Buy eggplant, chilli and capsicum seedlings
Eggplant, chilli and capsicum need a high soil temperature to germinate. They will not germinate in low temperatures. As it will be late in the season in the Melbourne climate before soil temperatures achieve sufficient warmth, it is wise to purchase these seedlings from nurseries in October or November to ensure successful fruiting.
Eggplant, capsicum and chillies are all members of the Solanaceae family and thrive as do tomatoes, in hot conditions. In fact when planted out, reserve the hottest part of the garden for capsicum and chillies, the next hottest area for eggplant and the third hottest for tomatoes.
To germinate, eggplant seed needs a soil temperature of between 20-32C. However the optimal temperature for germination is 28-30C. Capsicum and chilli seed needs soil temperature of 26 -32C but 27-30C is optimal.
The only way to germinate these seeds at home is by using an electric heat mat – and one which has a thermostatic control that allows you to choose the temperature. Some heat mats do not have this and heat to a generalised mid-temperature which cannot be adjusted. When using a heat mat, it is important to monitor the water level in the punnet daily as heat can cause the mix to dry out more quickly than in punnets that have no heating beneath them.
The problem with raising seedlings late, is that there is insufficient time for them to mature, develop flowers and fruit, and then not enough time for the fruit to ripen. Often, the hottest weather has passed, especially if the fruit has not ripened before autumn when temperatures begin to drop.
For this reason, purchasing from a nursery makes sense. The plants will have been raised in hot houses and hardened-off before being sent to the outlets for sale to the public. If you are growing at home, you will need to harden-off the seedlings yourself. To do this turn off the heat mat thereby reducing the temperature, and reduce watering. When the weather warms, place them in a sheltered spot outside – keep watering them – until ready to plant.
Written by Robin Gale-Baker