Let them eat eggplant

Departments - Fresh Look: Eggplant

Canadian researchers are working to meet rising consumer demand for eggplant by trialing Asian and Indian varieties.

June 1, 2016

Asian eggplant grown in Vineland’s state-of-the-art Collaborative Greenhouse Technology Centre
Photo courtesy of Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

This past February, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) announced that it would be investigating new eggplant varieties for greenhouse production. The Canadian project is housed under a larger initiative — called “Feeding Diversity: Bring World Crops to Market” — where Ontario growers are working with Vineland researchers to trial okra, along with Asian and Indian eggplant varieties. The goal is to assess agronomic performance, disease resistance, storage conditions and postharvest quality.

We spoke with Dr. Viliam Zvalo, Vineland’s research scientist of vegetable production systems, to learn more about Vineland’s eggplant efforts.

Produce Grower: What are the different elements behind this eggplant research study?

Viliam Zvalo: The eggplant research has two components — Indian round and Chinese long eggplant. The base of the research program is a field trialing as well as the greenhouse trialing. So in 2015, we ran two greenhouse cycles in a smaller, older greenhouse here at Vineland Research and we evaluated the different varieties — either on their own roots or grafted on Maxifort (the rootstock). Then we looked at the performance, growth and also quality of the eggplant harvested.

We had a 12-week harvest cycle in each of the [two] cycles. We were basically limited by the height of the greenhouse. We couldn’t keep the crop growing year-round. So in 2016, Vineland Research finished a new greenhouse, and we planted the eggplant in January. It will be there until the end of December. So this year, we’ll get a true picture of how these varieties behave throughout the whole production cycle.

PG: What types of systems are you using to trial the eggplant?

VZ: In the older greenhouses, we used the hydroponic system. The growing medium was coco fiber and we grew it in the pots. This year, in the new greenhouse, it’s hydroponic, but we grow it in the bags with the coco fiber. We talked to the industry, and that’s being used for the eggplant, so we stuck with what growers had already been using.

PG: How did you choose the eggplant varieties to trial?

Researcher Dr. Viliam Zvalo showcasing greenhouse Chinese long and Indian round eggplant as part of Vineland’s World Crops program
Photo courtesy of Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

VZ: This was a pretty difficult task. We were hoping that there would be a hydroponic Chinese long and Indian round eggplant production, and we could tap into that research and see what’s been done elsewhere, and then see how it works here. We found out that hydroponic Chinese long and Indian round eggplant production has not been done anywhere, so most of these vegetables are consumed in Asia, and that all comes from field production.

We had to go and look at all the seed companies and catalogues from around the world to see what was available and what we could get our hands on. And what may work. Initially, we had eight varieties of Chinese long eggplant, and two varieties of Indian round. We evaluated those and then on top of that, we worked with retail partners and we went to get the feedback on the varieties. They would have their chefs cook it and give us their feedback on color, texture and flavor, and that helped us guide the selection. Out of those eight varieties, we scaled it down to four, and we now work with those four new varieties in the new greenhouse: Asia Beauty F1, Long Purple F1, Purple Comet F1 and Orient Express F1. We will have a very good idea of the [eggplant potential] at the end of the year [with the new greenhouse].

PG: How will your research results be communicated?

VZ: We publish the research updates quarterly, and the growers can get to know what we’re doing. Then the last [set of results] wraps up the whole season, and gives the grower a summary of what we found in that year. The other way is to go to conferences and speak. The last would be to go and meet growers one-on-one, [meeting] growers who have expressed an interest in doing some crops. Last year, for instance, I had a grower who was interested in doing a small trial: 500 to 1,000 plants of eggplant. We are limited by the capacity of how many growers we can physically visit, but when the growers are taking up the new opportunity and they don’t have all the experience needed for it, we try to work with them more often.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For more information on Vineland’s eggplant research trials, visit bit.ly/1VV1CKn