Facts About Eggplants
Eggplants are native to India, but spread around the globe at an early date; in fact, history tells us that Chinese emperors enjoyed eggplants as early as 600 B.C. A member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, the eggplant is technically a fruit but is commonly considered a vegetable.
Eggplant is most frequently started from seed.
The seeds should be started indoors about eight weeks before the last frost. One good starting method is to use plastic six-pack cell trays. Using a starting mix labeled “sterile” keeps the small seedlings healthy, since they won’t be exposed to diseases that are often found in regular garden soil.
Fill each cell with the seed-starting mix.
Moisten the soil with water and add two seeds to each cell. To make handling the seeds easy, you can fold a piece of white paper in half, pour some of the seeds into the V and then lightly tap the paper so that one or two seeds drop out at a time.
Mist the Soil
Add the starting mix.
Put about 1/8″ of the starting mix over the top of the seeds; using a kitchen sieve makes it easy to give them a light covering. Next, mist the soil with water to dampen it and to make sure it has good contact with the seeds.
Other Starting Methods
Put clear covers over the trays to keep the moisture in until the seeds germinate.
Planting in plastic cell-packs is a handy way to start seeds, but there are lots of good alternatives. Peat pellets are a favorite with many folks. You drop the pellets in water and let them soak for 10 or 15 minutes. They absorb the water and expand into individual planting pots that are held together by a fine biodegradable mesh. You then plant the seeds in the pot and later place the seedling — pot and all — directly into the soil.
Paper Towel Rolls
An economical way to start seeds is to use old paper-towel rolls.
Cut each roll into four cylinders, each about 2-1/2″ tall. Place them upright in a shallow container such as a baking pan, and fill with a moistened seed-starting mix. Plant the seeds, keep them watered and watch them grow until it’s time to gently peel away the wrapper and transplant them in your garden.
All vegetables have specific temperature ranges in which they germinate and grow best, and eggplants are no exception.
For eggplant seeds to germinate well and develop into healthy seedlings, the soil temperature should be maintained between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep an eye on the temperature by using a soil temperature gauge stuck into the cell pack.
If the temperature gets too low, put a heat mat made especially for seed starting under the cell packs.
The mat gives a steady, even heat about 10 to 20 degrees above room temperature. Heat mats are available through most mail-order catalogs and garden-supply companies.
Once the eggplant seeds germinate, place the six-packs under florescent lights.
Put the lights on a timer, set so that they will stay on about 16 hours a day. For starting and growing seedlings, standard fluorescent light bulbs work just as well as the more expensive “grow lights.”
When the eggplant seedlings get several real leaves on them, it’s time to begin fertilizing them.
Use an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer. Mix it half-strength, and use it once a week when watering the plants.
Seedlings that have been grown indoors need to be gradually introduced to the great outdoors in a process called “hardening off.”
You can harden off your eggplant seedlings by putting them outside in a shady spot. Leave them out for a few hours, then take them back inside. Each day for the next week, leave them out a little bit longer, exposing them to a bit more sun.
Planting the Seeds
When the seedlings are well hardened-off, they are ready to go into the garden.
Eggplant grows best with moderate amounts of nitrogen and high levels of both phosphorous and potassium, so prepare the soil by mixing in a cup of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 5′ of row. Eggplant also likes a neutral soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0, and plenty of sun.
Eggplant seedlings can suffer from transplant shock if they are not treated gently, so very carefully take each seedling from its cell pack. It’s best to gently tear the cell pack away so you can remove the root ball without damaging it. Set the plants at the same depth they were growing indoors, and place them 18″ apart in rows 24″ apart.
Eggplant is a warm-season crop that grows best when daytime temperatures are between 80 and 90 degrees and nighttime temperatures are in the 70s. Different varieties have different maturity dates, but most eggplants take about 65 to 85 days from planting to harvest.
Water the Seeds
Get the transplants off to a good start with a nice soaking of water.
Like most vegetables with a high water content, eggplants grow best when they are kept well watered, so continue to water as necessary.