Aubergine is one of those excellent vegetables that you associate with middle eastern and Mediterranean cooking. You may also associate it with Thai Green Curry if you know your stuff. You probably do not associate it with growing in a garden in Wigan. However growing your own aubergine is as easy as growing your own tomatoes or pepper.
In this article we will be discussing the classic aubergine used in Western cooking rather than other aubergines like the pea aubergine.
The Fine Print
The aubergines that you eat are a species within the nightshade family. They are therefore very closely related to tomatoes and potatoes. Although this sounds like an odd matching, look at the types of flowers they all have and the way that fruit set. Remember that the fruit of the potato is not the tuber, potatoes have berries which look surprisingly like tomatoes, however are poisonous (more on this below).
Aubergines grow like a vine tomato and require the same support that you would give to a tomato, although they do not get so tall.
Now, all plants in the solanum genus, that is the group that tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines exist within, produce solanine. Solanine is a poison. Potato berries contain high quantities of this, as do green potatoes. Raw aubergines also contain this poison, mainly in the skin. Bear this in mind before eating huge quantities of the fruit.
Getting Started with Growing your own Aubergine Plants
Aubergine plants require warmth and as a result, many of the aubergine varieties you may wish to try will be off limits unless you have a heated growing space.
On top of this aubergines also require a long growth period so need to be started early. Growing your own aubergine plants has to start indoors. In the comfort of your own home if nowhere else, maybe on a windowsill in your nice toasty house as the inclement early February weather rolls in around you.
So to start, plant in individual pots, or modules, about 2cm deep. These need to be heated at about 18-21°c. All aubergines need to be started early, mid-January through to mid-February.
Planting Out and Growing your Aubergine Plants
Let’s just put it out there, although growing your own aubergine plants is easy, they are fussy little plants. Too much water and they wilt, not enough and they wilt, too cold and they wilt, too hot and they wilt. It is a game like the sims to keep them alive.
Plant the aubergines into progressively larger pots as they outgrow the last, but they shouldn’t need any wider than a 10 inch pot. Ensure that it is free draining by placing stones in the bottom. When they get into their final pot ensure that they are staked as they need a little extra support. The cane only needs to go up 50cm as the plant will not get any higher.
Most people suggest pinching off the new flowers when you have 5 or 6 fruit. This is to allow the plant to put in all of its energy into growing the fruit, which improves both the flavour and the size of the aubergines.
When the plant gets to 40cm, nip the growing tip out. This encourages the plant to branch, meaning that you may get more fruit, or more energy going into the fruit you have.
When you are growing your own aubergine plants you will encounter multiple pests:
- Aphids: Aphids literally get everywhere, especially with regards to plants. They eat the sap from plants which can cause the plant to get weaker and distort. On top of this they excrete honeydew which can encourage sooty mould to grow.
- Greenhouse red spider mite: These simply create a webbing over the leaves. This will make the leaves go mottled or yellow and could cause the leaves to die or even the plant to die. Really simple to fix this. Spray the plant with water (called misting) will reduce the risk of the mites setting in, however will not significantly reduce them once they are already there. There are some methods to kill off the mites, both biological and pesticides.
- Sooty mould: This is a black fungus that grows on the outside of plants. It doesn’t do a lot of harm to the plant, unless it spreads over the entire plant. This then starts blocking out light and preventing the plant from photosynthesising. It does spread quickly, try using a simple lukewarm water and tiny amount of soap. Then, simply, rub off the mould with this mix.
- Whitefly: These are tiny flies that sit and suck the sap from the risk of the plant. They excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which encourages sooty mould to grow. A significant amount of Whitefly can prevent the growth of the plant. Try using some sticky fly traps in the greenhouse to reduce this.
Harvesting your Aubergine Plants
Different aubergines grow and mature at different times, so check with each variety. In reality though, if you pick the largest fruit at start of August you should be OK. Some plants will continue to set fruit after this if you allow them to.
The aubergines that you grow yourself will feel slightly firmer than they would if you buy in a shop. Just remember before you decide not to harvest because they are too firm- you may be waiting quite a while.
Below is a list of the different seeds you can buy to grow your own aubergine plants from some of our favourite suppliers. This is not an exhaustive list of suppliers or of varieties. Please let us know in the comments below if you use anyone else for your seed needs and we will look to incorporate them into this list.
- Black Beauty – Suttons seeds: The classic pear shaped aubergine. Great for traditional Mediterranean cooking. In the right conditions these can make really huge fruit. 50 seeds per pack. £1.99
- Czech Early Aubergine – Real Seeds: very early and very productive. Will continue to produce fruit all through the season. Tennis ball sized fruit, with a lovely purple skin. At least 12 seeds. £2.40
- De Barbentane – Real Seeds: this is a great aubergine that does not need to be kept as warm as other varieties, so will do well in a standard unheated polytunnel or greenhouse. It does need to be inside though. Long black fruit with a classic white flesh. 25 seeds per pack. £2.10
- F1 Galine – Suttons seeds: another classic pear shaped aubergine. Slightly smaller and heavier cropping than the black beauty. RHS award of Garden Merit winner. 10 seeds per pack. £2.99
- F1 Pinstripe – Suttons seeds: These are beautiful small round aubergines. Depending on how you look at them, they are white with a purple pinstripe or purple with a white pinstripe. They are the Marty (Madagascar reference) of aubergines. 10 seeds per pack. £2.99
- Patio mix – Suttons seeds: a great selection of 4 different varieties – F1 Pinstripe, F1 Ivory, F1 Amethyst, F1 Jackpot. Click on the link to see the colours. These are excellent varieties and sure to give you a great variety. 10 seeds per pack. £4.99
Using your Aubergines
By end of June or July you may have a few aubergines sat on your counter top wanting to be cooked. They are a versatile vegetable and have uses in multiple cuisines, specifically Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. Why not try making a baba ganoush or moussaka?
Or if you fancy something French why not create a ratatouille? This is a great type of stew for using many of your ingredients from the allotment.
Whatever you decide to do with the fruit growing your own aubergine plant is a great way to ensure you ge good quality aubergines over the summer months