Growing Eggplant in Michigan
I'll admit, it's been a challenge, but we finally have success with eggplant in Michigan!
First attempts at eggplant
My very first try at eggplant was two years ago. I planted it too early for my zone... wiped out by frost. Eggplant, I discovered cannot tolerate even the slightest bit of frost. Last year, I sprouted seeds in peat plugs and didn't plant them until well after the frost. The plants grew OK for a while, but didn't seem to thrive. By the end of the season, I had plucked two small, knobby fruits from the largest plant. The other plants were barren.
Third time is the charm!
This winter, I read up on eggplant a bit more and tried to piece together other gardener's successes and follies. I totally changed my gardening strategy. Things I did different:
- Instead of investing hours of my time in seeds for a potential repeat flop, I purchased robust seedlings from a local nursery (pronounced "not a box mart"). Honestly, I have to purchase the time from my life to garden, so everything I plant has to have a decent payback. I don't grow flowers or low-yielding varieties of plants.
- My eggplants are growing right next to our house. My regular garden sits away from our home a bit, and I felt that banking the eggplants tight to the house would create a micro-climate more suitable to the heat-loving eggplant. So far, I'm right...
- Eggplants are surrounded by landscape fabric for weed control. Last year, I discovered that the roots of my eggplant would be disrupted easily by pulling surrounding weeds. A few plants were lost this way, so it was determined that avoiding weeds in the first place would be a better choice. I must admit, I LOVE not weeding.
- Lots of compost. Grass clippings, par-composted banana peels, egg shells, even pulled weeds from other areas of the garden go under the fabric.
Despite all of my changes, I did have some challenges. A few weeks back, we had a night that dipped into the 50s. All the flowers fell off the eggplants and I was certain we'd have no harvest. This was my last attempt.
The damaged was reversed after a solid 10 days of 90+ weather. Flowers popped out again, and now we have fruit set. My first eggplant was harvested last weekend. Of course, I fried it up right away and enjoyed it with a touch of parmesian cheese and garlic.
Next year's eggplant...
Next year, I will plant again! We're looking for ways to reduce meat consumption in our family, and eggplant fits into that equation nicely. Here's my plan for next year:
- Grow from seed for a variety other than globe (black beauty)
- Grow next to the house for the micro-climate advantage
- Mulch heavy and use landscape fabric
- More par-digested compost. I will bury a bucket of compostables between plants next year.
- Plant earlier and use a cold frame. I have an old glass storm door calling to me.
If you've got any varieties of eggplant you really love, I'm open to suggestions. Maybe something a little hardier would be nice. Maybe something that give smaller but more numerous fruits.