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kitchen garden how-to
Published July 20, 2022 by Jennifer Holt

How to Grow Eggplant from Seed in an Organic Kitchen Garden

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eggplant
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eggplant benefits

The Benefits of Growing Your Own Eggplant at Home

I hated eggplant as a child. Coming from a Cajun family, eggplant was a summer staple in our family’s garden and cuisine, along with squash, okra, and tomatoes. Basically, I lived on ratatouille! I never complained and just ate it, knowing how hard my grandmother worked in the garden to grow this pretty purple vegetable.

Over time, I came to appreciate the advantages of growing your own eggplant at home. My grandmother shared with me a number of eggplant benefits in a diet. One health benefit, most notably, is that it contains antioxidants, which protect cells against damage. Recently, I discovered that if you have diabetes, it is also known to help you process sugar more easily. Eggplant is, however, a member of the nightshade family. I will discuss why that can be an issue for certain individuals later.

In my case, I see a huge benefit to growing my own eggplant because I can experiment with different varieties. It wasn’t until adulthood that I finally really loved eggplant because I was introduced to the buttery goodness of Chinese eggplant in a stir fry. I fell head over heels in love with this purple beauty.

eggplants growing

Is Eggplant a Fruit or Vegetable?

Eggplant is technically a fruit and is grown all over the world in hot climates. But guess what? Eggplant is actually further categorized as a berry—whaaat?! Eggplant develops from a single flower and contains small, edible seeds, so it qualifies as a berry, at least in botanical terms. You will, of course, eat eggplant more like a vegetable.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding nightshade vegetables. In the gardening world, we know that if you are growing a nightshade veg like eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes, that you should never eat the blossoms or leaves of the plant for risk of being "poisoned", since that's where the plant contains higher concentrations of a toxin called solanine. If you have an autoimmune issue, a kidney disorder, or inflammatory bowel disease, it is wise to ask your doctor if eggplants are approved for your diet.

eggplant

Eggplant Growing and Tending Guide

How Eggplant Grows Best 

Growing eggplant under its ideal conditions will increase your chances of a successful fruit harvest.

Season 

Eggplant grows best in hot climates (its optimum growing temperatures range from 70°F to 90°F). After planting, you should be able to have an abundant summer harvest after 70 to 90 days, depending on the variety you're growing.

Soil

Eggplant likes its soil hot and neutral. Shoot for a pH between 5.5-7.5.

Sunlight

Full sun is non-negotiable when growing this purple beauty.

Fertilizer

Eggplant loves phosphorus and potassium to help it form fruit. Apply a balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 or make sure your nitrogen (the first number) is lower to avoid too much leaf production. I like to add fresh compost around the base of my eggplant plants every couple of weeks to support them.

Water

Eggplant requires up to 1” a week. Water deeply and less often for strong root growth. Your first instinct might be to add mulch around your eggplant to keep the water from evaporating, but since eggplants welcome hot soil, it's best to wait until the plant is mature before offering any cover. I don’t tend to be a big "mulcher". As long as you’re supplying your quarterly compost treatment, your plants should be fine.

Best Eggplant Companion Plants

Other nightshade veggies, such as hot or sweet peppers, are great to plant with eggplants because they mostly require the same nutrients. Marigolds on the perimeter will help attract beneficial insects and keep away pests. Chard, spinach, or arugula planted beneath the eggplant will welcome the dappled shade and help retain moisture in the soil. Herbs such as oregano, basil, or dill will also do a great job of deterring pests.

eggplants

When to Plant Eggplant 

As a rule, you can start your seeds 6-8 weeks ahead of transplanting them into the garden. You want to plant them into your soil when you consistently have 80-90°F days. For me, that means I start my eggplant seeds indoors in April here in zone 8b/9. 

Patience is required because this summer veg takes a little bit of coaxing to get started. 

eggplant growing tips

How to Plant Eggplant Seeds

Eggplant seeds are tiny. Follow these steps to start your own eggplant from seed:

  • Fill your planting cells with a sterile seed starting mix. I like to mix ½ cup to 1 cup granular worm castings to 16 oz. of seedling mix to boost soil aeration and water retention.
  • Scatter four to five seeds into each cell and then cover with about ¼” of seedling mix.  
  • Cover seed cells with a dome to lock in humidity needed for germination.  
  • Water from the base in a contained tray to encourage roots to grow.
  • Check for eggplant germination, daily.

I start my seedlings in the dark, and once the seeds sprout (generally after 10 to 14 days), I switch to natural window light or my seed lighting setup. Keep the lights close to the seedlings or rotate daily on the windowsill so they don’t become too leggy.

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What to Do at Different Eggplant Growing Stages

SEEDLING STAGE CARE:

In addition to following the steps above to germinate my eggplant seeds, there is one more important step that I take to ensure the plants are strong. Because eggplant is finicky to get started and demands warm temperatures, two weeks after germination I introduce a gentle fertilizer like seaweed to boost the health of the plants. Try to also keep the eggplant in warm conditions in your home and away from cool air.

  • Add 1 T liquid seaweed fertilizer : 1 gallon of water
  • Water from the bottom
  • Thin seedlings down to one per pot to prevent overcrowding and to boost strong growth

ADOLESCENT EGGPLANT CARE:

Remember, your eggplant wants warm/hot conditions to grow. If you find that the weather outside is not ready for transplanting (or there is a risk of frost), it may be time to "pot up" your plants to a larger container so they stay healthy and happy for upcoming production.

eggplants how to grow

How to transplant eggplant seedlings if started indoors

Begin to harden off your eggplant seedlings over a week or two by gradually introducing the seedlings to the outside elements one hour at a time. Start in the shade and in a protected area from wind or large critters. Slowly increase your time as you move the plants toward the direct sun and outside elements. A tip to speed up this process is to introduce your seedlings in the beginning stages to "wind" by moving your hands gently across the leaves. (Learn more about how to harden off seedlings.)

After the hardening off process, you can plant your eggplants in full sun and in neutral pH soil. Space each plant 18-24” apart.

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Feeding Your Eggplant

Eggplants are heavy feeders. I recommend using a slow release granular 10-10-10 and one tablespoon of epsom salt around the base of each plant on a bi-weekly schedule, making adjustments as needed. Epsom salt provides much-needed magnesium for chlorophyll production and improves fruit setting.

Pruning Your Eggplant

Many people don’t take the step of pruning their eggplants, but I like to prune off the suckers as you would for a large-variety tomato plant. I only keep two to three main branches on my eggplants to push higher production and to regulate airflow during the growing season. Use cages or vertical supports like you would for peppers or tomatoes to make the most of your space.

Shop Gardenary's favorite trellises for your eggplants

Eggplant Harvesting Guide

How to Harvest Eggplant

Generally, your first round of eggplants are ready for harvest after 70 to 90 days. Use a knife or clean shears to carefully cut away the fruit from the plant so as not to harm the main branches. Watch your eggplant carefully throughout the harvesting season—a dull-colored eggplant is overripe. Only harvest when your eggplant is young and shiny for the best flavor.

harvesting eggplants

My Favorite Varieties of Eggplant to Grow 

  • Fairytale Eggplant- Perfect for small gardens and raised beds; soft and sweet tasting.
  • Black Beauty Eggplant- A timeless variety that makes for excellent recipes.
  • Japanese Eggplant- Buttery flavor and best suited for Asian stir fries; less bitter than other varieties. My fav!
  • White Eggplant- Known for taking center stage in Indian baba ganoush, it stands bright in its bitterness.
  • Louisiana Long Green Eggplant- Excellent for frying up some crispy, petite medallions. A cajun favorite!
eggplants
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Eggplants are one of the most beautiful and easiest fruits to grow in the garden. With an abundance of nutritious value and different flavors, I encourage you to try a few varieties this summer!

Meet the author, Jennifer Nesbit Holt

Jennifer Nesbit Holt of The Seed Sage

Gardening and creating recipes for her fresh harvests has always been a way for Jennifer to slow down, express her creativity, and create a healthier, more wholesome lifestyle.

Her company, The Seed Sage, helps gardeners in Austin, Texas, return to their roots and grow a sustainable garden through culinary raised bed garden designs and installs that blend seamlessly into their home's aesthetics.

Follow her on Facebook and Instagram or schedule a consultation to make your edible garden dreams a reality.

FOLLOW JENNIFER AND LEARN MORE ABOUT HER BUSINESS

The Seed Sage

The Seed Sage offers high-end garden design and installation services, seasonal growing support, and garden vacation maintenance to Austin, Texas.

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How to Grow Eggplant from Seed