Aubergine

aubThe eggplant is a member of the potato and tomato family and it originates from the West Indies. They are not an easy crop to grow but home-produced aubergines are so wonderful, having so much more flavour than those bought from the shops that they are well worth growing. The egg-shaped fruit can be either white or purple though the purple varieties have a better flavour. They are truly appreciated in many parts of the world but cooked properly they can be enjoyed everywhere; no moussaka dish has quite the authentic taste without this delicious ingredient.

Sowing
Sow the seeds in trays in seed compost in February to March in a heated greenhouse or on a warm windowsill. Prick out seedlings when they have developed several leaves into 3 in. (76mm) pots containing potting compost, where they will grow on until they are ready to be transferred into larger pots. The February sowing should be ready to transfer in May and these will then go into 7 in. (177mm) pots, allow 18 in. (45cm) between each pot. You can use grow bags instead of pots if you wish but one bag can accommodate only two plants.

Planting Out
Aubergines should be classed as a greenhouse crop in all but the warmest areas of the UK
If the plants are to be transferred outside they will need to be hardened off first, therefore, the temperature should be gradually decreased. Wait until June before putting them outside, then all chances of frosts should have passed and the days should be warmer.

General Care 
Keep the plants well-watered; this is particularly imperative during warm weather, as dry conditions, especially around the roots, encourage the development of blossom end rot. By the time they have reached 16 in. (40cm) tall, they will need to have the growing tip pinched out to make them send out side shoots.

It is likely that the plants will need some support as the weight of the fruit could break the stems; bamboo canes are useful but care must be taken not to tie in the stems too tightly so that they become damaged. As the plants grow, tie the stems to the bamboo sticks with soft, green cotton twine or raffia. Make sure that the twine or raffia is not too tight so that it does not cut into the stem as it grows. The best method is to wrap the twine or raffia twice around the bamboo then put a loop around the stem securing it to the stick with care.

The plants should be given a weekly high-potash liquid feed. A suitable feed to use is one used for tomatoes though it must be given at half the strength. Mist them twice a day to encourage them to set fruit, it will also prevent attacks from red spider mite. For good size fruits, limit the number to a maximum of four per plant. To do this, pinch out all later forming flowers.

Harvesting
Aubergines are usually ready to harvest from August onwards. Always cut the fruit from the plants never attempt to pull or twist them off as this generally results in them tearing and damaging the plant, take care as there are prickles around the stem of the plant.