The aubergine or egg plant (solanum melongena) is mainly grown in the UK as a greenhouse crop. Outside growing is rarely successful even in southern regions, unless the summer is long and hot. The fruits can be highly attractive and come in a range of shapes, sizes and colours.
Soil Type: Moist but well-drained, fertile soil.
Conditions: Full sun.
Ease of Cultivation: Moderate to difficult.
Type: Fruiting Vegetable.
When to Sow: February to March under cover.
Harvest Season: Summer.
Best grown under the protection of a greenhouse, cold frame or sited in a sunny sheltered south-facing spot.
Like tomatoes, aubergines are an ideal vegetable for planting in growbags. Alternatively, plant-up in individual 10in (25cm) pots in a good quality growing compost.
If you have a sheltered, warm sunny patio then why not try one of the dwarf varieties in a container. Although, you will need to water and feed it thoroughly throughout the growing season to generate a good crop.
Sow seed in late February or early March, in modules or pots, in a heated propagator or on a warm window sill. Re-pot as they grow on and keep at even temperature of 18 - 25 deg C. Harden off before planting outside.
Seedlings or small plants purchased from a garden centre (around the end of May) can often be the easiest option when growing in the UK. Keep the plants protected from frost and cold weather and harden off before planting outside.
The stems can be a prickly and irritate the skin, so wear gloves when handling these plants.
If you are transplanting into the ground, enrich the soil with plenty of organic material and a generous amount of general-purpose fertilizer. Protect outside grown crops with a ventilated cloche or layer of horticultural fleece until the weather is warm enough.
Pinch out the growing tip when the plant has reached a height of 12in (30cm), to encourage the development of side shoots. Mist spraying once the flowers have formed should help set the fruit.
Restricting each plant to four or five fruits can improve fruit size and shorten harvest time.
Water and feed regularly once the fruits have formed. Feed in the same way as for tomatoes with a proprietary tomato food or with home-made liquid comfrey feed.
The heavy developing fruits can easily break the
stems, so provide string and cane support for the plants
Can be affected by caterpillars, whitefly, aphids and red spider mite. However these pest should cause only minimal damage, so simply pick or wash them off.
Harvest when the fruit has reached its full size and attained its full colour. Usually around 20 weeks after sowing.
Rarely used in English cuisine, Aubergines are more appropriate in Mediterranean dishes; particularly as a key ingredient in Moussaka. Older recipes often suggest aubergines need to be soaked in salt water to remove the bitterness, although modern varieties have much less bitterness, so should not require this treatment.
Trim off both ends and slice or dice. Coat with plain flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs and fry in butter or olive oil. Alternatively, brush slices with butter or oil and grill or bake.
Aubergines are rich in antioxidants, particularly the phytochemical nasunin which is found in the skin giving it its purplish colour. They are also a good source of dietary fibre, minerals, vitamins B1, B6 and potassium.
The main varieties produce large purple/black fruits with a deep shine. However, spotted, white and red types are also available, ranging in size and shape.
Aubergine 'Black Enorma' (F1 Hybrid) a vigorous grower that produces large jet-black fruits from mid summer to late autumn. Can be grown outside, in patio containers or in the greenhouse. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Aubergine 'Bonica' (F1 Hybrid) an early ripening, high yielding variety that crops well throughout the summer. The shiny purple, oval, fruits average 5in (12cm) in length. Great for indoor growing or patio containers. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Aubergine 'Czech Early' an early flowering, rapid growing form that gives an extended growth period for higher yields. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Aubergine 'Fairy Tale' (F1 Hybrid) an unusual form that bears clusters of long thin purple fruits flecked with white. Excellent for the greenhouse or patio containers.
Aubergine 'Galine' (F1 Hybrid) a dwarf form that produces an abundance of small, tasty aubergines throughout the summer. Perfect for patio containers. Height and spread to 2ft (60cm). Available at Van Meuwen.
Aubergine 'Mini Bambino' is worth growing for its abundance of small attractive dark fruits. Highly ornamental and perfect for pot culture or a small garden.
Aubergine 'Moneymaker' is robust and cold tolerant, producing elongated flavoursome fruits. One of the best varieties for outdoor growing but it will do even better in the greenhouse.
Aubergine 'Pinstripe' (F1 Hybrid)
a compact variety that yields a heavy crop of attractive
deep purple fruits with distinctive white stripes.
Perfect for a sunny patio or a small greenhouse. Available
at Thompson & Morgan.