Beautiful purple Aubergines originated in India where it is warm. So growing Aubergines in a cool climate like Ireland can be a trial and error. I will admit I have only successfully done it twice in four years of trying. But I am letting you know what I have learnt and how I go about growing Aubergines in a cool climate and get hints and tips to help you grow this interesting tough but rewarding vegetable.
Tips for growing Aubergines in a cooler climate
Sow Aubergines Early
- Don’t wait until spring to make your sowings, start your aubergines off now. You will need to mollycoddle the seedlings but I promise it will be worth it.
- To minimise root disturbance and make life easier I sow the seeds into modules of seed compost.
- Being in the tomato family the seeds look much the same, so they are easy to handle and sow individually.
- Cover them with a layer of vermiculite or compost and pop them into a heated propagator. Ideally, you will want a temperature of 24°C (75°F) for speedy germination, although 21°C (70°F) would be okay. Keep the compost moist but certainly not wet.
Seedlings should make an appearance within 10 days to two weeks, at which point they can be left to grow on before potting on into 7cm (3in) pots of multipurpose compost/potting soil.
Keep them on the warm side with plenty of natural light and pot on again into 12cm (5in) containers as soon as the roots can be seen at the drainage holes.
The plants can go into their final positions once they fill these pots, though you will need to make sure you can sustain a cosy environment as Aubergines are tender souls.
How to Keep Aubergines Happy once they have sprouted
The question now is how to keep up the warm conditions to coax your Aubergines into flower and, ultimately, fruit.
You have two options here: the warmth of a greenhouse or, for the more adventurous or those that don’t have a greenhouse, an enclosed hotbed.
Using a Hot Bed for Aubergines
Most gardeners may not have heard of a hotbed and I learnt about it from Charles Dowding of No-Dig fame.
A hotbed has nothing to do with heated blankets or sun/tanning beds, but rather the joy of manure or, to be more precise, decomposing manure! As manure breaks down it gives off impressive heat, raising the surrounding temperature on a cold day by as much as 10°C (about 18°F). Hotbeds give precious seedlings like Chillis and Aubergines a fighting chance in the temperamental summer we have here.
Making a Hotbed
Constructing a hotbed is straightforward enough. Although it does require an initial input of muscle and a good supply of muck.
- First, dig out a bed to a spade’s depth, fill it with manure (horse is best), then turn it after four days to ensure an even mix of the bacteria and fungi responsible for decomposing.
- Once you are sure it has started heat decomposition the manure should be topped off with a 10-15cm (4-6in) layer of soil. Leave for a few days for the mounded bed to settle then plant your aubergine plants into the soil layer.
- To prevent all that hard-won heat from escaping, enclose your hotbed within a cold frame or use a plastic cover. You can either dig out the hotbed in an existing frame which is what I did – it is in my mini -greenhouse tunnel. Or you can make a cover for it like the image above.
Aubergines will grow upwards of 90cm (3ft) in good conditions. So make sure the frame or tomato house you use is tall enough for the job. Fleece can be draped over these plants at night to keep off the chill.
Growing Aubergines in the Greenhouse
Aubergines do well in containers, which allow them to be moved into a cold frame or greenhouse during cooler weather. The pots can also be repositioned on a patio to take advantage of any suntraps.
Greenhouse aubergines should be grown one plant to a pot of at least 30cm (1ft) diameter. Open vents so that bees and other pollinators can find their way in or you will have to hand pollinate.
Looking after your Aubergines
Once your Aubergines are a foot tall pinch out the growing tip to make it more sturdy. This will encourage further branches to develop lower down, thereby ensuring a bushier and shorter plant. Branches may need supporting with canes, particularly when they begin to set their fruits.
Even when growing with lots of compost or manure, both hotbed and greenhouse aubergines will benefit from a weekly liquid feed high in potash to encourage flowers and fruits; organic tomato feed is fine for this.
In cloudy or cool weather gently tap the flowers to encourage pollen to dislodge and fertilise the flowers.
Mature fruits can be cut away with a sharp knife; cut them while they are at their shiny best. If they go dull they are not as nice.
Varieties to try in Ireland
I prefer Sutton Seeds as a reliable source and I have Handy code to help you get money off your seeds – S16GARDEN
Black Beauty – Black Beauty is an excellent quality aubergine producing sturdy plants and an abundant crop of large, tasty, purple-black, pear-shaped fruit. It is my favourite and it has worked for me.
F1 Pinstripe – Ideal for pots or raised beds, this dwarf, compact aubergine produces an abundance of delicious purple, cream-striped fruit – I am trying this one this year.
Growing Aubergines in a cooler climate is a challenge and if you are not a fan well maybe leave them out of your plans. I am stubborn and love a challenge though and have learnt to love them and use them in cooking like in this How to make Delicious Aubergine Parmigiana recipe.
I have made a handy Quick grow guide for you to try your own Aubergines which you can download here
If you enjoyed this post you can find more grow your own guides here
- How to grow your own Lentils
- Growing Sweet potatoes in cooler climates
- Grow your own Blackcurrants
- Growing Courgettes- the How and the Why?
You can find all about my Organic Kitchen Garden here Organic Vegetable Gardening Posts on Snapshot and Snippets. Or Sign up for Snapshot and Snippets News today and get a free Gardening Guide to help you plan your garden
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