How to Grow Aubergines


Surprisingly the aubergine (eggplant) is related to the potato although so different. Now popular vegetables in the shops, aubergines have never really been widely grown in the garden and the young plants especially need shelter and warmth. Things are changing, however, and more gardeners are attempting to grow these attractive fruits.

The aubergine (eggplant) is a tropical plant, coming mainly from India where it was grown over 2.000 years ago. Introduced into southern Europe, in particular Spain, in the 16th century by the Arabs, it subsequently became popular throughout the countries bordering the Mediterranean, especially Greece.

The plants grow to about 45cm/18in tall, although they will be taller under glass, and they have soft, felted leases. Some forms retain prickly fruit stems, but this characteristic has been bred out of some of the more modern cultivars. The fruits that we usually see in shops are long and a deep, shiny purple, sometimes almost black, but those that are grown from seed can be a variety of colours. The alternative name, eggplant, derives from those forms that produce round, white, egg-shaped fruit – there is even a variety called Easter Egg. Other varieties bear fruits that are striped in white and purple or white and mauve. The shapes of the fruits also vary considerably, from almost round to long and thin, and these look like a cross between a bean and a chilli pepper (to which they are, in fact, related). The variation is such that the aubergine has become some­thing of a cult with a number of growers in much the same way that pumpkins and squashes are with others. It is easy to see why.

The aubergine (eggplant) can he cooked as a vegetable by itself or it can be combined with other ingredients in more complicated dishes. Increasing interest in Mediterranean cooking has also stimulated interest in growing these plants, and there is now good reason to grow them as a vegetable rather than just as a curiosity.

Because of its tropical origins, aubergine (eggplant) is best grown under glass unless a favoured sunny spot can be found. This is, perhaps, one reason why it has not hitherto been popular, as most greenhouses are taken up with tomatoes and cucumbers.

Cultivation

Aubergines (eggplants) need a warm, sunny position, which is usually best provided in a greenhouse. Even where they can be grown outside, they need to be started off inside. Soak the seeds in water overnight before sowing, then sow in spring in modules or individual pots. The seeds will germinate in a temperature of 21—25°C/70—77°F. If seed is sown in trays, prick out the seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle. Once they are big enough they can be planted out into growing bags (two to a bag) or into large pots in the greenhouse. It the temperature does not drop below 1 5°C/59°F, after hardening oil they can be planted outside or moved in the pots to a sheltered position outside. The best results, however, are usually obtained by growing under glass.

Use canes or strings to support the growing plants once they get above 45-60cm. Pinch out the tips of the plants when they reach about 38cm high to encourage the formation of fruit. Keep the plants well watered, and feed once every ten days with a high-potash liquid feed once the fruit has started to develop.

Harvesting

The fruits can be picked as soon as they are large enough, which should be from mid­summer onwards in a greenhouse, but from autumn outside. Cut each one with a piece of stalk on it, and remember that those that have lost their shine taste bitter and are not worth eating.

Storage

Aubergines (eggplants) are best eaten fresh from the plant, straight from the garden, although they can be kept for up to two weeks before use in the kitchen.

Pests and diseases

The pests that are most likely to cause trouble are the normal greenhouse ones, such as aphids, red spider mite and whitefly. Dampen the floor of the house and spray the plants with water to maintain humid conditions to discourage red spider mite.

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  3. How to Grow Tomatoes
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  5. How to Grow Tomatoes in Your Greenhouse

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About the Author: Greenery always attracts Arthur Kunkle. He has a big garden where he plants many fruits and vegetables. His passion for gardening motivates him to write and share different tips on gardening.

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