easy.

I got lucky when I married Italian because garlic is, was and always will be one of my favorite foods in the kitchen. And it’s one of my favorites to plant.

Garlic is another crop that basically takes care of itself. If you get the right cloves to plant then give those cloves a good start in the right soil at the right time, you should harvest enough nice-sized bulbs of garlic to last through the year.

The Bad News
Garlic is planted in the fall. If you didn’t put your garlic seed (cloves actually) in the ground in October, it’s too late to plant it now.

If you plant in the Spring, you are doomed to fail.  Seed garlic is dormant.  It MUST be exposed to cold temperatures in order to grow and change from cloves to bulbs. 

No cold means no bulbs, spindly growth and frustrated gardeners.
Besides, planting in the fall means that Mother Nature gets to do all the work while you sit inside browsing through seed catalogs and dreaming of spring.

The Good News

Garlic growing in the spring

Garlic in the Spring

If you planted your cloves in the fall, you should already have healthy, happy garlic babies growing in the soil.

Planting when the world is getting frosty, the snow is falling and the wind is cold  seems wrong and it would be if that’s all you did.

But there’s an easy, cheap trick to keeping your garlic safe through the blustery winter months; you blanket them in straw. The straw protects the bulbs from the cold, lets them overwinter safely and ensures they will be ready to start growing as early as March.

Garlic growing through straw

Garlic poking through its blanket

Once Spring arrives, it’s important to uncover the garlic as soon as possible so the sprouts don’t rot.  If they rot, you will lose your garlic crop.  Here’s an easy tip for knowing when to uncover garlic (and onions).  When the forsythia bloom, pull back the mulch.  You may even find a few garlic bulbs already sprouted under there.

Protect cool weather crops with window frames

Sheers stapled to window frames

Depending on your zone, you will probably get a few frosts after you uncover the garlic.  Just toss something over the young plants to protect them.  I use window frames that I’ve stapled old curtains to or an old queen-sized mattress cover and drape it over the corners of the bed where the garlic is planted.

Harvesting Garlic
How do you know when to pull the garlic up?  Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me. And the more I researched and read, the more confused I got.

Pull it up on this day/date.  When the leaves on one or two start to brown, push the rest of them over, wait a week and pull them up.  Wait until all the leaves on the plants are brown then pull them up.   Aaaaaaargh…as one our most famous philosophers used to say!

What finally cleared it all up for me was a simple, beautifully written article by one of my favorite garden gurus, Margaret Roach, who clearly understands the garlic harvest conundrum.

Too early, and the bulbs won’t have time to develop to their full size.  Too late and the bulbs will be over ripe, cloves will separate and the harvest won’t store as well.

Here’s the gist of Roach’s advice for harvesting garlic:  Harvest when several of the lower leaves go brown, but five or six up top are still green. Depending on the weather, this typically happens here (New York state) in late July.”

Rip & Regret
A word to the wise: healthy garlic develops a pretty serious root structure.  Do NOT try to pull garlic up by its greenery!  You will break the tops off and the garlic bulbs really need their tops to cure.

So, what’s the easiest way to pull these babies out of the ground?  With a garden fork – not the hand-held kind.  You want a flat-tined, digging fork like the kind you would use to dig out potatoes, like the one you see resting next to my garlic in my wheelbarrow.

  1. Start about 2 to 3 inches away from the garlic bulb.
  2. Push the tines down into the earth, almost as far as they will go.
  3. Rock the fork front to back and side to side to loosen the dirt around the roots of the bulb.
  4. Keep loosening until you can easily and gently pull the bulb from the ground.
  5. Equally gently, lay the cloves into a wheelbarrow.  Banging them will bruise them.

As soon as all your bulbs of garlic are out of the ground, you need to get them out of the sun and into a nice, dry, temperature controlled space with good air flow.  I use my shed.  I lay down an old sheet, then place the bulbs side by side but not touching.  I want air flow around each bulb.  And if one’s going south, I don’t want it to take the others with it.

Curing Garlic
Once you have them in your controlled drying spot, leave them alone for 6 to 8 weeks while they cure.  (I do check them to make sure none are going bad…). When they are cured, If they’re soft neck, braid away.

If they’re hard neck (what I always raise), you can cut the tops and the hairy roots off and store them inside.  I actually put mine in a big tray and shove the tray under the dresser in my sewing room.

The temperature is moderate in this room (I keep the thermostat at 62 in the winter) and the light is dim under the dresser.  My garlic seems to keep perfectly there.

NOTE:  check the cloves about every 6 weeks, especially if there is any aroma of  “garlic” wafting through the air.  If you can smell the garlic, it means one of the bulbs is probably going bad.  If you leave it in the general population, it may turn other heads bad, as well.

Save 8 to 10 bulbs of your garlic for planting in October and November and enjoy the rest, all winter and spring.

Free Organic Gardening Book – How To Harden Off Before Transplanting

Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini wait for transplanting

Veggie plants waiting for transplant.

Is it planting time yet?

Every single year, that is the question I ask myself.

Why? Partly because I want to put my hands in dirt and partly because I am surrounded…by plants. They are everywhere…

This is my office…cum plant nursery.

Yesterday the temperature was 82 degrees; this morning, it’s 42 degrees. The weather seems to be even more capricious than ever and that means planning a planting date is pretty much impossible. The upshot is that this gardener remains indoors with trays of plants crowding the top of her desk and claiming space on the floor.

Zucchini, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant being baked in the sun.

Plants being burned by the sun.

Well, the plants and I are indoors except when we are both, literally going outdoors, for a few hours, every single day.  I put them out in the morning but by 2:30 PM, all of them are back, inside, feeling the burn.

This is the dance I like to call the “hardening off” cha cha! 

Peppers, cukes, zukes and eggplant baking on the patio.

Veggie transplants baking in the sun.

Hardening off is necessary to move the plants from a controlled environment into the world of wind, sun, rain and changing temperatures. Don’t harden off and your plants will die. 

So, for the next 2 weeks or maybe even 3, I will be lovingly, carefully and constantly toting trays of plants in and out of my office door.

At some point, I will have to make a decision to put them in the ground then stand by my raised beds, saying small prayers over their little green bodies.

After all, planting time here in Eastern Pennsylvania is usually early May, the merry, malleable and every changing month of May! So here’s hoping I get my garden in the ground by May 6th and the wind and snow head North for their last blast of winter!

Free Organic Gardening Book: Tomato Stakes

Tomatoes too big for pots

Office full of tomatoes in April!

I share a ton of tips for tools, growing and planting in my book and on this blog.

In fact, I share ways that can help you drop the cost of gardening down to pennies and, if you save your own seed, down to zero.

Today, I want to share 2 new discoveries I have recently made.  You might say I discovered these tools and wrote these tips out of desperation.

You see, I am surrounded by  rapidly growing seedlings like these tomatoes and I needed to think fast about keeping them healthy!

So today, instead of a chapter in my organic gardening book, I’d like to introduce you to marshmallow sticks and dress socks! (No, I have not been drinking my homemade brandy this morning…yes, these are real tips that are very helpful.)

Socks and marshmallow sticks on the job

Marshmallow sticks & socks!

As you know, every year I try a few new seeds in my garden. This year, I went for Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomatoes from Baker Seeds.

They were described on Baker Seeds as, “… elongated, large cherries in clusters.

The color (and flavor!) is a full-blown assault on the senses—lavender and purple stripes, turning to technicolor olive-green, red, and brown/blue stripes when fully ripe.”

These seeds are vigorous – all of them sprouted…along with the 30 other tomato seeds I planted, a bit too early. Most of them are what is known in tomato land as “indeterminate” i.e. they grow to be 9 to 12 feet high!

Tomatoes in needs of stakes

Last year’s knitting needles don’t cut it.

So, today, I am surrounded by 22 tomato plants (and I have 17 more in the basement) that have simply outgrown their 5″ peat pots and my amazing plant stand!

And I won’t be able to re-home some of them and transplant the rest for another 4 to 5 weeks.

Panic set in…and after a sleepless night or two, I started searching for solutions. Luckily, I found a place to get black plastic nursery pots at a reasonable price. So I picked up some organic potting soil from my local feed store and set about transplanting the biggest tomatoes first.

Then I realized I needed to stake these babies, even in their new, 8″ high pots. However, the only stakes I could come up with – aka “splits” as they are known in the biz, were bamboo, dyed green and the only quantity for purchase? 1000. That’s not a typo; I could only find them in packs of 1000.

I’m 70 years old. The odds of me using 1000 bamboo splits before I…split, are slim to none. So I started to think laterally and guess what?

Marshmallow sticks for tomato stakes

Marshmallow sticks in a bundle.

That’s how I found marshmallow sticks. I got one package of 100 sticks, 3/8″ in diameter and 30 inches long on Amazon for chump change.

They work beautifully which leads me to my second discovery. I retired 3 times…(bear with me, it is relevant). I was an executive for most of my career and introduced the pants suit to my 20th century corporation 30 years ago. (It was an unwritten rule that women had to wear dresses or skirts — yep…amazing considering that this was the 1990’s.)

Anyway, pants suits meant dress socks. When I finally retired, for the 3rd time, I donated almost all of my “executive” wardrobe to an agency working with battered women — so-called displaced homemakers.

Socks and marshmallow sticks

The dynamic duo for tomato staking.

But I forgot about the socks….until I staked my tomatoes. What better way to tie the tomato plants to the marshmallow sticks? Soft, easy to cut and even easier to tie, my heap of socks began earning their keep again!

 

 

Socks as tomato ties

Tender ties for tomatoes.

The short ties are soft and easy to put in place, tenderly holding these baby tomatoes against their marshmallow sticks.

I also cut long ties that will be used for these babies once they are trellised in my yard.

And I kept some of the socks whole so I can slip them over cucumbers and zucchini that are being attacked by stripey, aggressive and tiny beetles (on my top 10 list of bugs I hate!)

So, I may not outlive the marshmallow sticks and, considering what the socks are made of, I know I won’t outlive the plant ties but I am truly, deeply grateful for both. Now I know my beautiful, too tall tomato plants will not just make it to the great outdoors but will thrive there.

Free Organic Gardening Book: How To Grow Onions

Organic onions are easy to grow.

Organic onions & beets enjoying summer.

In my early gardening years, way back in the dark ages when I had a stick and some dirt, I never, ever considered raising onions in my garden.

I didn’t use a lot of onions in my cooking, well to be honest, I didn’t cook much, either.  I was a road warrior and spent most of my life in a plane, on a train or riding in a limo.  There was no dirt under my nails, no canning jars in my pantry and no garden in my back yard.

Besides, my Mom never raised onions or garlic.  But then, my Mom wasn’t married to an Italian.  So when I traded in all my gold credit cards and came home to life on the homestead, I decided to give onions a try.

Getting Onions In The Ground
My first experience with raising them was hilarious. I decided to start them from seed.  One cold and windy day in early March, I went out, worked the soil loose with my hand rake and spread seeds.  I was a little liberal with the amount of seed I put down but I’d never done it before. 

Onion seed is small and dark and disappears right into the soil.  I covered what I thought were the seeds with a tiny bit of soil, covered the bed with a fence section and a sheet, went back inside to thaw out and promptly forgot I’d planted onion seed.

Four weeks later, in the middle of April. I was preparing a bed for beets.  There is no finesse involved in prepping and planting these babies and the seeds are so big, I didn’t need my glasses, I thought.

I knelt down by the bed and was stunned to see a ton of baby grass growing in the bed.  I grabbed handfuls and began madly tearing out what I thought were seeds.  About 3 minutes later I froze; I was tearing up baby onions! I tend to use sets, now.

Seed or Sets
Raising onions from seed is easy as long as you remember that you planted it and don’t rip it out, willy nilly.  Once the seeds sprout and the onion babies get to be 3 inches high, all you have to do is thin and transplant them using the same technique I use for baby beets.

Raising onions from sets is even easier but your choices are limited to what your favorite, organic seed company is growing.

Growing organic onions is easy

Organic onions love sun and good soil.

I prefer red onions so I usually end up with Stuttgart or Candy Red.  Both are good tasting, sweet onions but only the Stuttgart is a long keeper.

FYI onions like cool weather so you can put seed  or sets in the ground as soon as you can work the soil in the spring.  If you’re going for sets, the best time to order your sets is early.  If you don’t order early, you may not get the varieties you want.  Raising onions in the backyard, especially organic onions, is getting more popular and nurseries run out of sets pretty early.

White, Red or Yellow
Onions come in quite a few colors – that would be your first choice.  They also come in long day, short day and intermediate.  Clearly, the names refer to how long the onions take to mature.  And picking the right onion for your zone and growing season is important to how well the onions grow and how big and healthy they are. 

Like many plants, onions grow roots and leaves first then begin to form bulbs but only when daylight hours reach a particular length.  Onions are what’s known as “photoperiodic.”  That means they regulate their growth by the duration of light and dark at the time of year they are growing.

If you try a long day onion in the deep South, you’ll get great tops but very small bulbs which will be killed when exposed to too much heat.  A short day onion that’s planted in the north will try to produce bulbs before the leaves have formed.  Without leaves to supply food, the bulb won’t be able to develop and size of the bulb will be limited. 

Onions growing in July

Onions in July

So, rule of thumb, plant long day varieties if you live north of latitude 36º — roughly the Kansas/Oklahoma border.  Plant short day types south of this line.  Put long day varieties in the ground as early as possible in the spring.  Put short day onions in the ground in the fall to give them a head start in the spring.

Planting Onions
If you are putting onion sets in the ground, most organic companies will ship them to you in the fall and within 2 weeks of the optimum time for you to plant.  When the sets arrive, they may appear wilted but they are pretty hardy and should do well if you plant them quickly. NOTE:  if you cannot plant as soon as they arrive, just put them in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

When you are ready to transplant, simply trim the tops to about 3 inches high and the roots to ¼ of an inch.  I use a sharpened pencil to create a hole for each set that’s about 1 to 2 inches deep – deep enough to cover the white part of the baby onion.   I plant the sets about 4 to 6 inches apart, in rows about 18 inches apart.  

Make sure you plant the baby onions as directed above because they don’t like to compete for foods and fertilizer with each other or other plants, including weeds.  In fact, there’s a saying in the onion business – you can grow onions or weeds but not both.

If planting in the fall, mulch heavily – I use 14 to 18 inches of straw to cover the whole bed. Mulching keeps the plants from sprouting during the January thaw and prevents the freezing and heaving cycle when warmer days play tag with the cold temperatures of deep winter.

In the spring, when forsythia start to bloom, pull the stacked straw off the plants but leave a light layer of mulch.  The mulch suppresses weeds.  Put a light cover over your baby onions if frost is predicted.  I use old sheer curtains.  Water onions regularly; they need about an inch of water a week.  And that’s about it.

Harvesting & Storing Onions
Onions are ready for harvest when the tops turn yellow and begin falling over.  For those that are not quite ready, you can finish bending the tops so they are horizontal to the ground using your hand.  Bending the leaves stops sap from rising into the leaves and forces the bulb to mature.

When the outer skin on the onion dries, remove from the soil, brush the earth off each onion, clip the roots and cut the tops back to 1 inch from the bulb.  Store onions in a cool, dry place and try not to let them touch each other.  If handled properly, onions can last up to 1 year in storage.

Onion Pests & Diseases
Onions are pungent so they tend to repel most pests.  Onions can also be inter-planted to repel pests from other plants, too.  The bigger risk for onions are fungal diseases.  It is also a risk that is very easily mitigated.

Smut, downy mildew and pink root are common problems encountered while raising onions.  The easiest way to avoid all three of them is rotation.  Do NOT plant onions or garlic in a bed where other allium crops have been planted the year before and, preferably, two years before.

In fact, the longer you can avoid planting onions in a bed that was used for raising alliums, the better.

By the way, if you want to find out everything about onions…just visit the National Onion Association read the FAQs and browse the types, colors and recipes.

FYI – Growing garlic is just about as easy as growing onions as I shared in an earlier post.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Recipes
I love raw onions in salads, on the top of black bean soup and on dishes of beans and feta cheese.  But my favorite way to eat onions is caramelized.  A stick of butter in a cast iron pan, toss in about 8 onions and just cook until they are the color of caramel and salty/sweet.  They are good plain, they are great on hamburgers. 

And they are great in Onion Frittata — a recipe that owes a whole lot of its flavor and richness to caramelized onions.

RECIPE:  Onion Frittata

INGREDIENTS:
8 large eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 basil leaves torn in pieces
3 minced sage leaves
1tsp minced rosemary
3 T olive oil
1 or 2 c sliced onions
1 ½ to 2 cups ricotta cheese
Kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400°
Put olive oil in large, cast iron frying pan and heat.
Put onions in frying pan and cook until just turning brown and starting to caramelize.
Reduce heat to low.
While onions cook, whisk eggs, parmesan cheese, basil, sage, rosemary salt a pepper together.
Pour egg mixture into frying pan over onions.
Spoon dollops of ricotta over the top and cook on the stove top until frittata begins to set.
Place frying pan in oven and bake for 7 to 9 minutes until it is set.
Slide frittata onto plate or serve from frying pan by cutting into slices.  Serve hot or cold.

 

Free Organic Gardening Book: How To Grow Eggplant

Organic gardening tips

Organic gardening is so easy.

Another week and another free chapter of my organic gardening book, Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us!

This week I will share some tips and secrets for growing great eggplants! When you think of the most popular vegetables to grow in the back yard, you probably don’t come up with eggplant.  In fact, when Mother Earth News did a survey of who was planting what, the most popular homegrown vegetable was the tomato., which was followed by peppers, green beans, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, summer squash, carrots, radishes, and sweet corn.  Eggplant didn’t even make the list!

Okay, so eggplant is not a favorite with a lot of gardeners but the reason just may be that most gardeners have never had young, sweet flavorful eggplants plucked off their own plants.   Instead they’ve tried those large, purple cylinders they buy in the grocery store.  I was the same way until I grew a few plants and discovered there is no comparison.

Bianca Rosa eggplant

Bianca Rosa eggplant enjoying the heat.

There are three tricks to getting full-flavored fruit from an eggplant; buy the right seeds, start the plants early and harvest the eggplant when they’re small.

My favorite eggplant is the round, striated one called Bianca Rosa from High Mowing Organic Seeds.   This is a Sicilian eggplant with light pink fruits that are streaked with white and violet. The flavor is mild and creamy with no bitterness and a low number of seeds.

How To Grow Eggplant
Growing eggplant is a bit like growing peppers – both like warm summer days.  In fact, I think eggplant is even more cold-sensitive.  To get eggplant to flower and set fruit, you need warm soil and a long, warm growing season – from 100 to 140 days with temperatures consistently between 70° and 90°.

Bianca Rosa love sun and heat

Italian eggplant love sun and heat.

If you want to get healthy eggplant plants you need to start them from seed and very early. By early, I mean at least 10 weeks before my last frost date.

Like all my seeds, I start them in cells.  I don’t soak them overnight before putting them in the cell but you can to shorten the time to sprouting.

Once the eggplant seedlings get their second set of leaves, I transplant them into 2 inch peat pots, raise the tray up off the heating mat (I use two bricks – not high-tech but cheap and easy) and keep them warm.

Bianca Rosa and any eggplant for that matter need heat to thrive.  When they get to between 4 and 5 inches high, I transplant them again, this time into 4 inch peat pots.

Why not go directly from cell to the 4 inch peat pot?

Eggplant, peppers, cukes, and zukes hardening off on the patio.

Veggie transplants hardening off

Remember, eggplant like warm soil.  Take them from warm, moist soil and stick them in cold dirt and they get shocky – I know, I tried.  All my eggplant were stunted and fruit came late in the season.

So unless I plan far enough ahead to prepare the 4 inch pots and put them over the heat map to warm the soil (that’s unlikely), I just go from cell to 2 inch then 4 inch peat pot.

Once they have settled into the new pots and are thriving, I move the trays off the heat mats and onto my lighted plant stand (which I bought used almost 20 years ago and am still using).

When To Transplant Eggplant
Eggplant have the same needs as those of bell peppers.  Transplants should only be set in the garden after all danger of frost is past.  Remember, warm soil, warm air and warm days, lots and lots of all three are what eggplant need to thrive.

Eggplant like support from tomato cages

Eggplant growing in tomato cages

If your eggplant are happy, they will need more space than you might anticipate.  Eggplant should be spaced about 2 feet apart.  I don’t plant them in rows, I zigzag them.  Like pepper plants, eggplant can be pulled over by the size and weight of their own fruit so I use tomato cages for support.

Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row and stagger them so you can get 6 to 8 plants in less space.   Make sure you leave about 2 to 2/12 feet between rows, especially if you are planting in raised beds like this old truck bed. This way, you can get to the plants and the fruit, easily.

Care
Once in the ground, give the transplants a good watering to settle them into the ground.  I always mulch eggplant but before I do, I put a ring of composted soil around each plant to feed it.  Then I mulch with straw or grass clippings or both to keep the weeds down.

You can also use a nitrogen fertilizer if you don’t have any composted soil, feeding the plants when they are half-grown and right after you harvest the first fruits. But being a lazy gardener, I prefer using composted soil.

Once the plants are established, eggplant love the heat of the summer.  You only have to water if you are in a persistent dry period then wait for those lovely, sweet eggplant to start emerging from each lavender flower.

Fresh eggplant parmigiana

Freshly made eggplant parmigiana

Harvest 3 or 4 of your eggplant, marry them to your own tomatoes and basil and make yourself the most delicious eggplant parmigiana you have ever tasted!