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Robert Smith

07 Feb 2024 08:43

February in the Greenhouse - Aubergine or Eggplant?

 

Growing aubergines (also known as eggplants) from seed in a greenhouse during the cooler month of February is your sure-fire way to success with these heat loving, Mediterranean veggies. Aubergines, with their diverse shapes, sizes, and colours, ranging from the classic large black to the slender long green and even the less common white fruit, offer a palette of possibilities for the home gardener, with the traditionally shaped fruit being perfect for moussaka, while the longer ones are ideal to add to curries and stir fry.  

 

 

Sowing Seeds in the Warmth of a Greenhouse 

The first step to a successful aubergine crop begins with sowing seeds in modules, ideally using a heated propagator. I like to sow two seeds per cell, thinning to the strongest seedlingBy using a heated propagator, it ensures a consistent temperature, crucial for germination during the colder month of February. Fill each module with a peat-free compost, place your seeds in the module at a depth of about 1.5cm (½ inch), and then gently water them. The heated propagator should be set to maintain a cosy temperature of around 18-21°C (64-70°F), ideal for germinating aubergine seeds. Alternatively, you could leave them on a warm windowsill to sprout, just make sure it doesn’t get too chilly at night though. 

 

Patience is key, as aubergine seeds can take anywhere from 14 to 21 days to germinate. During this waiting period, maintain the compost's moisture without overwatering, as this could prevent germination or promote fungal diseases; never let your module tray sit in a puddle of water. 

 

 

Potting on 

Once your aubergine seedlings have emerged and developed their first set of true leaves—a sign they're ready to graduate from their initial confines—it's time to transplant them into larger pots. This move allows the young plants to develop a stronger root system in their larger pot. Carefully lift the seedlings by a leaf, never the stem (as you can damage it) and pot them into 7.5-10cm (3-4 inch) pots filled with peat-free compost, taking care not to damage the delicate roots. Give the plants a water to settle the compost and keep them in the in the propagator or heated greenhouse, where they can continue to enjoy stable temperaturesOnce the weather begins to warm up, you can transfer your plants to an unheated greenhouse and begin to acclimate the plants to less controlled conditions. 

 

Egg-shaped, or not! 

 

Aubergines come in an array of shapes and colours, adding to their appeal when growing them in your greenhouse. Varieties such as 'Jackpot', a compact variety suitable for smaller pots, and 'Galine' or 'Black Beauty', which thrive in a greenhouse border or large pots, show the versatility of these deliciously tasty plants. 'Jackpot' is particularly suited for those with limited space, producing an impressive harvest from a small footprint, in fact the plants will be happy in anything as small as a 3-litre container, giving you plenty of small, glossy-black fruit. On the other hand, 'Galine' and 'Black Beauty' are known for their taller growth and traditional large, black fruits which make them a favourite with gardeners everywhere, especially if you want large, shiny fruit for making moussaka and more. 

 

Getting the most from your plants 
 

Growing aubergines to fruition requires some care and attention, but there are some simple steps to success. As the plants grow, some may need support to hold the weight of their fruits. Bamboo stakes, twine tied to the greenhouse cross bars, or tomato cages can be effective supportsMake sure you are gentle when you tie your plants in, giving them a little slack and allowing for the plants stem to expand as the plant grows, this is to avoid damaging them. Regular watering is a must, so make sure to always keep them moist, and once the first flower has formed it’s time to start feeding with a high potash fertiliser to encourage healthy growth and maximum fruiting. 

 

 

Menacing mites 

 

One challenge in growing aubergines is the problem of red spider mite, a pest that thrives in the warm, dry conditions of a greenhouse. Symptoms include mottled leaves and a general weakening of the plant, sometimes followed by the leaves yellowing and tell-tale signs of webbing on the underside of leaves. Combatting these pests involves increasing humidity around the plants, as red spider mites dislike moist conditions. Regular misting or placing water trays around the greenhouse can help maintain a higher humidity level, as can “damping down” by watering the floor of your greenhouse in the middle of the day to create humidityAlong with increasing the humidity, you can also buy beneficial insects to control red spider miteThese little critters act as your own pest-busting army, helping control any outbreak and ensuring your plants don’t sufferYou will find plenty of on-line companies who sell beneficial insects suitable for use in a greenhouse environment. 

 

Turbo-charge your aubergine 

 

For those with limited space, investing in a grafted aubergine plant can be well worth the money. Grafted plants are more vigorous and can yield a higher and more reliable crop, particularly beneficial if you can only fit one aubergine plant in your greenhouse, but still want a bumper crop. These plants have the added advantage of being more resistant to soil-borne pests and diseases, plus their turbo-charged roots will help produce ripe fruit up to two months earlier than plants grown from seed. 

 

Finally 

 

No matter if you are growing a single plant for a couple of fruit, or masses for moussaka and more, aubergines are a must for any veg grower with a greenhouseThe array of different fruit available to the home gardener is out of this world compared to the traditional ones found in the supermarket, perfect for adding a little home-grown excitement to meals.  

Whether you are making Baba ghanoush, baking them, adding to a tray of roasted veggies, or creating a curry, you can’t go wrong with aubergines when you grow them in your greenhouse; they are the ultimate summer-loving veggie! 

 

 

Om Robert Smith

Rob is a seasoned gardener, specialising in growing edible plants. Not only does he write for multiple national Gardening Magazines, but he also appears now and again on TV and radio, sharing his passion for the “Grow Your Own” lifestyle on social media (@robsallotment).  Alongside his public persona, Rob also works with several of the counties best known gardening companies, including Suttons, Thompson & Morgan, Dobies, and The Organic Gardening Catalogue, to source new and exciting types of fruit, veg and flowers to be launched into garden centres across the UK and Europe.  At home you will find him in his Kitchen Garden, come rain or shine, accompanied by his faithful companions, Nipper and Reggie.

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