Not so very long ago the Aubergine or EggPlant was a rare sight on the supermarket shelves and considered to be for adventurous cooks only. Now aubergines 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 (hence aubergine or eggplant as they resemble eggs) 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.

How to Grow Aubergines in the UK

Grow under glass in grow bags or planters using a peat free potting mix. Plants grown outside require a fertile, well-drained soil and should have a general fertiliser applied before planting. Aubergines thrive in a warm sunny spot that is sheltered from the wind. If you don't have a greenhouse try a Sunbubble, or Grower Frame .

When to Sow Aubergines

Sow aubergine seeds from February onwards or earlier if you are going to grow them in a heated greenhouse.

If growing outside then delay sowing until March and remember your plants can not go outside until after the last frost. 

It can take as long as six months from sowing to harvest to grow aubergines, so sow your seeds as early as you can.

Growing Aubergines from seed

aubergine egg plant flower grown from seed

Soak the aubergine seeds in water 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.

Take time to enjoy the pretty flowers while you are waiting for your aubergines to form.  They are the same family as the potato so don't get confused when they appear and imagine you have mixed up your seeds! 

Caring for Aubergine 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.

How to Harvest and Store Aubergines

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 aubergine crops 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.

Sarah Talbot