Get an edge on starting eggplants
A pale purple ‘Listada de Gandia’, a ‘White Beauty’, a couple of long, slender ‘Thai Green’, and several deep-purple ‘Violette Longue’ are ready for the kitchen.
Once you’ve chosen the seed, your first task is getting those seeds started, which can be tricky with eggplant. Plan to start your seeds 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. That will allow your plants enough time to become sturdy. Bottom heat is essential to reach that goal. Heating cables help, but they may not suffice, since most are set for 70°F, and eggplant prefer it a bit warmer, ideally 75°F. I sometimes cover my flats to conserve bottom heat and to allow all of the soil mix to warm thoroughly before I sow seeds.
Eggplant seeds should be very lightly covered with soil mix. Bottom watering systems, which use capillary action to provide water to the soil mix, help prevent seeds from washing deep into the mix, which sometimes results from overhead watering. If you do use overhead watering, I suggest using a very fine mist.
Supplemental light isn’t necessary until the seeds have germinated, but I start it right away. This mimics the ideal growing conditions for eggplants and helps promote bushy, sturdy growth.
Twelve to 14 hours of bright light will help prevent the plants from getting leggy. I set my lights 6 inches above the flats. Natural lighting in greenhouses is usually sufficient in the middle and southern regions of the United States. But natural light may need help in the North.
Eggplant seeds germinate in 7 to 14 days, depending on the heat, moisture provided, and moisture content and age of the seed. Seedlings with two sets of leaves can be transplanted into 4-inch or 2 x 2 x 6-inch pots two to three weeks after germination. The bottom heat should be continued until daytime temperatures are in the 70s. Most potting mixes include fertilizer, but if yours doesn’t, you can’t just forget about it. I feed my seedlings with pelleted fertilizer or twice weekly applications of half-strength fish emulsion. And as the plants grow, I move the light source to just 2 inches above the plants. An additional six weeks of growth will produce plants that rival those at the garden center.