Aubergines, or eggplants, were once an unusual crop to grow but are now a commonplace crop. They need similar conditions to tomatoes and are best grown under glass; outdoor growing proves a little trickier if the summer is short or cool.
They’re not an easy crop to grow but the varieties available are varied. The types most widely grown are glossy, deep-purple or black-skinned and long in shape. The skin colour of other types vary from white, pink, pink-flecked and green and come in many different shapes and sizes.
If grown in the correct conditions, Aubergines can produce an abundance of fruit that’s fantastic for use in all sorts of Mediterranean cooking. This along with the variety available makes them a very fun crop to grow!
How to Plant Aubergines
Where to plant them
Because they naturally come from a warmer climate than ours, they need to be grown in greenhouses in UK. They require temperatures above 20°C (68°F), high humidity and shelter and should really only be grown outdoors in warmer regions of the country. They need a fairly fertile soil with good drainage but can be grown in pots or grow bags.
How to cultivate aubergines
Sow in cell or seed trays from late February to the end of March keeping temperatures above 20°C (68°F).
When seedlings reach 5cm (2in) high prick them out into 9cm (3in) pots.When young night temperatures should remain above 15°C (59°F) and light levels kept high.
Pot into 20cm (8in) pots or plant in grow bags, greenhouse beds or outdoors (when risk of frost has passed) with a 60cm (24in) plant and row spacing. Maintain a high humidity.
Grow Aubergines from plants
Plant in May for a Harvest time between August and October.
Your aubergine young plants will be delivered in late May and will be ready for planting straight away. Plant the aubergine plants individually in 15cm pots with a good multipurpose compost and water well.
Caring for Aubergines
When plants reach 25cm (10in) pinch out the growing tip to encourage fruiting on lateral growth. Large fruiting varieties should be restricted to producing around 5 fruits so remove any flowers that are produced after this. Water well and feed with a potassium rich liquid fertiliser at least every two weeks when the fruit begin to swell. Taller varieties may require support.
As there are many different varieties, harvesting time can be difficult to decide. A good gauge is plumpness or shine but some varieties never become shiny. In general harvest time after sowing is 20 weeks.
Aubergines don't store for long. It's best to keep them in the fridge to stop them from going soft too quickly. If you end up with too many (which often happens!) they can be sliced, cooked and frozen to use in recipies at a later date, or added to soups, pasta sauces and cooked in meals to freeze. They can also be pickled or roasted and stored in olive oil. Aubergine is also particularly good in lasagne and moussaka.
Health benefits of Aubergine
Aubergine has been thought of as one of the 'brain foods', containing phytonutrients that have been found to protect brain cells and block free radicals. Not only this, but they're full of powerful antioxidants which help lower cholesterol; vitamins including vitamin B & C as well as being a great source of fibre, potassium and folic acid.
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