Eggplant Parmigiana, Moussaka, Moroccan Eggplant Salad, Baba Ganoush… there are plenty of delicious ways to eat eggplant. Growing it in Colorado is a whole different story. A native of warm and humid southeast Asia, it takes a bit of persuasion to convince this tomato family member to thrive in our cool, dry climate.
As Colorado gardeners, we have all sorts of tricks to modify the microclimate around our plants and extend a too-short growing season. Cloches, cold frames, copious use of plastic and accessories such as Wall ‘ O Water are all helpful. However, choosing the right varieties can mean the difference between crop failure and Ratatouille. (For more on how to grow eggplant, see the CSU Fact Sheet on “Peppers and Eggplants.”)
Eggplant doesn’t just come in “large, oblong, and deep purple” anymore. Some varieties are lilac, others are white. Many Thai varieties resemble small green balls. I love the plants (“Neon” is one example) that produce fruit in glowing, psychedelic pinks and purples. And while some are more or less rounded, many others are long and thin. Best of all, many of these more interesting eggplants have significantly shorter days-to-maturity than the old stand-bys.
“Black Beauty” has been around since 1902. It’s the typical variety you see in the market, and it’s fine if you have a long, hot growing season. While “days to maturity” varies from seed company to seed company; the University of Illinois Extension website puts it at 80 days.*
“Dusky” is another Black Beauty look-alike, but it matures in 60 days—almost three weeks earlier! That’s critical, if you want to harvest a crop before fall’s first snow. For a while, this was the most common variety in garden centers around the Colorado Springs area, and it comes highly recommended if you want a traditional-appearing eggplant.
Many cooks believe that the long, slender Japanese eggplants have the best flavor. I certainly enjoy Ichiban. In my garden at 7,000 feet, I don’t get a crop every year, but its versatility in the kitchen makes it worth the gamble.
Another good choice for short seasons is Easter Egg, listed at 52 days. Not only is it very early for an eggplant, with its showy flowers followed by white-to-yellow egg-sized fruit, it really does look like an egg plant! I haven’t had the chance to try this variety in the kitchen, but I’ve been told that the white-fruited varieties tend to be somewhat sweeter than the purple ones.
I’ve already mentioned “Neon,” a fairly long (8 inches) oval variety with stunning fuchsia-pink fruit. Along with being totally gorgeous, it’s also very tasty. I’ve had good results growing it in my tiny (10 x 11 feet) solar greenhouse, but I have not trialed it in my outdoor garden. Reimer Seeds gives it 65 days to maturity.
More recommendations come from Colorado State University, which has compared a number of eggplant varieties in their test plots. Their results include hail resistance, something you don’t find in most trials, but very helpful for Colorado!
Have you grown eggplant here in the Pikes Peak region? I’d love to hear about it. What worked? What didn’t? What special measures did you take to keep the plants happy?
*Because seed companies determine “days to maturity” by growing their own trial gardens, these numbers are useful only for comparison within a company’s listings. Test gardens in different parts of the country will have very different results. Unless noted, I’ve used the University of Illinois Extension numbers.