Aubergines (eggplants) are becoming popular vegetables to grow at home – thanks to new cultivars more suited to the British climate and their delicious fruit. Sunshine and warm growing conditions are the key to success. Seed is sown early in the year, so a plant propagator is invaluable; alternatively, germinate seedlings in the airing cupboard.
Sow at 18-21°C (65-70°F) in seed-sowing compost in pots or modules. If germinating seeds in the airing cupboard, check seeds daily and remove them as soon as they have germinated.
For greenhouse cultivation: use a heated propagator and sow in January if you have a heated greenhouse, or February for crops to be planted out in an unheated greenhouse. If using a windowsill sow from late February. For outdoor cultivation, sow indoors in early March.
Plants are now widely offered for sale in garden centres, and are ideal where plant raising is difficult. Grafted plants have good vigour and well suited to cooler conditions and for soil cultivation.
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, and when 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 covering 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.
Stake and tie in plants as they grow. When plants are 30cm (12in) high, remove the tip from the main stem.
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) to with tepid water to discourage red spider mite and help fruit set.
Remove remaining flowers when five or six fruits have set. Cultivars producing small or round fruit can be allowed to produce many more.
Troubleshooting Growing Problems
Glasshouse red spider or two spotted mite: Leaves become mottled, pale and covered in webbing, on which the mites can be clearly seen; leaves also drop prematurely.
Remedy: They thrive in hot, dry conditions, so mist plants regularly. Use biological control in the greenhouse.
Whitefly: Small white flies suck sap and excrete sticky ‘honeydew’ over the plant, encouraging the growth of sooty mould.
Remedy: Use biological control or sticky traps in the greenhouse.
Aphids: Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Remedy: Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.
Cut each fruit from August onwards when they’ve grown about 15cm (6in) long and the skin surface is still shiny.n.
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