This is my third year of growing eggplant. I have my standard veggies I grow every year such as tomatoes and peppers but I also like to try varieties that are new to me. If the first attempt is not successful, I often try again and usually placing the plant in a different area of the garden helps.
The first year, I grew several Black Beauty eggplants in one garden bed by the side of the house. I started the seed indoors under lights early in the year and then planted the transplants outside in May. The plants grew well but the leaves were stippled. Tiny flea beetles had chewed small spots. This did not kill the plants, they still grew well but I got only one purple eggplant. The second year, I grew them in a different garden bed with better soil, more organic matter and more fertilizer. The plants were bigger with more leaves and very little flea beetles. They actually flowered quite a lot but the flowers withered, died, and fell off. No eggplant appeared. Because eggplants are wind-pollinated, the only thing I could think of was that there was not enough of a wind current in that area. The plants were in a bed that was a few feet away from a honeysuckle-covered fence. I even tried to hand pollinate with a brush but the regular maintenance of life made this difficult to do on a regular schedule.
This year, I am trying again. I started Black Beauty from seed indoors months ago. I actually got very good germination and end up with too many. I selected six robust seedlings and transferred them to my three EarthBoxes in May (EarthBox recommends two per box). An EarthBox is a self-watering container where the prescribed amount of fertilizer and dolomite are mixed in with the soil before planting. The plants do not dry out as quickly as if they were in a regular container because a screen separates the soil from a reservoir below so the roots can take in water if needed. For this experiment, it did not have to be an EarthBox, it could be any self-watering container big enough for eggplants with the proper amount of fertilizer. A self-watering container helps to alleviate the stress that occurs when the water fluctuates too much. Since I have to spend half my life in an office, I can’t always monitor the soil moisture level. Also, I happened to have three EarthBoxes because I used to grow tomatoes in them on the deck.
My theory is that growing the eggplants in an EarthBox with potting soil and the prescribed fertilizer and dolomite will provide the plants the optimum level of nutrients and soil texture so that the plants will not be stressed. Stressed plants attract harmful bugs and insects such as flea beetles.
I put one container on my deck in full sun and two by the other side of the house, also in sun. They are deliberately placed in areas that get plenty of sun and cross-site ventilation.
As of mid-June, there are no or very few flea beetles, the leaves look very healthy, and I can see one flower bud. I know eggplant can be grown easily here in Virginia; I have heard others say they had bumper crops last year. Hoping for the best — gardening is an adventure!