Solanaceous crops, like African eggplant, need to be rotated and cannot return to the same field (or the same garden patch) until 2 or 3 seasons have passed. Factor this into your medium-term plan.
- Plough, disc and ridge if you prefer to follow conventional cultivation practices.
- A more soil-friendly choice is the practice of no-till or partial no-till. Zambian conservation farmer Rolf Shenton says: “we would rip or fork if the soil needed it. Otherwise, just dig a hole, fill it with compost and plant the seedling on top. The only exception would be where there was any risk of water logging; in this case one would have to ridge to ensure drainage.”
- Dig the planting holes as deep as 0.5 m (2 ft) across and down, fill them with compost and make a 2 cm (a little more than half an inch) hole for the seedling.
- Cowpeas make good inter-cropping companions to African eggplants and can also fill planting gaps successfully.
- Don’t plant African eggplants near tomatoes, chillis or bell peppers. Although they are all members of the same family, they have bad family relationships.
- Good yields are directly related to fertile soil. If you use organic manure you fertilise at transplanting as explained above.
- If you use inorganic fertiliser (NPK 17 : 17 : 17), apply it a month after transplanting and again two months later.
- It’s worthwhile looking at Michris Janse van Rensburg’s hand-held, calibrated fertiliser applicator to do this job.
- Mulch to keep the soil damp, but keep the mulch off the plant stems to prevent disease.
- This is a crop best planted before the rains but if there is a dry spell you will need to irrigate during the flowering and fruit setting stages.
- Leaf harvesting starts just before the flowers open.
- Harvest fruit while the skin is still tender and pale. The more you pick, the more you encourage the fruiting process.
- The times from planting to first leaf harvest are: 45 to 60 days; 100 to 120 days for fruit harvest.
- Pick the leaves 10 cm (4 inches) above the ground and harvest repeatedly. Good crop management can extend the harvesting period to six months.
PESTS AND DISEASES
- African eggplants are vulnerable to the same pests and diseases that attack tomato and potato crops: bollworm, leaf miner, nematodes, thrips, aphids, spider mites, bacterial wilt, damping off, grey leaf spot, collar rot and fruit rot.
- If you follow a conventional chemical programme for pest control, then follow it to the letter. That means do what the label says you should do; you never do what you think you should do, it’s an extremely bad idea.
- Use chemicals with caution and accept the fact that you are a farmer and not an inorganic chemist. The chemists who wrote the label instructions are experienced specialists.
- Stick to the post-spraying to harvesting period advised so that you can harvest without incurring unsafe levels of residual chemicals.
- Alternative advice from horticulturalists to farmers (who don’t have the cash to buy the chemicals) is to use powdered Neem extract soaked in water overnight and liquid soap (50 ml soap : 20 litres Neem solution). Spray the mixture on the plants.
Personally, I would not advise any concoctions of ash, diesel, washing powder and similar mixtures that sometimes do the rounds. At best, these mixtures will not work; at worst they will damage your crop.
Healthy plants and vigilant scouting is high on the list of effective measures to keep your crop safe.
EU-sponsored IndigenoVeg project. Crop information compiled from research https://www.nap.edu/read/11763/chapter/2done by AVRDC-RCA (Tanzania), ARC (South Africa) and NARO (Uganda).
https://www.nap.edu/read/11763/chapter/2 Lost Crops of Africa