Not so very long ago the Aubergine (or Egg Plant) was a rare sight on the supermarket shelves and considered to be for adventurous cooks only. Now they are available everywhere and more and more of us are growing them on allotments and in greenhouses. We are enjoying not just the end results, but the growing of a gloriously beautiful glossy crop of tropical fruits.
Aubergines are tender and in temperate climates are best grown under glass rather than outside where they will struggle to thrive in anything but a long hot summer. The large striking fruits range in colour from the darkest purple, to white and all shades in between. There are even striped varieties!
They taste delicious when cooked, stuffed with meat, rice or vegetables or when used to make ratatouille or moussaka.
Soil and Aspect
Grow under glass in grow bags or pots using a peat free potting mix. Plants grown outside require a fertile, well-drained soil and should have a general fertiliser applied before planting.
Soak the seeds overnight to improve the germination rate and then sow into individual pots or Rootrainers in Spring. Once the seedlings are large enough they can be planted into growbags or bigger pots.
Aubergines can be hardened off and planted outside if the temperature doesn't drop below 15c. Allow 50cm between plants.
Canes and string may be needed to support the plants once they have reached 40-50cm. Fold-a-Frame would be ideal. Pinch out the tips of the plants when they reach 40cm in height in order to encourage fruit formation. Water well throughout the growing season and feed once every two weeks with a high-potash liquid feed.
Harvesting and Storage
Cut each aubergine fruit from the plant when it is large enough - the flavour quickly deteriorates if they are allowed to become overripe. Harvest under glass from mid-summer and autumn for outside varieties. Aubergines are best used fresh from the allotment although they can keep for up to two weeks once picked.
Pest and Diseases
The usual greenhouse pests affect this crop if grown under glass. Aphids, red spider mite and whitefly are the main pests. Damping the floor down and misting the leaves will increase humidity, which will in turn discourage red spider mite.