If you like eggplant (Solanum melongena) and enjoy gardening, then add 'Ichiban' eggplant (Solanum melongena 'Ichiban') to your vegetable plot. This variety belongs to a group sometimes called Japanese or Oriental eggplant. Its fruits are thinner than standard-sized eggplant fruits and tend to be more mild and flavorful, with thin, easily peeled skins. 'Ichiban' eggplant is grown as an annual in all parts of the United States, needing only basic care and a little extra attention now and then to thrive.
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Seeds or Seedlings
'Ichiban' eggplant is typical of all eggplants in growing well in warm weather, but it produces large numbers of 10-inch-long, dark-purple fruits in 50 to 60 days, unlike standard varieties that can take 70 days or longer. Harvest the eggplants while the outer skin is glossy and not dull in color. Once the skin turns dull, the fruit is over-ripe, which leads to bitterness in its flavor. Sterilize your pruning shears or a sharp knife by wiping the blades off with alcohol. This keeps disease from being transferred to the plant. Snip the eggplant from the plant, allowing a small section of stem to remain attached to the eggplant. Pulling or twisting the eggplant off can break the plant's stem.
You can start 'Ichiban' plants indoors from seeds, sowing the seeds 1/4 inch deep in soil-filled pots or trays about six to 10 weeks before you plan to plant the resulting seedlings in the garden. An option is to start with seedlings purchased at a plant nursery or garden center to get a quick start on the growing season. Either way, wait until all danger of frost has passed and daytime temperatures stay at or above 70 degrees Fahrenheit to plant seedlings in the garden.
When starting seeds indoors, use commercial potting soil or a soilless mix. Never use garden soil, which can harbor pests and their eggs.
Choose a planting spot that gets at least eight hours of direct sun exposure per day, and space the seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart to give the plants room to spread. Set seedlings in holes that keep the plants at the same soil depth as they were in their pots, and fill the rest of each hole with soil. Water the planted site's soil well.
You can also grow these 3-foot-tall plants in containers, with one plant per 5-gallon pot; keep the pots in direct sun exposure for the best results. Ensure each container has bottom drainage holes.
Eggplants grow best in soil high in organic content. So mix about a 1-inch-thick layer of compost into your planting area to a soil depth of 6 to 8 inches before you plant. Eggplants also require good drainage to thrive. If your garden soil is rich in clay, then combine a few-inches-thick layer of sand with the soil to improve its drainage. The soil's pH level should be 6.2 to 6.8 for eggplants.
Like all eggplant varieties, 'Ichiban' needs adequate moisture to produce a heavy crop of fruits. Water is especially important when the young fruits start developing, with about 1 inch per week being ideal. Give extra water whenever the top 1 to 2 inches of soil feel dry to the touch, using a soaker hose or drip irrigation to keep foliage dry and suppress growth of fungus. Adding 2 or 3 inches of organic mulch such as shredded bark or straw on the soil surface under the plants also helps conserve soil moisture while keeping down weeds, but keep mulch back a bit from each plant's center to discourage fungal growth.
'Ichiban' eggplant is a heavy feeder, needing fertilizer on a regular basis. Before planting, mix 2 to 3 pounds of a granular, 15-5-10 formula into the soil for each 100 square feet of planting area. Then feed the plants with more fertilizer monthly, starting one month after planting. Use about 1 pound of the same formula for each 100 feet of planted row, mixing it into a shallow trench that you form with a trowel about 1 foot away from the plants; this fertilizer method is called side dressing.
'Ichiban' eggplant is usually simple to grow, doing especially well in cool climates and producing fruits into fall. It is susceptible to several pests, however, including flea beetles that chew tiny holes in leaves and slow plant growth. Prevent damage from these pests by setting floating row covers over young 'Ichiban' plants to prevent the insects from feeding and laying eggs on the plants.
The plants also may attract Colorado potato beetles, which have yellow and black stripes. Hand-pick these beetles and their clusters of yellow eggs from the plants. Weblike coverings on leaves and growing tips are caused by spider mites, which also feed on the plants. Spray all parts of the spider mite-affected plants until they are wet with an insecticidal soap-water solution, made by diluting a concentrated insecticidal soap at a rate of 5 tablespoons per 1 gallon of water. Repeat the application every two weeks as needed.
'Ichiban' eggplants are quite disease-resistant but can develop a fungal disease called Verticillium wilt when grown in overly moist conditions. The best way to prevent that problem is by spacing plants properly and clearing plant debris from the garden on a regular basis.
If your plants develop a fungal wilt, then plant in a different spot next year because fungus remains in soil.