This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
The time required to bring plants into bearing from seeds varies with the condition of the soil and the temperature. During cool weather the plants grow very slowly, but during hot weather they grow rapidly and mature fruit in much less time. Those who wish to have early fruit and are able to use hotbeds or propagating-houses should sow the seed 120 to 150 days before the fruit is wanted. Prepare the hotbeds as for other seedlings, and sow in rows a few inches apart. When these are beginning to show their leaves or when the seedlings are beginning to look spindly, they should be pricked out and transferred to another bed. In this each plant should be given about a 2-inch square; then they may be forced until the plants crowd one another in the bed, when they should be transferred again. When the plants have attained the size of 6 inches, and the atmosphere will permit, they may be set out in the field. A somewhat more laborious, but at the same time more successful plan, is to plant the seedlings in 2-inch flower-pots and then shift to larger ones as often as the plants become pot-bound or crowd one another in the bed. Fig. 1380 represents a plant three-tenths natural size, just taken from a flowerpot and ready to be shifted to a larger one.
By shifting until 6-inch pots are reached, the eggplant may be forced along without injury to blooming size or even to a size when fruit is beginning to set, and then set out in the field without injury to the plants or crop. Eggplant-growers should bear in mind constantly that from the time of sprouting the seeds to the harvesting of the crop, the plants cannot stand a severe shock in their growth without detriment to the crop. When the plant is once started, it should then be forced right along and never allowed to become stunted during its growth. The amount of damage done by neglecting plants before they are set in the field varies with the severity of the shock and the length of time during which the plant undergoes the disadvantageous conditions. If it becomes necessary to harden the plants off before setting them in the field, this should be done gradually. Culture in the field. - After the field has been thoroughly prepared in the way of plowing and fertilizing, which should have been done at least two weeks before the plants were set out, the rows should be laid off 3 to 4 feet apart. The plants may be set 2 to 4 feet apart in the row, varying with the varieties to be used and the soil. Tillage should be continued and varied according to the conditions of the weather.
In a wet season it is well to cultivate the land as deeply as possible, while in dry weather cultivation should be shallow, simply sufficient to keep the weeds from growing, to keep the soil well aired, and to keep mulching of dry soil on the land. Under ordinary circumstances it does not pay to prune or pinch out the buds, but when the season is short this may be resorted to with some advantage. If it is desirable to have the fruit attain a certain size before frost, one may begin to pinch out the blossoms and new growth about three weeks before its usual occurrence. This same process will be of advantage when the fruit is to be brought into market at a certain time. A great many attempts have been made to hold eggplants over the summer, that is to have a spring cropping and then allow the plants to remain in the field, cultivate them up and make a fall crop from the old stalks. Sometimes this process is successful but generally speaking it is a wasteful and expensive method. The old plants that have borne a crop should be discarded and a fresh seed-bed started to bring the plants in at the time desired.
If about 150 days are allowed from the time of sowing the seed, the grower will have a good field of fresh plants to start in with, which will produce a higher quality and larger quantity of fruit.
Fig. 1379. Non-pollinated fruit.
Fig. 1380. Pot-grown plant ready for setting in the field.
It is better to cut the fruit from the plant than to attempt to break it, especially if the work is being done by careless laborers. After cutting the fruit, it may be placed in large baskets and hauled to the packing-house for crating. Each fruit should be wrapped separately in heavy paper, either manila or brown, and care must be exercised not to wrap it while moist. Formerly the large crate was generally employed, but in the last ten years there has been a decided tendency toward reducing the size of the crate. The eggplant crate is now about double the size of the bean crate, and usually ships at the 80-pound rate. The eggplant is regarded as a staple vegetable, consequently fancy wrapping-paper or fancy methods of packing do not pay for the trouble. It stands shipment well to distant markets, so that freight shipments are usually employed. At times in the winter and spring, the price of eggplant becomes very high and then the shipments go forward by express.
There are only a few varieties offered in the market. The New York Improved Spineless matures a little earlier than the Black Pekin. The New York Purple (Fig. 1381), Black Pekin and the New York Spineless are excellent for shipping purposes. The above varieties are the black-fruited, and the most popular in the United States, while the white-fruited sorts are said to be the most popular in Europe. For home use, the white-fruited varieties are preferable, but as these make poor sellers in the United States, one must raise the purple sorts for market. For home gardens, the early and small Early Dwarf Purple (Fig. 1382) is useful. It is particularly recommended for northern climates. There are three main types of eggplants, as follows: The commoner garden varieties, Solarium Melongenavar. esculentum, Bailey (Figs. 1381, 1383); the long-fruited or "serpent" varieties, S. Melon-gena variety serpentinum, Bailey; the Early Dwarf Purple type variety depressum, Bailey (Fig. 1382). See Solanum. The so-called Chinese eggplant is a different species, for which consult Solarium.
This is by no means a difficult operation and may be done profitably in certain sections of the South. For this purpose all defective or dwarfed plants in the field should be cut out. By a little attention one will be able to know when the seeds have matured sufficiently for gathering. At this time the eggs usually turn a lighter color or even somewhat yellow. The fruit should be gathered and carried to the packing-house, where it may be left in a pile for two or three days, as there is very little danger from rotting. When a sufficient number have been collected, the laborers may be set to paring off the extra amount of meat on the outside of the seed. The remaining core may then be cut longitudinally into quarters or eighths, using a dull knife to avoid cutting the seed. After a quantity of these have been pared, they may be placed in a barrel and covered with water. The barrel should not be made more than two-thirds full. In a day or two fermentation will set in and the meaty portion will macerate from the seed. The seed may then be separated from the meat by means of sieves, using first wide-meshed ones to remove the meat and then finer-meshed ones to screen out the seed from the finer pulp.
The seed should not be allowed to stand more than two or three days in the macerating barrel, as the heat evolved by fermentation and the heat of the summer is liable to cause them to germinate. After separating the seed from the pulp, it should be dried in the shade and wrapped in secure packages. By covering with tin-foil or oil-paper, the atmospheric moisture will be kept out and molding prevented.
Fig. 1381. Field-grown plant of New York Improved eggplant.
Fig. 1382. Sprays of Early Dwarf Purple eggplant.
The most destructive of diseases in the lower South is a blight fungus which attacks the plant just beneath the surface of the ground, causing the softer tissues at this point to rot off and the plant to die. The fungus is not able to penetrate the harder portion of the stem, consequently the plant lingers along for weeks after being attacked. A number of attempts have been made to cause this blight fungus to produce fruiting organs so it could be classified, but up to the present this has proved futile. In such cases as this there is no remedy. After the plant is attacked, it is usually doomed. Much, however, can be done in the way of preventing the spread of this fungus. If all plants are destroyed as soon as found to be affected, the fungus cannot perfect its sclerotia, or rusting state, and thus its propagating is prevented. The normal home of this fungus is in decaying vegetable matter. If, therefore, a field is kept free from this sort of material one will do much to prevent this fungus from being present. Some soluble form of fungicide, as Eau Celeste or potassium sulfide, may De sprayed about the roots of the plants to good advantage. Practise rotation of crops. A second form of blight is caused by Bacillus solanacearum.
This disease has its origin of infection in the leaves, and is introduced by means of insects which have fed upon diseased plants and carried the infection to the well ones. The disease works rapidly down the tissues and causes the death of the leaf and finally of the whole plant. The only remedy for this is to destroy all plants that are affected with the disease as soon as detected, and kill off all insects. When this disease is known to be present in a section, it is best to set the plants as far apart as practicable. In this way the danger of infection from insects is somewhat reduced. When the disease is known to be present in a field it should not be planted to this crop. Anthracnose (Gloeosporium melongenae) does not cause great damage to this crop, but is one of the agents that reduce the profits. "It may be recognized by its producing decided pits in the fruit, upon which soon appear minute blotches bordered with pink." Bordeaux mixture may be used to good advantage for preventing this disease. Phoma solani frequently causes damping-off in the hotbed. It often renders a whole bed worthless. Plants affected with this fungus usually fall over as if eaten off by some insect.
Some plants, however, continue a miserable existence and finally die. ' Careful examination will reveal the point of injury, which is at the ground-level. The best preventive is to use well-drained beds and then avoid excessive watering. When damping-off is detected in a seedling bed, the atmosphere and surface soil should be dried as rapidly as possible, followed by one application of fungicide.
Fig. 1383. Long White eggplant.
Among the most annoying of the insect enemies is the cutworm (larvae of Noctudiae). These insects are almost omnipresent, and when nearly full grown are liable to cut off plants that are 4 or 5 inches high. It is not common for one insect to cut off more than a single plant, but in ordinarily fertile soil there are enough cutworms present to destroy the entire field. So that, on the whole, it becomes very annoying. When these insects are quite destructive, it is possible to kill them with poisoned bran or poisoned cottonseed meal, sweetened with syrup or sugar. Another insect that does more or less damage is the cotton bollworm (Hetiothis armiger). This insect does its damage by boring a hole into the stems or the fruit. In the latter case it causes it to rot before it is picked, or possibly in transit. As the fruit becomes larger there is less danger of attack from this insect, so that the main trouble occurs in the earlier stages of its growth. The eggplant aphis (Siphonophora cucurbitae) is one of the most annoying pests to this crop. It usually makes its appearance about the time the crop is fit to ship, and appears in such numbers that the plants are ruined in the course of a week or two.
The insect attacks the lower surface of the leaves, making it difficult to reach the pests with insecticides, but persistent efforts and a good tobacco decoction, applied with a fine nozzle, will give considerable relief. Sulfur spray or other mild contact insecticide will be found more uniformly effective than tobacco decoction. Whale-oil soap is an excellent insecticide to use. Kerosene emulsion and insecticides made from the miscible oils, largely employed in proprietary insecticides, should be avoided. While they may be used effectively, there is considerable danger from scalding in handling by indifferent laborers. p. h. Rolfs.