How to grow eggplants

It’s eggplant time: these bulbous beauties love warm weather just as much as we do.

Originating from tropical Asia, eggplants (or aubergines) belong to the same family as tomatoes and potatoes, so the eggplant should not be planted where tomatoes and potatoes have grown within a two-year period – to avoid risk of blight and fungal attack.

Whether grown in a pot, greenhouse or garden, warmth is the key ingredient in producing strong growth and a good crop.

  • If raising from seed, the usual rules apply: use sterile seed- raising mix, keep it warm and keep it moist.
  • If you want to transplant seedlings outdoors, once they are six to eight centimetres tall ‘harden them off’ by moving them to a sunny, sheltered spot outside for a couple of weeks. (This lessens the shock of transplanting.)
  • After being hardened off, plant seedlings out: leave one metre between plants and give a fortnightly feed of liquid food containing nitrogen (tomato fertiliser works well). Apply a mulch of straw or wood chips over the top of the soil to retain moisture and warmth.
  • It’s a good idea to stake the plants as they are prone to snapping.
  • Removing the growing tip when the plant is 30 centimetres tall is optional, but it encourages side branches and more fruit.
  • Misting the leaves with water will help to combat attacks from red spider mite. If they persist, puff some derris dust on the underside of the leaves.
  • Aphids, greenfly and whitefly can be controlled by regular spraying with a weak washing-up liquid solution. Thankfully slugs and snails do not seem keen on the aubergine.

As flowers and then fruits start to emerge, remove any growing tips (laterals) that appear between the main stalks and leaf stalks. Change your liquid feed to one rich in potassium (sprinkle wood ash around the plant then water this in) and phosphorus.

Fruits should be picked when glossy and slightly soft when squeezed. If the fruit loses its gloss and has brown seeds inside, it will be overripe and bitter.

You can choose from more than 20 eggplant varieties in all manner of shapes and colours. All are delicious sliced, brushed with a little oil and grilled on the barbie.

First published: Jan 2011

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