Eggplant comes in many shapes and colors, the most common color being dark purple. But white-skinned varieties are tasty and easy to grow, and they give a garden a special twist.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
Use an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer. Mix it half-strength, and use it once a week when watering the plants.
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
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
Like most vegetables with a high water content, eggplants grow best when they are kept well watered, so continue to water as necessary.