Step-by-step Guide to Growing Aubergines
Solatium melongena (fam. Solanaceae), also known as eggplant, bringall, eggfruit or guineaPerennial, cultivated as a half-hardy annual in temperate climates.
Sowing to harvesting time: about 24 weeks.
Size: plant reaches an average height of 90 cm (3’); fruits 10-25 cm (4-10”) long.
Yield: four plants per 3 m (10’) row; four fruits per plant.
Harvested young and cooked properly, aubergines are a delicious and versatile vegetable, and add a luxury touch to any meal. Because they are tropical in origin, aubergines are not often grown commercially in cool temperate climates. Those you see in the shops in summer and autumn have mostly been imported, and have prices to match. If you can provide warm growing conditions, either in a greenhouse, cold frame, or outdoors with .cloches, you can easily raise your own aubergines, and have good crops of this unusual vegetable from mid-summer onwards. They do not require a lot of growing space, and five or six plants should be more than enough for the average household. The plants, particularly when in fruit, are most attractive, and make excellent pot plants in a warm sunny room, or outdoors as foca-½ points in a mixed border.
The aubergine belongs to the same family (Solanaceae) as the tomato and potato, but it is by far the least hardy of the three, and the one requiring the most protection from sudden drops in temperature. Although treated in the kitchen as a vegetable, the edible portion is botanically a fruit—actually a very large berry filled with seeds. The type most often seen has purple shiny skin and creamy white flesh with a high water content. There are also varieties which have white, red, yellow, or striped skins, but these are not commonly available in cool temperate climates. The name ‘eggplant’ comes from one such variety, which has fruits similar to a goose egg in appearance. The shape of the fruit also varies, from roughly egg shape and squat to the more usual, elongated pear shape. Its fully grown size is between about 5 cm (2”) and 30 cm (1’), but in cool temperate climates the larger fruits rarely have time to reach their full size. Although aubergines need plenty of sunlight and warmth to succeed, given a bit of luck with the weather, or artificial heat and glass protection, you can grow good crops which will be far superior in taste to those sold in the shops.
Suitable site and
Tropical in origin, aubergines have high temperature and sunlight requirements, and are tricky subjects for growing outdoors in a cool temperate climate. Even more temperamental than tomatoes, aubergines will simply fail to crop in cool, wet, sunless summers. Usually they are best grown in greenhouses, unless the summer is an exceptionally hot one, or your garden is in a very mild, sheltered area. Outside, grow them against a warm south-facing wall, or give them protection with large barn cloches.
Aubergines need fertile, well-drained soil; where they are to be grown in the greenhouse border or outdoors, dig over the soil and enrich it with gardenor well rotted manure about a month before setting out the plants.
Although it is possible, in very exceptional summers, to get crops from aubergines sown outdoors in mid to late spring, it is far safer to sow the seed under glass in early spring and transplant outdoors in early summer. Plants given this head start are more likely to produce good crops before the arrival of the first autumn frost. As with peppers and, growing aubergines in a cool temperate climate is a race against the calendar. Because the demand is small, your local garden centre or nursery is unlikely to have young aubergine plants for sale, so you will have to raise your own.
For aubergines which will be transplanted outdoors, sow the seeds in early spring. You need a minimum temperature of 18°C (64°F) for germination to take place satisfactorily, so if the weather is very cold, you will need a heated greenhouse or propagator or, alternatively, wait until the weather warms up. Sow the seeds 2.5 cm (l”) apart in a seed tray filled with sterilized compost such as that used for sowing tomato seeds. Germination is slow, and may take up to three weeks, especially if the temperature is lower than that specified, so do not panic if nothing seems to be happening. Keep the atmosphere fairly dry until theappear.
As soon as three leaves have formed, carefully prick out the seedlings into 7.5 cm (3”) pots filled with a good potting compost. From this stage onwards, the temperature can be somewhat lower, but do not let it fall below 10°C (50°F), particularly at night. Keep them well watered, and when the roots have filled the pot, probably sometime during late 3 spring, pot them on into 15 cm (6”) pots, filled with a richer potting compost than that used previously.