Male or female eggplant

Eggplant Sex Scandal

Are Male Eggplants Superior?

OK “scandal” may be a bit tabloid but there has been an ongoing controversy regarding whether male eggplants are less bitter than female eggplants and whether eggplants actually have sex at all (bitter and frustrated?).

We’ve gone to the experts to set the record straight. Here’s what they said:

“Male” and “female” eggplant is a case of unfortunate terminology. “Vegetables,” such as eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, are – botanically speaking – really fruits. The fruits themselves can’t be considered “male or female. “Male pollen was transferred to female parts of the flower, resulting in the fruit we eat. Different varieties of eggplant may be more bitter and contain more noticeable seeds than others. Also, as an eggplant fruit matures, the seeds become more noticeable. So an eggplant picked when very mature to over-mature might appear “seedier” than others picked when less mature, even those from the same plant. Pick eggplant fruits when full size is reached but while the exterior is still a glossy purple. Once the exterior becomes dull purple, the eggplant fruit is over-mature.

Source: Robert Cox, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Horticulture, Jefferson County.

There is long-standing controversy about male and female eggplants, which is an inaccurate approach considering the fact that fruits are the product of sex and do not have it. However, it is folk wisdom worth some attention. Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end. The dimple can be very round or oval in shape. The round ones seem to have more seeds and tend to be less meaty, so select the oval dimpled eggplant.

Source: Ron Wolford, Extension Educator-Urban Horticulture & Gardening, and Drusilla Banks, Extension Educator-Nutrition and Wellness, University of Illinois Extension.

Male eggplants tend to have fewer seeds, and are therefore less bitter than female eggplants. To sex an eggplant, look at the indentation at bottom. If it’s deep and shaped like a dash, it’s a female. If it’s shallow and round, it’s a male. Smaller eggplants also tend to be less bitter. Freshness is important, so don’t store them for very long.

Source: The Cook’s Thesaurus, by Lori Alden.

Despite the ages old, old-wives tale that there are male and female eggplants and the male of the species is better eating –detected because it has an “outie” blossom end as opposed to the female “innie” blossom end – there is no such thing. I follow different old-wives adivce, learned from my many years of cooking with old wives in Italy.

Source: The Food Maven Diary, by Arthur Schwartz.

Female and Male Eggplant Myth Debunked

Male and Female Organs in Every Eggplant Flower

If you’re confused by all the talk about male and female eggplants, this might help clear up a few facts regarding this myth. All eggplants come from the female parts of the eggplant flower. However, eggplants also have male organs that exist in every flower, which makes the plant self-fertilizing. The pollen from the male organ transfers to the female organ in the flower, which forms the fruit.

The Myths Surrounding Male Eggplant Gender

The following are a few of the myths surrounding the gender of eggplants:

  • Male eggplants have fewer seeds
  • Male eggplants have a round dent on the bottom of the fruit
  • Male eggplants taste better

All of these old-wives’ tales about male eggplants are false. Simply put, there are no male or female eggplants. They are all the same. When picking your eggplants, or choosing one from the supermarket, look at the color, texture and size of the eggplant, instead of trying to determine if it’s male or female. Picking your eggplants at the right time determines whether they’ll be tender and tasty, or bitter and seedy, not the gender.

Choosing the Tastiest Eggplants

When it’s time to pick your eggplants, you can find the tastiest and most tender ones by following a few guidelines.

  • Always harvest your eggplants when they’re still young. Look for ones with shiny, firm skin, without soft spots or pest damage.
  • When you press the skin with your finger, it should spring back to its original shape.
  • If your eggplant is still green, or you can’t press the skin, it’s under ripe.
  • Young eggplants also have a green, velvety stem.

Another benefit of picking young eggplants is it boosts more eggplant growth and lengthens your growing season.

How to Tell if Eggplant Is Overripe

If you let your eggplants become too large, the skin becomes dull, the flesh tastes bitter, and the seeds grow large and brown. The flesh of overripe eggplants also develops a spongy texture.

Good Morning!

We hope you are enjoying some great fall weather and maybe getting some golf in. It’s Ryder Cup weekend up here in Chicago and the buzz is palpable! Switching gears from the great outdoors to the great indoors let’s talk about what’s happening in the kitchen.

We have gotten a lot of praise for our No-Pasta Vegetable Lasagna post from last week. A couple of the emails that we got asked about a “missing step” that many recipes call for which is the “salting of the eggplant to draw out bitterness”. What we have found is that particular step isn’t necessary if you buy “male” eggplants.

To be clear, we completely understand that eggplants as fruit are “the products of reproduction and do not have a gender.

Plants that produce fruit require the pollination of their flowers. This occurs when pollen from the flower’s male organs (stamen and anthers) comes in contact with the female organ (stigma) either by insect activity or wind. The pollen then travels down a tube below the stigma (style) and into the ovary, which eventually becomes the fruit.

Eggplants are self-pollinators, meaning that they have both the male and female organs within the same flower.

However, incomplete pollination may cause a fruit to develop fewer seeds, which kitchen lore might call “male.” (note the comment from one of our readers “Richard” who reminds us that there isn’t a gender for our lovely eggplant) Over-mature eggplant fruits that have lost their glossy purple color would have bigger, more noticeable, mature seeds which cause bitterness.

However, many cooks believe that there is a connection between the “gender” of an eggplant and the number of seeds (and therefore bitterness) should choose their fruit based not only on its glossy purple skin and smaller size, but also on its purported gender.

So how do we find these “male” eggplants?

The alleged male eggplant is on the left and the female is on the right

When looking at the bottom (blossom) of the eggplant, you will notice a difference in the shape of the indentation. The round indentation would represent the “male” (left) while the more linear indentation would signify the female (right).

So the next time you go to your farmer’s market or produce section how do you find the perfect “male”? (which ideally means less seeds)

  • Try to find eggplants that have a smaller round indentation at the bottom
  • You want eggplants that are smaller, bigger is not better in this case!
  • They should have a deep purple and glossy skin to them. (Unless you are purchasing a white eggplant or some varieties of Japanese eggplant)
  • Avoid those that are extremely large, dried out (dimpled) and have a matte finish to them.

Enjoy the day and keep smiling!

Love and hugs,

Donna and Daniela

What Is the Best Way to Pollinate Eggplants

Hand Pollinating Eggplant

If your eggplant flowers aren’t producing fruit, it could be a pollination problem. You can help them by hand pollinating the flowers yourself. You can do this in a couple of different ways.

  • Shaking the flowers – By tapping the flowers gently, the pollen can transfer from the male to the female organs of the flower. This loosens the pollen, so it can move. Sometimes, if your area has humid weather, the pollen becomes sticky, preventing it from self-pollinating.
  • Paint the pollen – Take a small paintbrush and gently swirl it inside the flower. This will move the pollen from the male to female parts of the plant. You can also use a cotton swab for this method.

Bee Pollination

The best method of eggplant pollination comes from bees. Wild bees usually pollinate the flowers enough to have an abundant eggplant crop. If you’re not seeing many bees in your garden, you can provide them by planting flowers around your garden that attract bees. For the best results, plant several different pollinators that attract bees at different times of the day.

The following flowering companion plants are favorites of bees:

  • Alyssum
  • Aster
  • Geranium
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Clover
  • Poppies

Planting native wildflowers of your area is a natural way to attract bees, and they’ll continue growing every year. Native wildflowers make a natural, attractive habitat for your landscape, and provide wild bees with pollen and nectar.

Protect Eggplant Pollinators

Since bumblebees are the most effective pollinators of eggplants, it’s important to protect them while they’re visiting your garden. If your eggplants have any pests on the leaves, such as flea beetles, aphids or whiteflies, use organic methods to get rid of bugs get rid of bugs on your eggplants. Avoid pesticides that can harm the bee population in your garden.

One organic method of getting rid of pests on your eggplants is covering your plants with mesh nylon, which stops the pests from landing on your eggplants. Another method is to plant companion plants that attract flea beetles and other pests. A few of these trap crops are pumpkins and Blue Hubbard squash.

What is the proper technique to hand pollinate an eggplant?

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With growing concern over the declining population of pollinators, it’s nice to know which veggies are self pollinating plants and which ones rely exclusively on wind or insect pollinators.

Most of us are familiar with the role that pollinators like bees, wasps, and other bugs have in the process of pollination.

Pollination refers to the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower, the stamen, to the female part of the flower, the pistil. All plants require pollination to make fruit and seeds.

When insects like bees and wasps visit flowers, their activity facilitates the transfer of pollen within a single flower and from flower to flower.

While the decline of pollinators is a great concern, gardeners can take some comfort in the fact that many plants do not rely on pollinators to set fruit.

Many of your favorite vegetables are self pollinating plants and do not require the assistance of pollinators to make fruit.

Other plants rely primarily on the wind to transfer their pollen from the male and female flower, and some plants are completely dependent on pollinators to transfer pollen from a male to a female flower.

Self-pollinating plants:

Self pollinating plants have complete flowers (i.e. both stamen and pistil in the same bloom) and readily transfer pollen from the stamen to the pistil with even the gentlest breeze. Pollinators that visit these flowers will facilitate pollination and can improve the yield per plant.

However, pollinators are not required to make fruit on these plants. In fact, if you are concerned about a lack of pollinators in your garden, you can replicate their action by gently tapping the stems or brushing against the plants as you walk by.

  • Tomatoes → Learn about growing tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Legumes: beans, peas
  • Okra

Plants that can use the wind to pollinate their flowers:

These plants require either wind or pollinators to move pollen from the stamen to the pistil. They may have complete flowers or separate male and female flowers.

  • Strawberries
  • Corn → Learn about growing corn
  • Wheat
  • Oats

Plants that are not usually grown for their flowers or seeds:

These plants are grown for their roots or leaves and do not need to be pollinated unless you want to save seed.

  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli → Learn about growing broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Herbs like rosemary, basil, oregano, mint, thyme, etc

Plants that require insect pollinators:

The following plants have separate male and female flowers and require pollination by insect pollinators to make fruit.

  • Watermelon
  • Squash → Learn about growing squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Cucumbers
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Plums

While we should be concerned about the overuse of pesticides and the effect it has on pollination of food crops, this list is meant to alleviate some fears about growing food in an area where there are not many insect pollinators.

Even though we don’t necessarily need the bees for these crops, we should encourage them to come visit our plants. Pollinators can improve the quality and quantity of produce that you get from your garden.

Read about attracting pollinators to your garden:

10 Ways To Attract Bees To Your Garden

5 Beautiful Plants Bees Love

5 Strange Ways To Attract Pollinators To Your Yard

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Eggplants in the Greenhouse

A greenhouse eggplant crop is relatively easy to grow as a commercial or hobby crop.

Although eggplant is not a regular food item for many people, it does have a place in the greenhouse production plan for those who like it and value its contribution to their cuisine.

The crop is about a six months long. It could be reduced to a shorter time but less fruit would be produced. Leaving the crop in the greenhouse more than six months would create a problem with plant height. Plants of most cultivars grow to six to seven feet tall in the six month time frame when trained in the way suggested below.

Any attempt to produce eggplant fruit through the lowest light time of the year, in all but high light levels, should be avoided. Good light levels are needed for good fruit production. With enough artificial light, fruit can be produced through otherwise low light periods.

Eggplant is usually served in a cooked state rather than fresh. Eggplant Parmesan is what many people think of when they consider eating eggplant at a meal. The eggplant fruit is sliced crosswise and the circular pieces are dipped in a batterand rolled in a crumb preparation before being fried or grilled. Eggplants can also be prepared in a casserole or as young stuffed fruit for individual sized servings.

Young Eggplants in Dutch buckets filled with perlite.

Plant Production System

Plants are started from seeds that can be placed in plant starter media such as rockwool, Sure to Grow or a soilless seedling mix. They can be transplanted into their final location in the production system in the greenhouse when they are three to four weeks old. The plants will have three to four true leaves by the time they are ready to be transplanted.

About four square feet per plant is the required greenhouse spacing. That is the same production space that is used for tomato plants. In the Dutch Bucket production system, two plants would be placed in a bucket. They are usually placed in opposite corners of the bucket. The perlite bag system has also been used for eggplant production. Three plants would be placed on a 42 inch long perlite filled bag. Space is left between the bags so that the plants are an average of 16 inches apart within the row. By the time the plants are a foot tall, they should be supported in their vertical position with vine twine. Although there is little danger of the plants falling over at this stage of growth, it is much easier to get the vine twine installed before the plants require it.

The vine twine is hung down from the support wire overhead or from the greenhouse structure if you only have a few plants. Because the plants will not be leaned and lowered like tomato plants are, there is no need to provide for the lengthening of the support twine once it has been installed. It can just be tied to the support wire or the part of the greenhouse support structure used to support the plant. The bottom end of the twine is fastened to the stem of the plant under a leaf. If a vine clip is used, the vine twine is pinched in the hinge of the clip and the clip is fastened around the stem under a leaf. Twist ties can be used if you have only a few plants. They are readily available but take a little longer to install. As the vine twine hangs down beside the stem of the plant, place the twist tie between the plant and the vine twine, wrap both ends around the vine twine and then bring the ends together on the opposite side of the stem just under a leaf. Twist the ends of the twist tie together. Clips or twist ties should be installed every eight to ten inches up the stem as the plant grows.

Some growers twist the vine twine around the plant stems instead of using clips or twist ties. Twisting is a time saving procedure used by some big commercial growers. This is a good way to break many of the plant stems unless you have developed your skill in performing this operation,

Double Top The Plant

Once the plants are twelve to fourteen inches tall, small suckers or branches will start to grow between the leaves and the main stem of almost every leaf. Those are all broken out to keep the plant growing with only one stem until a major branch develops at a height of 8 or ten inches up the stem from the bottom of the plant. This will be a much more vigorous and larger branch than has appeared on the plant to this point in its growth. It will be allowed to grow and will be clipped up to its own vine twine to support its vertical growth. The rest of the suckers or branches will be removed from the main stem and from the branch that is retained so that the plant will have two stems and growing points.

Flowers and Fruit

The first flower or cluster of flowers will develop just above the same node as the first major plant branch develops. If there is more than one flower, most growers will remove all but the largest flower. If, however, you have two flowers that are about equal in size, you can leave them both on the plant to produce fruit. This is because you will be picking the fruit when they are two thirds to three quarters their mature size. When you pick an eggplant fruit before it is fully grown, it is very tender and tasty. The skin is also very tender. This is a real advantage to the consumer of the eggplant no matter in what way it is prepared. The skin on a mature eggplant can be tough and resistant to the bite of those who use synthetic teeth.

Eggplant flowers like tomato flowers are self pollinating flowers by their design. They are, however, even easier to get pollinated and have fruit set in the greenhouse than are tomato flowers. To make sure the flowers get pollinated, you can tap the flower stalk with a pencil when the flower petals are fully open. It is not necessary to have bumblebees or use a more sophisticated pollinating devise with eggplant flowers. If you have bumblebees in the greenhouse to carry out pollination with other plants, they will visit the eggplant flowers also. If bumblebees are present, you will not need to do any hand pollinating. The bumblebees will do an adequate job.

Harvest the fruit by cutting it off the plant with pruning cutters. The stem of the fruit is very thick and does not separate from the plant easily nor without damage to the plant unless it is cut. As mentioned above, the fruit is harvested before it reaches its full size so that you can enjoy a better tasting, more tender fruit no matter how you prepare it in the kitchen. The tougher skin that develops when the fruit is mature is helpful in the shipping and marketing of the fruit on a commercial basis. By growing your own, you can choose the quality and not be concerned about the way other people would handle the fruit.

Harvesting the fruit before it is fully grown and mature cuts the time from seeding until first harvest. You get to enjoy tastier fruit sooner. You will also be able to get a few more fruits per plant. Keeping the fruit picked before they mature keeps the plant growing and setting fruit better and longer.

Leaf Pruning

When the eggplants in the greenhouse are about 4 feet (1.25 m) tall, you should start removing a few of the older leaves at the bottom of the plant. Remove four or five leaves per week per plant once you start leaf removal. New leaves are being produced at the top of the plant as the main stem and the branch each continue to grow.

The absence of leaves at the bottom of the plant allows for better air movement around the base of the plants. This reduces the risk of fungus disease development.

The leaves are broken off the stem at the natural breaking point where the leaf attaches to the stem. Press down on the leaf petiole near the stem of the plant. If the leaf petiole does not break all the way off, lift up on it to finish the break without tearing a strip of tissue from the stem of the plant.

Cultivars

Eggplant fruit produced by different cultivars have a range of colors and shapes. Before growing a given cultivar, you will need to decide whether you want a traditional size and shaped fruit or whether you want to grow one of the variations. You may want to grow two or more cultivars having different fruit types if you really like eggplant and may want to check out the results of growing your own. Most of the pictures are of plants that produced a typical one pound (450 g), dark purple fruit at maturity. Cultivars like this include Orion, the one in most of the accompanying pictures. The white fruited cultivar in the picture is Tango. We have also grown Zebra. The Zebra fruit color is a light purple with white strips.

Small packs of seeds of several different cultivars including Tango and Zebra are available from Johnny.

No Gender Difference in Eggplant Fruit

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A recent discussion on the sex of eggplant fruit inspired me to share a bit of basic botany.

Fruit, whether an eggplant, apple or orange is the product of the sex of the flowers, but they themselves do not have a sex. So, you can quit looking for the male and female bellybuttons when selecting yours in the produce department or farmers market.

Flowers contain male and female reproductive parts. Some are all in one flower, others are strictly male and others are strictly female and may occur on the same plant or different plants. That is why you see male ginkgo trees recommended. These lack female flowers and therefore do not produce the smelly fruit.

Male flower parts contain the pollen that transfers via insects, wind, water or gravity to the female flower parts. Once the pollen enters the female flower structure, fertilization and fruit formation occurs.

A bit more information: Select your eggplants based on the look and feel of the fruit. The skin should be glossy and when you gently press against the skin it should give slightly. If the skin is dull, brown or soft, it is over ripe. The fruit will be spongy, full of seeds and bitter.

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