Indian eggplant is one of those darling fruits you see in specialty stores, but probably don’t think about growing in your home garden.
Different varieties of these eggplants native to India come in shades of blackish-purple, pale lavender, and even white with purple stripes.
One thing all types of Indian eggplant have in common is their diminutive size. Indian eggplant fruits are roughly the size and shape of large eggs when mature, unlike the more familiar Italian varieties that can be as big as a football.
Indian eggplant is more flavorful than the common eggplant. Still, its small size limits the economic value, which is why you don’t see this important food staple in U.S. markets often.
The best way to have delicious, sweet-tasting Indian eggplants at home is to grow your own. The different varieties available mean that you can have a large crop of delicious and different eggplants each season.
What is Indian Eggplant?
Most U.S. gardeners are familiar with the large, dark purple eggplants common in stores. The fruits are descendants of Indian eggplant. Like other eggplants, they belong to the nightshade family of tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes.
The Indian eggplant has been cultivated in its native range for centuries. Still, these sweet little fruits are only recently becoming more popular in the U.S. Growing eggplant is not hard. Regardless, some simple steps will ensure you get the robust growth you hope for from your Indian eggplants.
Different Types of Indian Eggplant
There are several types of Indian eggplant you might want to try in your garden this year. Indian eggplant fruits are all small and round, but they come in many different colors.
Indian eggplants are better tasting than larger Italian varieties, with more sweetness and a more satisfying texture.
- Bharta Star: This is one of the desirable commercial varieties. Bharta Star produces massive yields of small, deep purple fruit and matures in 60-70 days.
- Calliope: This small little fruit is as attractive as it is tasty. The fruit is very light purple with distinctive white streaks.
- Ravayya: One of India’s most popular varieties, this type is primarily for preparing Bharli Vangi- a dish consisting of stuffed baby eggplant.
- Red ChuChu: Another popular Indian eggplant, this type grows reddish-purple skin and lots of small, egg-shaped fruit. It is often used to make CHu Chee Eggplant, a tempura-fried side dish popular in Thailand.
How to Grow Indian Eggplant
Finding good quality Indian eggplant in the store is difficult. Most stores don’t carry this little gem, and short shelf life makes transporting and storing Indian eggplant a challenge.
Occasionally, you’ll find a small amount of Indian eggplant at specialty Indian or Chinese grocers. Still, most U.S. gardeners will want to grow their eggplant for the best results.
– Starting From the Seed
Your local garden center will have a few Indian eggplant seedlings or young plants if you are lucky. If you can find young plants, starting your Indian eggplant will be simple.
In most cases, U.S. gardeners will need to start seeds themselves. Creating your seeds lets you choose the variety of Indian eggplant you want to grow.
– How to Start
Indian eggplant is a tropical plant that doesn’t tolerate cold weather. Most U.S. growers will want to start the Indian eggplant seeds indoors well before the last frost, anywhere from three to nine weeks before planting. Eggplant won’t grow well until average daytime temperatures are above 75 degrees, and nighttime temperatures must be well above freezing.
You should soak Indian eggplant seeds for up to 24 hours before placing them in prepared seed trays. It would help if you used a high-quality potting mix, not garden soil. Eggplant seeds sprout best when they have plenty of light. You can use fluorescent lights on 12-14 hours of daylight to encourage rapid germination of Indian eggplant seeds.
When Indian eggplant sprouts are about four inches tall, they are ready to transplant to the garden. If you ensure your garden soil is prepared for your new Indian eggplants, you’ll have lots of success growing strong and healthy plants. Ensure that daytime temps are above 75 degrees before transplanting. Hardening off seedlings is a good practice to help acclimate the young plants.
Indian eggplant will grow best from early summer through late fall in most U.S. regions.
– Ideal Soil Conditions
Indian eggplants grow best in fertile, rich soil that is well-draining and is loose and airy. Gardeners should turn organic compost, aged manure, or viticulture into the garden about one month before planting Indian eggplant.
Avoid planting Indian eggplant in easily compacted soil because the plants will not grow well. You can use black ground cover to warm soil temperatures for about one week before planting.
– Growing in Containers
Indian eggplant is an excellent choice for container growing because the fruit stays small. Indian eggplants are more manageable than their Italian cousins when grown in containers.
It is a great way to ensure your plants have optimal nutrition, water, and light. You should select a large pot, planter, or container of at least five gallons capacity. It will provide plenty of room for the roots and make a stable environment for growing Indian eggplant.
– Light Conditions
Like many tropical and subtropical fruits, eggplant thrives in warm, sunny weather and suffers badly when temperatures turn cold. Select a bright spot in your garden to plant your Indian eggplants.
These plants will tolerate high temperatures but suffer in shady locations. It’s better to select a place that may get too hot than one where the sunlight won’t reach your plants.
– Watering Strategies
These fruits like plenty of water, but you want to avoid flooding the soil. The best way to water Indian eggplant is to slowly allow water to soak into the ground around the roots.
Avoid short, shallow waterings because the Indian eggplant will grow weak root systems that won’t support it. It’s also a good idea to avoid spraying water onto leaves and developing fruit to prevent possible diseases and damage.
When to Harvest
One of the most challenging aspects of growing eggplant varieties is knowing the correct time to harvest the fruits. Gardeners should pay attention to the type of Indian eggplant they grow for the average maturation date.
Mature, ripe Indian eggplants will be small, round, and firm with consistent color according to the type. When sliced, the flesh should be healthy, and the seeds should be light in color. Eggplants without seeds are immature and bitter, while overripe eggplants will have dark seeds. Overripe eggplant is also bitter.
– How to Harvest Indian Eggplant
Don’t pull Indian eggplant from the plant by hand. Instead, use a sharp knife or garden shears to cut the plant’s fruit, leaving a small stem on the fruit. Harvesting eggplant this way prevents breaking branches and reduces the chance of introducing opportunities for pests and diseases.
– Storage Strategies
Like most types of eggplant, once you harvest the fruit, it needs to be used quickly. Fresh harvested Indian eggplant will keep in the refrigerator for about three to four days, but not much longer. Once you cut into an eggplant, it will quickly go wrong, often within two or three hours. You can use a marinade of lemon juice or salt and vinegar to prevent the eggplant from turning brown once it’s cut.
– Long-Term Indian Eggplant Storage
Once your eggplant begins to fruit, it can quickly become overwhelming to figure out how to use all the fruit before it spoils.
You can freeze eggplant for later use by following these easy steps.
- Slice eggplant into 1″ sections and arrange on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake the eggplant at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, then transfer the slices to a baking rack to cool completely.
- The goal is to remove as much moisture as possible. Once the fruit is cool, place it in a freezer bag separated by layers of parchment paper. Frozen eggplant will keep for at least six months but will not retain that crisp texture.
- Alternatively, you can roast eggplant and puree the flesh for use in recipes like Baba Ghanoush.
Pests and Diseases
In general, eggplants resist many common types of insects and diseases. Keep in mind that any pests eating your tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes will also readily eat your eggplant.
In the U.S., the most common pest attacking these plants is flea beetles. These small, black bugs chew irregular holes in leaves. A severe infestation can reduce productivity and eventually cause the plant to die. Treating the plant with diatomaceous earth or a weak neem oil spray can eliminate flea beetles and other destructive pests.
The most common diseases impacting the U.S. production of Indian eggplant all result from pathogens carried in soil and activated due to improper watering. Wilt is a severe concern in the U.S. Plants will show signs of leaves drooping and dying. Wilt will eventually kill an Indian eggplant. The only treatment that works is to remove and destroy the plant. You can prevent wilt, blight, and root rot by growing Indian eggplant in containers using a sterile potting soil and watering the plants correctly.
- Indian eggplant varieties offer U.S. gardeners a unique fruit that tastes better than Italy’s commercially available eggplants.
- Indian eggplant varieties come in numerous colors and are small, egg-shaped fruits.
- Indian eggplants require high temperatures, lots of sunshine, and regular, deep watering to grow well.
- Harvesting eggplant is often a challenge because the fruit isn’t good when under- or over-ripe.
- Eggplant is challenging to store and doesn’t stay fresh for long, so plan to use Indian eggplant within three days of harvest.
- Flea beetles and wilt are the most common pests and diseases.
Many people who don’t like regular eggplants enjoy Indian varieties. The flavor is sweeter, and the texture is less mushy.
The unique and bizarre range of colors you can get from various varieties make growing Indian eggplants a showy way to add nutritious and tasty fruit to your garden. These tiny eggplants grow well in containers, making it easy for gardeners to grow even when space is limited.