A far wider range of Aubergine is available as seeds than as produce in the shops. There are lots of varieties to grow in different colours, shapes and sizes!
Aubergines are not hard to grow from seed but need a long time to mature. Therefore, it’s best to start sowing them early, indoors or in your Sprout Mini Greenhouse – mid to late winter is generally a good time. Smaller varieties may be grown till maturity in your Sprout, whilst larger plants can be moved to a very sunny, sheltered and warm position outside when the night temperatures are minimum 15°C.
Fill a pot, tray or multi-cell tray with peat-free compost and water it. Sow the seeds at least 2cm apart and cover lightly with compost or vermiculite, then water again carefully. Putting a plastic dome or cling film on top can help germination, but make sure it has air holes for ventilation! Keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate because if they dry out they will most likely not germinate at all. Having said that, be careful not to overwater!
Aubergines will ideally need 18-26°C to germinate well and normally appear within 7- 14 days. Once the seedlings appear, remove the plastic and place in a bright location with 12-16hrs of light. 18°C is an ideal growing temperature.
Transplant the seedlings to their individual 7-9cm pots when at least one set of true leaves has formed. Repot them into slightly larger pots when the roots start to stick out at the bottom, aiming for a 30cm pot as the final one. Many growers recommend pinching out the growing tip when the plant is about 30cm tall to encourage branching, which should lead to more fruit. There is however a difference of opinion amongst growers of what works best!
You can keep the pot in your Sprout if you have space, or put it outside in summer when the night temperatures are at least 15°C. To acclimatise the plants to outdoor conditions, lift them outside in a sheltered, lightly shaded spot during the day, and put them back in at night. Gradually increase the time outside, and do this for about two weeks before leaving them out full-time.
Try to keep the pots well watered and feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser, changing to a high-potash feed every 7-10 days once the first fruits start to set. It’s a good idea to stake the plants to provide additional support, as the crop can be heavy.
When growing in your Sprout Mini Greenhouse, pollinators may struggle to get to your plants so they will need help to pollinate properly. Tap the flowers or shake the plants a little to release the pollen or stroke the inside of the flowers with a small paintbrush. Mist the foliage regularly when growing indoors or under cover with tepid water, to discourage red spider mites and to help flowers set.
Pick the aubergines before the skin loses its gloss. When the gloss goes they tend to be over-ripe and full of seeds.
The biggest problem tends to be red spider mites. Avoid them by regularly misting the plants, especially if grown under cover. Whitefly and aphids can also be a problem which can be showered off or treated with an organic soap spray. Blossom end rot is a result of erratic watering but is not as common.
If you are growing two plants of the same variety, pinch out the growing tip on one when it is about 30cm tall, to encourage branching, which should lead to more fruit. There is a difference of opinion amongst growers so see what you think!
Aubergine is actually a fruit, but is always prepared and regarded as a vegetable. It belongs to the tomato and potato family, which are all nightshades. In America it is called eggplant!
There are lots of different varieties but here are some that are suitable to grow in your Sprout, and outdoors in a sheltered spot.
‘Money Maker’ is an early maturing variety, bearing good yields of long, slender dark coloured fruit, with a good flavour. Tolerant of lower temperatures so it can be grown outside in a sunny location.
‘Kaberi’ is a compact, thornless variety, fantastic for container growing. It produces a reliable crop of dark purple, egg-sized fruit which mature very quickly.
‘Garline’ is ideal for containers and produces lots of small and glossy purple egg shaped fruit.
‘Fairy Tale’ is a compact-variety great for container growing. Fruits are slim, long and lavender-coloured with white stripes and mature early.