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Aubergines are a tropical plant, but you can still grow them in Ireland

As part of Michael Kelly’s 52 Veg – A Year of Growing, Cooking and Eating your own Food series – this week, we talk aubergines.

Michael Kelly Grower

AUBERGINES ARE A problematic veg to grow, tending towards being unreliable. In my experience, some years even a healthy looking plant won’t provide much food.

But nevertheless they are a compact and bushy plant, so you can always pop one or two in to a pot or in the soil in your greenhouse or polytunnel.

If it works, they are a delicious treat. Most of us are familiar with the beautiful, glossy black aubergine but you can also try growing pink, white and even orange fruits. This is a great time of the year to sow them as they benefit from a long growing season.

Sowing

They require a reasonably fertile soil, good ventilation and a long growing season. You need to sow them as early as possible, certainly by mid March. Sow five seeds in a 9cm pot and place it on a warm sunny windowsill or on a heated propagator.

They will need temperatures of about 18-20 degrees Celsius to germinate. About a week after the seedlings have appeared, prick them out and put each seedling in a 7cm pot. About a month later (when 5cm high) pot them on again in to 10cm pots.

IMG_3591 Source: Michael Kelly

Growing

Aubergines are a tropical plant, so they won’t do well outside in Ireland. Plant the aubergines out in to the polytunnel or greenhouse in May – only do so if the weather is mild and all risk of frost has passed.

Allow 45cm between plants (though there are dwarf varieties available that can be planted 30cm apart). You could also try planting them in growbags or large pots (20cm). Water regularly – they like humidity. Don’t allow the plant to get taller than about 50cm – if this happens, pinch out the growing tip which will encourage the plant to become bushy. Fruit bearing branches may require a support stick.

Harvesting

Harvest the fruits when they are a good size and shiney.

Recommended Varieties

Black Beauty, Rosa di Bianca.

Problems

Unfortunately aubergine plants are prone to a range of problems including whitefly/greenfly attacks blossom end rot and grey mould. An occasional garlic spray will help and will make the plants more vigorous. Interplanting with marigolds will deter whitefly.

Tips

1. It is wise to restrict each plant to producing about five fruits. Remove other fruits as they develop.

2. Feed every two weeks or so with a tomato or comfrey feed when the fruit starts to set.

shutterstock_319941557 Source: Shutterstock/AS Food studio

Recipe of the Week – Aubergine Stew (Caponata)

Aubergines are not in season now so this might be a recipe to file away until late summer when they are at their most nutritious and tasty.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large aubergines, cut into large chunks
  • 1 heaped teaspoon oregano
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and stalks finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed, soaked and drained
  • 1 handful green olives , stones removed
  • 2-3 tablespoons best-quality herb vinegar
  • 5 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds, lightly toasted, optional

Directions:

Get yourself a large pan, pour in a couple of lugs of olive oil, and place on the heat. Add your aubergine chunks and oregano, season with a little salt and toss around so the aubergine is evenly coated by the oil.

Cook on a high heat for around 4 or 5 minutes, giving the pan a shake every now and then. (Depending on the size of your pan you may need to cook the aubergine in batches.)

When the aubergines are nice and golden on each side, add the onion, garlic and parsley stalks and continue cooking for another couple of minutes. Feel free to add a little more oil to the pan if you feel it’s getting too dry. Throw in the drained capers and the olives and drizzle over the herb vinegar.

When all the vinegar has evaporated, add the tomatoes and simmer for around 15 minutes or until tender. Taste before serving and season if you need to with salt, pepper and a little more vinegar.

Drizzle with some good olive oil and serve sprinkled with the chopped parsley leaves and the almonds if you like.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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