Tag Archives: Eggplant

The Summer of 2016 Is Ending

Am I crazy? Is summer really ending??

August heat baking my garden

Garden baking in the August sun

Today’s heat index in Southeast Pennsylvania says it will be 114 degrees out. It’s only August 13th. Summer isn’t over. It can’t be!

Bianca Rosa eggplant

Bianca Rosa eggplant enjoying the heat.

I am still harvesting like mad. My Bianca Rosa eggplant have given me 15 beautiful globes and there are more than that still on the plants. The Fox Cherry tomatoes are coming in so fast it’s hard to pick them (especially when you were silly enough to plant 10 of them!).

Growing giant Zucchini

Sicilian zucchini gone rogue.

The Sicilian Zucchetta are downright frightening in their productivity and sheer size.

I’ve been giving them away, cooking with them, jousting in the back yard and leaving them on neighbor’s doorsteps in the dark of night (too big for their mailboxes).

Green beans are producing about a pint a day and my Frigatello Sweet Italian peppers are just warming up, throwing off 5 or 6 peppers a day.

And I’m still getting beets, inter-planted among the tomatoes, keeping cool and waiting for me to harvest them.

Fox Cherries protect beets

Fox Cherry tomatoes shade my beets.

IMG_2568

So how can it possibly be summer’s end?

It happens every year, I wake up and step outside before the dawn light and something has changed.

The feel of the breeze on my skin. The smell of the air. A tiny change in the song of the insects. Every year, there is a single moment when I know that summer is ending.

2016 Perseid meteor showers

Perseid meteor cuts across the night sky (courtesy AMS, Ltd)

This morning, sitting on my patio watching the Perseid meteor shower (image courtesy of the American Meteor Society, Ltd.), I knew as any long time gardener whose blood runs to soil and whose bare feet crave time connecting to the earth knows.

Summer into Autumn is always bittersweet for me. My garden, this garden, will never come again. Next year, the war with Japanese Beetles and the ongoing struggle with Mexican Bean Beetles will begin again. Triumphs and defeats will eddy and swirl across my back yard.

Sunflowers grace my garden

Sunflowers tower over my garden…and me!

But then there will be all that glorious, organic food flowing from my garden to my kitchen table and the tables of friends, relatives and neighbors, again.

And sunflowers, bachelor buttons, chamomile, marigolds and lemon verbena will open for the bees. Lemon balm, milkweed and borage will offer food and nectar to butterflies, wasps and beneficials.

Blueberries and blackberries will be joined by elderberries and goji berries, adding to the delicious, healthy treasures growing just steps from my back door.

And I will once again know why I garden.

Note: the image of the meteor, above, was taken by Eddie Popovits and used with the express permission of the American Meteor Society, a non-profit, scientific organization founded in 1911 and established to inform, encourage, and support the research activities of both amateur and professional astronomers

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Veggie Recipes for End of Summer

I promised to share two zucchini recipes – one for chips – delicious – and one for zucchini fritters.  The chips recipe is below — a tasty way to use up the zucchini you have on your kitchen counter.

Zuke fritters will be posted this week but I wanted to share some ideas for using eggplant, as well since I am experiencing an abundance of beautiful white and purple globes.

Eggplant, peppers and tomatoes

End of summer eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.

I went looking for recipes for using even more eggplant (having already made eggplant parmigian, roasted baby eggplant and baba ghanouj) and found some truly wonderful and healthy recipes from the New York Times Cooking team.

I am going to try Israeli Couscous, Eggplant and Tomato Gratin (using quinoa instead of couscous) today.  Oh, and I will be making my own mayonnaise, going forward. Now for the promised Zuke Chips recipe!

Zucchini Chips
Zucchini, sliced in thin rounds, make chips that taste better than any you can buy and are good for you.  And, the recipe is simple!

Zucchini chips baked

Zuke chips are crispy, salty and tasty!

Preheat the oven to 235 degrees (that’s not a typo).

Slice 2 zucchini into super thin rounds using a mandolin or food processor.

Put parchment paper or silicone mats on cookie sheets.

Put a single layer of zucchini rounds on each cookie sheet then, using a basting

Use a basting brush to spread the oil.

Basting is better than drizzling for even spread of oil.

brush, brush each chip lightly with olive oil.

Sprinkle the chips with salt or, as I do, you can use a mixture of brewer’s yeast and salt.

Put the cookie sheets in the oven and bake for 2 to 3 hours, checking them during the last hour as some chips will finish faster than others. Combine the fully baked chips on 1 sheet, remove them from the oven & let the other chips crisp up.

Dehydrated zuke chips

Zuke chips from the dehydrator are not as good.

FYI – I tried making these in my dehydrator and was not too impressed with the taste or the crispness.

The chips looked a bit prettier but they were also chewy, not crispy. And the flavor was nowhere near as buttery or rich as the chips I baked in the oven.

Later this week week, I promise I will post my zucchini fritters and avocado/lemon dipping sauce.

Enjoy your end of summer bounty and please, share your recipes, too!

COLD Air in the Mid-Atlantic & My Garden is Shivering!

Holy cats! It’s so cold here that the heat came on last night!  Temps dropped into the low 40’s and the wind has been keeping up a constant dialogue, sweeping across my recently planted veggie babies at speeds between 15 and 20 MPH with gusts into the 30 MPH range.

Organic blueberries and zuchetta

Zuchetta share space with blueberry bushes.

All of my warm weather plants are speed dialing their lawyers.

But it is May.  And there always is a bit of back and forth with the weather before everything settles down and the warm nights and warmer days of summer arrive.

I did bank straw up around the peppers, eggplant, zuchetta, summer squash and tomatoes.  And I talked with them a bit about the current conditions and the expected warming trend.

I may lose some of my plants.  And some of them may just slow down their growth but, by and large, most of them will be okay.  And so it goes in the beautiful but not always predictable world of growing your own organic produce.

How are your newly planted gardens faring?

Grow So Easy Organic – Eggplant

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 followed by peppers, green beans, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, summer squash, carrots, radishes, and sweet corn.  Eggplant didn’t even make the list!

Eggplant

The bigger the eggplant, the bigger the bitter.   (Photo credit: Asian Lifestyle Design)

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.

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°.

I always start eggplant from seed.  And I always start them early – 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) but keep them there so they can have the warmth they need 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?  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.

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.  I have also planted them along a fence line so I can tie the plants up once they reach maturity.

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 so 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.

Oh, and keep an eye out for one pest that just loves eggplant – the Colorado Potato Beetle.

Bugs That Bug Eggplant
When you read up on eggplant pests, the one you will read about the most is the flea beetle.   Flea beetles chew tons of tiny holes in leaves.  If plants are older and stronger, the flea beetles will be more of an annoyance than a true threat to your eggplant.  And you can hand-pick and crush these little devils easily.

But if your plants are younger and tender, flea beetles can actually cause real problems.  To avoid this problem, keep plants indoors until early summer, as advised and once you transplant them, cover outdoor plants with floating row covers to keep the flea beetles at bay until the plants get older and tougher.

Some gardeners think flea beets are an eggplant’s worst pest.  I save that title for the Colorado Potato Beetle…on my Top 10 Bugs list for a reason.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

The Colorado Potato Beetle will eat anything, even eggplant.   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The good news is that the eggs, larvae and the adult beetles are easy to spot and even easier to crush.

The eggs, orange-yellow in color, can be found in clusters of about 20 on the undersides of leaves.  Finding and killing them before they hatch helps decrease the odds of an infestation.

Just crush them gently (sounds like an oxymoron but necessary advice) with your fingers, trying not to damage the leaf they are laid on.

If the eggs hatch, the larvae are red to orange soft grubs about 1/2 inch long when mature. Larvae have black heads, little black legs and, as they grow, will have two rows of black spots on each side of the body. If you see holes in the leaves, check the underside for these babies.

When they reach maturity, the beetle phase, you will be able to recognize the adult Colorado Beetle easily.  The body is domed with distinctive yellow and black stripes running along the length of the wing covers.

These beetles are easy to hand-pick and crush.  I keep two small, flat stones in the garden by the eggplant to do just that.

The most common eggplant disease is Verticillium wilt which causes yellowing, wilting and death of the plants.  If you plant resistant cultivars and rotate crops – never planting eggplant where tomatoes or potatoes have grown the year before, you should be able to avoid this disease.

Harvesting Eggplant
Eggplant is one vegetable where size does matter – and it should be small.

If you harvest eggplant when they are young, you will be sure to get sweet flesh with none of the bitterness that larger eggplant bring to the table.

To find out if an eggplant is ready to be picked, hold the eggplant in your palm and gently press it with your thumb. If the flesh presses in but bounces back, it is ready for harvesting. If the flesh is hard and does not give, the eggplant is immature and too young to harvest.

Eggplant bruise easily so harvest gently. Don’t try to pull eggplant off the plant.  You will damage the plant and probably not win the tug of war with the stem.

You might even get stabbed by one of the spines on the stem.  So carry a sharp knife with you and cut the stem of the eggplant about an inch away from the top or cap of the fruit.  That method protects you, the plant and the fruit from damage.

I harvest all season long.  I love eggplant marinated and grilled.  And when I get too many or get just a bit tired of marinating them, I simply slice them, grill them dry (no oil) on the Foreman Grill and freeze them.  During the cold days of winter, I use the frozen slices to make wonderful Eggplant Parmigiana.

Eggplants don’t store well but you don’t want to leave them on the plants too long, either. Either harvest and use immediately for the best flavor or process them for the freezer.

No recipes for eggplant (other than marinated or in parmigiana) but a tip a chef shared with me.  When making Eggplant Parmigiana, mix the ricotta cheese, eggs, cooked and crumbled ground beef and tomato sauce together.

This way, you only have to layer once.  All 4 fillings are more evenly distributed and the finished dish has a creamier, richer flavor.  This tip works for lasagna, too!

Next week, zucchini and summer squash and everything you need to know to enjoy both, all summer long.