Aubergines or eggplants were thought to be exotic but are now becoming popular vegetables to grow at home in the greenhouse, mainly thanks to new cultivars that are more suited to the British climate. The eggplant is fantastic in Mediterranean dishes. Moussaka from Greece is probably the iconic eggplant dish. They produce extremely versatile and delicious fruit although these are all used in savoury dishes. There are many types available where deep-purple or a black colour is the most common but other types include white, pink, freckles and green and they also appear in different sizes and shapes. Sunshine and warm growing conditions are the keys to success as they grow similarly to tomatoes and peppers which they are related to. The greenhouse really is the best place for them unless you live in a frost free, relatively warm part of the UK.
Varieties Of Aubergines
‘Bonica’AGM: Ideal for an unheated glasshouse, early cropping with top-quality, good-sized, attractive, glossy black fruits.
‘Giotto‘: Moneymaker type with tolerance of verticillium root disease. Good for outdoor cultivation.
‘Ophelia’ – common type and quite hardy.
‘Pintung Long’: The slender lavender/purple fruits, which are tender and full of flavour, grow to 30cm long.
‘Thai Green Pea’: A tall plant, covered with masses of tiny green fruit with a strong aubergine flavour. Ideal in Thai recipes.
‘Red Egg’ a fat red fruiting type
‘Rossa Bianca’: A gourmet variety with white, rose-tinted fruit and a mild, creamy taste.
‘Violette di Firenze’: Unusual dark mauve fruits make this an attractive plant for the potager. It needs warmth to ripen fully and is similar but a longer version.
Scatter the seeds thinly on top of moist compost – Levingtons No. 1 is ideal. Most seeds germinate so you only need to sow two more seeds than you need in case of losses from wilt. The seed must be sown early in the year; February is the earliest time because of cold so a plant propagator is invaluable; alternatively, germinate seedlings in the airing cupboard or warm but dark room.
Cover seeds with a fine layer of vermiculite, water and label – this is important to help you identify them when sowing several varieties.
Place in a heated propagator or put a clear plastic bag over the top, secure with a rubber band and place on a windowsill, to germinate. Alternatively, germinate seedlings in the airing cupboard or warm but dark room. Light is important but not necessary in the first instance.
Although aubergines can be grown outside, they rarely do well except in mild areas or during very good summers. As a result they are better grown in a greenhouse or growing frame.
Grow in 9cm (3½in) pots initially or cells from February onwards once the seeds have germinated, and when the pot is filled with roots transfer plants to 23cm (9in) pots of compost in April in a heated greenhouse, early May if unheated or the end of May or early June if growing outdoors.
Aubergines can also be grown in the open ground, in warm parts of Britain, spacing 60cm (2ft) apart, and ideally covered with cloches or fleece. The keys to success are sunshine and warm growing conditions. Warm the soil with polythene or cloches two weeks before planting once there is no danger of frost and cover young plants in cloches or frames for a further two weeks until acclimatised. Grow them in a sheltered, sunny position, ideally against a warm, sheltered wall.
The first flowers appear when the plants are quite small. When this happens feed weekly with a high potash liquid feed such as one used for tomatoes. Plants should be staked and tied against stout canes as they grow. When plants are 25-30cm (10-12in.) high, the tip is removed from the main stem to encourage further fruiting.
Water regularly and feed with a high potassium liquid fertiliser every two weeks once the first fruit has set. Mist the foliage regularly, at least twice daily with tepid water as they like high humidity, it reduces red spider mite and helps fruit to set.
Once five or six fruits are set, all flowers should be removed. However, cultivars producing small or round fruit can be allowed to produce many more.
The main problems to watch for now are due to verticillium root wilt in the early growth phase, red mite and white fly when the greenhouse starts to dry out. Another issue caused by poor watering regimes is blossom end rot which is irreversible and leads to fruit loss.
Most plants produce up to five fruits but this depends on the weather and the variety. Each fruit is cut from August onwards when they’ve grown about 15cm (6in.) long and the skin surface is still shiny.
Aubergines don’t store very long so they are best kept in the refrigerator. Most can be sliced and cooked for freezing where they are used as a base in sauces for pastas, lasagne and soups. Roasting and storage in olive oil to serve as a starter is also a delight.
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Aubergine cv. Farmers Long is a vigorous, erect plant that produces long slender purple-red fruit. An early, prolific producer of tasty fruit measuring 30cm long x 3cm in diameter. The fruits have a white tender flesh with good flavour.
Aubergine cv. Black Beauty is a pear shaped, open pollinated variety, producing deep purple fruits. Fruit size is 15x12cm. A popular amateur variety, but not as reliable as the F1 varieties available.
Aubergine cv. Ivory produces creamy-white fruits that grow to 15cm long, with creamy white flesh and firm white skin. An early maturing variety that is very ornamental and tasty. The ideal for variety for pots and containers.
Aubergine cv. Bonica is an early maturing variety, its oval fruits are a deep purple to black colour. Fruit size is 12x7cm – a reliable tasty variety that performs well in difficult growing seasons.