Brinjal, aubergine, garden egg… whatever it’s called where you are, enjoying fresh, the homegrown flavor is quite likely a big challenge. If you love this vegetable, you will probably be interested in understanding what growing eggplants indoors requires. If you succeed, you can enjoy fresh eggplant from the same plant for a year.
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Getting a harvest off of backyard garden eggplant crops isn’t always possible, even if you do start the seed a couple months before planting time. The weather can play havoc with your plans. Colder than average early season temps and early frost are common issues if you don’t live in tropical or subtropical climates. Of course, the urban gardener who has no choice but to grow in containers will have the option of moving their eggplant inside when the weather isn’t to its liking, which is the best approach for outdoor summer growing if you want a guaranteed harvest.
How to grow eggplant indoors…
You can use traditional container methods as long as you’ve got a large enough pot. They also do well in hydroponic systems. However, if you’re going to have some eggplant to eat even when you can control the temperature you need to be aware of this crop’s needs.
It is related to tomatoes, and a member of the nightshade family. A native of subcontinental India, the eggplant loves heat, in fact, it needs a warmer climate than tomatoes to be truly happy and productive – which is the biggest reason that it readily disappoints many an outdoor grower year after year. Unlike tomatoes, it’s also very slow growing. You’ll never have a ripe fruit on this plant before 90 days from seed germination, and often it takes 100 days or more for that first eggplant to reach an edible stage.
Some gardeners think it as very problematic because the blooms all fall off. This is due to several factors:
- The roots getting dry. Something you’ll really have to guard against when growing eggplant indoors in traditional container methods. Be ahead of the game and set up a drip irrigation system, or use a self-watering container.
- Cool spring temperatures – just like happens with peppers (but peppers grow faster so you’ll still get some fruits most seasons).
- Temps too hot in summer.
Now that you know how to keep the flowers attached so your eggplant can grow fruit, you should be aware that even being self-pollinating requires some assistance. Outdoors you have bees and butterflies who take care of this, but indoors pollination must be done by you. Shake the plant every day when blooming begins.
This isn’t a crop for a sunny window.
To succeed you definitely need a closed environment to control the temperature and humidity. Heated air in winter in your house is dry, and won’t do your eggplant crop any favors. Think warm, steamy days one expects in mid-summer because that’s what this plant needs – and 12-14 hours of sun a day.
Likewise, there isn’t anywhere near enough sunlight energy in the partial exposure plants get growing in a sunny window. You need grow-lighting – not LEDs – something with some serious candlepower. There are those who have some success with high output (HO) T5 lights. Check out the great looking plant he’s got in the video below. This indoor gardener is running 1 300-watt fixture, which is probably a 4-foot model with 6 tubes and he’s got 4 smaller lights in his grow tent that add another 124 watts. These added lights are most likely side-lighting to make sure light reaches into the lower parts of his taller plants and anything that is shorter in his garden.
Eggplant seeds sprout best at 70°-90°F, and you’ll have to sow more than you want because the germination rate isn’t 100%. The right temperature range for vegetative and flower to fruit stages is 75-85 F. If temps hit 95F, fruiting will stop and blooms will drop off or lose their ovaries. Night temps can’t drop below 65F. They do fine with your normal quality A/B hydro nutrients or organic garden fertilizer if you’re growing them with traditional potting methods. The preferred pH level is 6.0. Relative humidity needs are 65-75% with media moisture level at 80% (85% during fruiting).
Other issues to be aware of…
Growing eggplant indoors you will have to guard against aphids, this is easily done with organic control like Azatrol spray. You must have both excellent drainage and good moisture retention to prevent root diseases too. Many of the diseases found in tomato growing can become a problem with eggplants too, along with attracting the same insect pests.
Clean the leaves regularly as their fuzziness collects dust readily. Be ready to either trellis the large plants or prune them to keep them manageable. Mini fruiting and small round eggplant varieties are probably your best choice.