Eggplants Aren’t Always Purple

Eggplants Aren’t Always Purple

orange eggplant

Turkish Orange Eggplant. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

Mid-summer in the Panhandle vegetable garden is prime time to be offering up a great crop of eggplant. This is one of my favorite summertime fruits to grow! (Yes, it is botanically speaking a ‘fruit’ and not a ‘vegetable’.)

Many home gardeners are familiar with the standard ‘Black Beauty’ variety that produces large plump fruit, but there are many other eggplant varieties to try. Take a look at Heirloom Eggplant Varieties in Florida to get some ideas. Gardeners can access dozens of varieties through online seed vendors. Eggplants can be dark purple, purple-striped, pale purple, white, green and even orange. They come in all shapes and sizes and all are delicious to eat, j make sure you learn when to harvest the variety you choose for optimum enjoyment. For example, the Turkish Orange illustrated in the photo should be picked before it turns all orange to avoid any bitterness.

In the panhandle, plant eggplant anytime February through August for harvest late spring through fall. Eggplant is in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family along with tomato, pepper, and potato. Keep that in mind when you are planning your garden for next year to avoid planting members of the same family in the same spot year after year, which encourages recurring disease and pest issues.

Eggplant loves rich soil and benefits from regular fertilization with commercial fertilizers or applications of compost. Eggplant is considered a long season crop and one can expect harvest to begin around 90-110 days after planting seed or 75-90 days if setting out transplants.  Eggplant is, in general, more drought tolerant than tomato but it is still good practice keep them consistently moist and avoid letting them completely dry out. Also, while eggplant is self-pollinating, it is an excellent pollinator plant, as many species are attracted to the pretty blooms.

Eggplant is also relatively easy to grow, not generally requiring pruning or staking. Many of the same pests of tomato and pepper will also be attracted to eggplant. Be on the lookout for tomato hornworm and other caterpillar pests. For natural pest control methods, consult Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida

For more information:

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide

 

Time to Harvest Blackberries!

Time to Harvest Blackberries!

ripening blackberries.

Ripening thornless blackberries. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

To everyone’s delight, the blackberries are ripening in the Santa Rosa County Extension demonstration garden. The blackberry patch is a reliable perennial that continues to provide fresh berries year after year. Before you decide against them because you don’t want a thorny and painful hazard in your landscape, remember that there are thornless blackberry cultivars with fruit just as tasty as the old-fashioned thorny blackberry varieties. However, it is important to take care and make sure that the variety or cultivar you choose is adapted to our Florida climate and chill hours.

blackberry canes.

Blackberries bloom and produce fruit on last year’s canes. This year’s growth (the bright green shoot in the front center) will produce next year. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

You can choose a blackberry variety from your local nursery or propagate some plants from a favorite blackberry grown by a friend or neighbor (with permission, of course). Methods of propagation include stem cuttings, root cuttings, tip layering and removing the suckers that arise from the roots.

Plant when the weather is cooler in winter and choose a sunny spot with good soil. Frequent irrigation is crucial during the establishment period and when the fruit is produced. Weed control with organic or plastic mulches is also important to the success of your blackberry patch.

For more information on blackberry cultivars, propagation and growing success please see the University of Florida publication The Blackberry.

An Unexpected Inhabitant

An Unexpected Inhabitant

You never know what you’ll find when you start looking closely in your garden. I was puzzled as to why there were three dead leaves hanging together on my sweetbay tree when all the other leaves looked so nice and healthy. On further investigation, I found a cocoon was made by binding the leaves together and it was firmly attached to the branch with silk.

The hanging dead leaves are a perfect hiding place for the cocoon of the sweetbay silkmoth. Photo credit: Mary Salinas.

This is the cocoon of the Sweetbay silkmoth, Callosamia securifera. Adult females lay their eggs on the native sweetbay tree, Magnolia virginiana, as the caterpillars only feed on sweetbay leaves. The trees tolerate having a few leaves eaten so there is no need to pick off the caterpillars if you find them. Local birds may do that for you as they rely on an abundance of caterpillars to feed their baby birds.

See photos of this beautiful moth with more details on its life cycle.

And then explore Gardening with Wildlife on UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

A Weird Tomato!

A Weird Tomato!

Tomato with sprouts. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

What in the world is happening to the tomato in this photograph? Are those hostile parasitic plants taking over the tomato?

No, nothing so sinister. You are just seeing anxious new tomato plants sprouting from the seeds inside the tomato.

A naturally-occurring plant hormone normally prevents seed inside of fruit from sprouting too soon. But sometimes the piece of fruit is hanging around a bit longer than nature planned and the hormone that prevents the seed sprouting is depleted. So, the seeds start to sprout and look like squiggly white worms inside the tomato. With enough time, they pop through the skin and emerge as little tomato plants.

Halved tomato with interior sprouts. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

This phenomenon also commonly happens in pepper, citrus, apple, jackfruit, avocado and pear.

Yes, you can separate the little plants and plant them on their own if you would like.

For more information on growing tomatoes:

Tomatoes in the Florida Garden

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide

 

Be Safe During Hurricane Clean Up

Be Safe During Hurricane Clean Up

When there is so much to do in cleaning up after a storm, sometimes we tend to do too much so that it can all get done. Be safe, don’t add to the disaster.

Be careful with that chainsaw! Photo credit: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Take breaks and rest often. Mistakes happen when people are exhausted.
  • Only lift what you can comfortably handle, lifting with your legs and not your back. Get a buddy to help with heavier objects or wait until a team or equipment can assist.
  • Make sure you are adequately hydrated. Always keep water nearby and take a long drink during your breaks.
  • Protect yourself against biting pests such as mosquitoes with insect repellent.
  • Wear protective gloves, sturdy closed toe shoes and long pants.
  • Have a first-aid kit available for minor injuries.
  • Make sure ladders are stable and locked into position.
  • If you are using any type of power equipment, especially a chainsaw, make sure someone else is around. And protective gear is a must. Read about details in this article.