Growing eggplant shouldn’t be intimidating when you’re anticipating spring garden planting. Getting your seeds off to a good start, then tweaking them if needed, will help produce a harvest of nutritious fruit.
That’s what eggplant is, by the way, although many people think eggplants are vegetables. There are many beautiful varieties: large, purple Globe; Rosita, the 8-inch pinkish-lavender heirloom variety; long, thin Japanese eggplants and yellow, green and white-hued varieties with slightly varying flavors.1
Considered tropical perennials, eggplants can be grown as annuals in plant hardiness zones 5 through 12.2 They require full sun. Harvest times vary depending on the variety. Most require at least two months to mature. Some take 70 days or more, which is why starting seeds indoors helps get a jump on the season.
How to Grow Eggplant Inside
Regarding materials, you’ll need small pots, a seed-planting mix and seed packets. Always keep the packets as they often provide information about planting depth (which is deep), spacing, eggplant germination time and when to take the seedlings outside. This depends on your area’s last frost date, which your area’s planting zone will determine.3
Using garden soil might prevent your seeds and seedlings from draining properly and may expose them to unwanted bacteria, disease spores, plant-eating insects and a fungual disease known as “damping off.”
A sterile seed planting mix will give your eggplants the best chance of survival4 and allow you to blend ingredients to amend the medium you’re working with, such as bark, a coconut fiber called coir and vermiculite.5 Avoid synthetic fertilizer. Organic gardening and natural growing hacks are far superior.
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Start seeds inside about eight to 12 weeks before your last frost date. Watering from the bottom up allows you to see the moisture levels and keep them even. Eggplants require lots of light and heat to grow properly. If there’s no natural sunlight from a south-facing window, artificial lighting is recommended.
Even if using a heat mat, make sure you provide light as soon as the seeds begin germinating, which usually takes seven to 14 days. The ideal soil temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Indoor plants also need moving air; a fan at a low setting will help produce sturdier plants.
Growing Eggplant in the Garden
In eight or 10 weeks, you’ll be able to transplant the seedlings into your garden. However, growing eggplant in containers6 is another option. According to The Spruce, soil pH7 of 6.5 to 6.8 (slightly acidic) is ideal, although the plants are not too particular.8
Either way, it helps to stake eggplants or use coated tomato cages to avoid disturbing established roots when the fruits get large. Mulch, straw or wood chips covering the soil around the plant will help keep it moist.
How long does it take for eggplant to grow? Eggplants are ready to harvest when they’re glossy and “give” slightly when you press into the skin. Here are some key points you’ll likely find useful:
- Plants can be bushy and reach 2 to 3 feet in height, and their size and weight may cause stems to bend or break.
- Eggplant stems are prickly, so it's a good idea to wear gloves.
- Overripe eggplants may be bitter and full of seeds, although a little salt can help.
- Eggplant should be stored in the refrigerator and is best used within a couple of days but can be stored for up to two weeks.
- Cut rather than pull eggplants from their vines, but don’t cut them until you’re ready to prepare them, as the flesh discolors almost immediately when exposed to air.
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Health Benefits of Eggplant
One reason to plant and grow eggplant at home is all the healthy nutrients. Besides vitamins, minerals, folate, potassium, manganese and vitamins C, K and B6, eggplant phytonutrients include:
- Phenolic compounds known as anthocyanins, which are flavonoids that help protect heart health9
- Chlorogenic acid, a free radical scavenger with numerous beneficial properties10
- Nasunin, shown to improve blood flow and protect brain cell membranes from damage11
- Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities against colon and liver cancer cells12
Healthy Recipes Using Eggplant
When looking for eggplant recipes, possibilities abound, as it can be baked, roasted, stuffed and included with other ingredients.
Baked Eggplant Caprese Stack — basically a stacked caprese salad — is easy and delicious, requiring few ingredients besides the basics: sliced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, eggplant, basil and olive oil. For extra protein, almond meal is used rather than wheat flour, which may cause digestive problems.
Many healthy eggplant recipes can be found, such as eggplant moussaka and an eggplant sandwich, which makes growing your own eggplant even more fun. As always, organic ingredients make it even healthier.