Eggplant and Cucumber

I really must contain my enthusiasm for the beauty of eggplant before I give over my entire garden to it. There are a number of gorgeous heirlooms that range in color from snowy white to nearly black through a dazzling shade of near fuchsia. Decisions, decisions. My little container garden can only accommodate one. And as fate would have it, flea beetles love eggplant as much as I do. So this collection is not only captivating, it gives flea beetles a real run for their money.

Eggplant is our problem child. It must be started under lights by March 15. Chances are it will have to be advanced to a larger pot before it can be planted outside. And the final destination of just one eggplant must be a five to ten gallon pot.

The single best companions for eggplant are Thai basil, African marigold, nasturtium, and lemon cucumber. You might only want one cucumber but do consider three each of the others. We want them to flank and surround the eggplant. Should you grow more than one eggplant be certain to increase all of these proportionally.

African marigolds can be large plants, sometimes reaching a height of 4 to 6 feet. So they too must have their own generous container. The others however can be planted into mini-gardens. A seven-gallon container will accommodate one each of basil and cucumber with enough space to add some nasturtium seeds. Start the marigold, basil and cucumber about April first to the fifteenth under your grow lights. Nasturtium can be started early too but know that they are temperamental about transplanting.

I should note that all of these companions are easily started from seed directly sown where you intend them to grow. But they need to be well on their way to afford that precious eggplant the protection it needs against flea beetles; hence the early start under lights. And truthfully they are not always enough. For about two weeks you must check your eggplant daily for those little critters. Strong mint tea is a good repellent but it doesn’t hurt to have a product such as Safer’s Soap on hand. Although we haven’t talked about trap crops yet, arugula makes a good one for flea beetles. Traps crops are sacrificial plants that draw offending insects away from the desired plant to become infested themselves. Once they are they must be destroyed. Flea beetles disappear quickly and chances are they will not return once this collection becomes a glorious tangle of beauty.

Please note that cucumber despises potato. If you plan to grow potato keep these antagonists at a good distance from each other.

I realize that you might not be limited to containers at all. If not plant this group together in irregular sweeping colonies. Do not plant in rows. Be sure that your eggplant is interplanted with the basil, not side by side. Think about using an “S” shape of altering basil and eggplant. Plant African marigolds in the open loop in the back and cucumber and nasturtium in the front. This group is so beautiful together you will just want to pull up a lawn chair and look at it for hours. And by the way, let that basil bloom to its heart’s content.

 Garden notes:

Sow several seeds of cucumber per hole, ½ inch deep, on your last frost date. Depending on the variety cucumber germinates in 5 to 11 days and reaches maturity in about 50 to 70 days. A five-gallon container will accommodate two full size cucumbers and about 4 bush types.

Start eggplant seed eight to ten weeks before your last frost date. These are large plants and will probably need advanced to larger pots before bedding them out after all risk of frost has passed. It is recommended that they not be transplanted for several weeks after the last frost date because they need a warm night temperature, preferably about 70 degrees. I think they could be planted out earlier provided they are tucked in at night with floating row cover. This is likely true of tomato and pepper as well. Eggplant seed germinates in 8 to 25 days and requires 5 to 10 gallons of soil per mature plant. Eggplant can be harvested in 75 to 85 days.

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