You've probably admired aubergine or eggplant, a beautiful dark fruit which is a classic Mediterranean vegetable. The glossy purple coloring is so appealing. They require a long warm season to grow.
But don’t get stuck on the old reputation of the aubergine, that it is a bitter vegetable that needs salting to remove the bitter juice, as these days varieties are far sweeter, and the need for salt treatment is now completely unnecessary.
How To Grow Aubergine:
|Sowing Time||Harvest Time|
Aubergine grow best in a greenhouse or poly-tunnel, so the first consideration will be the soil and the rotation of crops within the greenhouse.
There is a principle of crop rotation that most successful vegetable gardeners adopt, and the reasons behind this rotation is to avoid leaching nutrients as well as discouraging the build-up of disease when the same crop is sown in the same place year after year.
Although it is unlikely that you will be growing a greenhouse full of aubergine plants, and it would be straight forward to change their location year after year, when you consider that the aubergines plant group is nightshade, to rotate crops properly you would have to avoid growing nightshades in the same place each season, so rotation does get a little more difficult.
Some of the most likely plants that we would grow in the greenhouse would be, first early potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers and aubergines, and although all of these plants seem to be unrelated, surprisingly they are all members of the nightshade group of vegetables, so crop rotation now becomes very difficult.
Many gardeners deal with this problem by following a soil rotation plan. In year one remove the top six inches of soil and load the greenhouse with very well-rotted manure, some leaf mould or garden compost, some shredded paper and a dressing of fish, blood and bone. In year two refresh with some more manure, compost and fish, blood and bone, and in the third year repeat year one.
Although this seems like a lot of work, you'll get the benefit of using the spent greenhouse soil to add organic matter to other parts of the garden - this helps to improve the soil structure for other plants, and there are still plenty of nutrients left in the soil for other plants to take advantage of.
Of course you will need to be careful about where you add the soil, as you do not want to create the same problem in the garden that you were trying to avoid in the greenhouse.
In other words, add the soil to an area of the garden that is furthest way time-wise from having nightshade plants growing. You can add it to the part of the vegetable plot that has just had potatoes growing, as it will be four years before that area supports potatoes again.
Another way to approach this rotation would be to grow in growbags or pots on alternate years. You could also alternate each side of the greenhouse each year and use the opposite side for a green manure crop such as broad beans, peas or mange tout.
Warmth is the secret to how to grow aubergine and to make sure that your fruit ripens during the season you should sow seeds in February or March. Sow in February in a heated propagator using a 8cm pot, moving them to a poly-tunnel once the first pair of true leaves are well established, unless it is very cold.
A point to remember is that the true leaves are not the first leaves. The first pair of leaves are actually a part of the seed, and the next leaf will be the first true leaf.
Once they are in the poly-tunnel or greenhouse they will probably not need to be potted on to a larger pot unless their final position is not ready, but feel free to pot on if they are overgrowing their small pot and you need more time to prepare their final bed.
As soon as the seedling is well established and healthy, ideally before or during May, plant on to their final growing position, which will either be a border, a growbag or a larger 20cm pot .
The aubergine plant can get quite bushy and will need a fair bit of space to grow, so if growing in borders space your plants two to three feet apart, in staggered rows.
It is also a good idea to plant an empty, bottomless milk or pop bottle upside down, next to the plant for watering, and to insert a half meter cane for support.
Once the plant has grown to about 30cm, pinch off the growing tip and wire it to the stake to give it support.
When it starts to flower feed with a liquid tomato food and mist the flowers to help them set.
Once you have six fruits forming pinch out any more flowers as they bud so that the plants energy goes into the six fruits only.
Aubergines are fairly trouble free, and the only possible problems that you are likely to have are with pests such as whitefly, aphids or red spider mites.
Misting will help to keep these pests away but if you so get an onslaught, an insecticidal spray will do the trick. You can buy pest control sprays but they are easy to make, just mix about 5 tablespoons of a natural soap to a gallon of water, and to deter sap sucking pest add some chilli or garlic.
If you are having trouble with whitefly simply coat a yellow piece of card with syrup and hang it in the greenhouse, the flies are attracted to the yellow, and stick to the card.
To avoid the problems altogether plant some French marigolds, coriander and basil in amongst your greenhouse veggies, they will deter most pests. And some dill at the door will encourage some insect predators.
You can start to harvest aubergines in late summer, when they are plump and shiny. Don’t leave them to long and definitely pick them before they lose their gloss as this is when they start to taste bitter.
It is definitely advisable to wear gloves when you pick the fruits as there are some sharp thorns on the stalk, and cut them rather than breaking them off.
A good variety is Black Prince, but do not think that you are limited to just black fruits as there is quite a selection. You can get white, green and purple as well as a selection of shapes.
Older varieties of aubergine needed a salt treatment to remove the bitter juice, but these days, as varieties have been improved, there is no need to pre-treat them, just prepare in the way you would like them.
Probably the most famous dish that uses aubergine is moussaka, and to prepare the aubergine for this recipe you would slice, fry in oil and then cool. Using this same method you could also layer them with tomatoes and parmesan cheese to make a classic Italian side dish.
Aubergine can also be used to make soups and in a risotto, it can also be stuffed and used as a meaty veg for a curry or tagine, you could even slice them lengthways, part cook them and use as an alternative to lasagne sheets or cannelloni rolls, great for anyone who can’t eat wheat.