Thursday, 8 July 2010

Growing Aubergine

  • The aubergine, eggplant, melongene or brinjal (Solanum melongena) is a plant of the family Solanaceae (also known as the nightshades) and genus Solanum. 
  • It bears a fruit of the same name, commonly used as a vegetable in cooking. 
  • As a nightshade, it is closely related to the tomato and potato and is native to Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
  • It is a delicate perennial often cultivated as an annual. 
  • It grows 40 to 150 cm (16 to 57 in) tall, with large coarsely lobed leaves that are 10 to 20 cm (4–8 in) long and 5 to 10 cm (2–4 in) broad. 
  • (Semi-)wild types can grow much larger, to 225 cm (7 ft) with large leaves over 30 cm (12 in) long and 15 cm (6 in) broad. 
  • The stem is often spiny. The flowers are white to purple, with a five-lobed corolla and yellow stamens. 
  • The fruit is fleshy, less than 3 centimetres (1.2 in) in diameter on wild plants, but much larger in cultivated forms.
  • The fruit is botanically classified as a berry, and contains numerous small, soft seeds, which are edible, but are bitter because they contain nicotinoid alkaloids, unsurprising as it is a close relative of tobacco.
  • Nutritional levels should be pH 6 - 6.5 with N, P, K, Mg indeces around 3.
  • Sow early October to November, or Mid-November to December, or late January to February.
  • Germination in 10 - 20 Days, when germinating at 20°C.
  • Space the seeds 2cm apart in seed trays or 2 seeds per pot under glass at 20°C. and cover lightly with compost.
  • When plants are 3-4 inches high plant into 9in pots or 3 plants per grow bag and placed under glass. 
  • Outdoors - plants may be transplanted to a sunny sheltered spot. 
  • Plants should be supported with vertical strings or canes, and also with horizontal ties or loops around the plants to keep them from sprawling. 
  • Pruning - While 2 or 3 stems can be taken, plants can be maintained on one stem with side shoots reduced beyond the flowers which form. 
  • The basic object is to aim for 6 - 9 fruits per plant, though this can be exceeded on longer term culture. 
  • Lower leaves are removed as they become yellow, otherwise they will trail and become diseased.
  • Mulching will help conserve moisture and prevent weeds and fungal diseases. 
  • The flowers are relatively unattractive to bees and the first blossoms often do not set fruit. 
  • Hand pollination will improve the set of the first blossoms. 
  • Flowers are complete, containing both female and male structures, and may be self-pollinated or cross-pollinated.
  • Average of 80 days to harvest.
  • Fruits are typically cut from the vine just above the calyx owing to the semi-woody stems. 
  • For best flavor and minimal seeds, pick the fruits as they reach full size. 
  • Size varies from cultivar to cultivar; some fruits are “baby” sized and others very large. 
  • Overripe plants develop dull, soft skin and an unpalatable taste and under ripe fruits tend to have tough, bitter-tasting skin.
  • The raw fruit can have a somewhat bitter taste, but becomes tender when cooked and develops a rich, complex flavor. 
  • Salting and then rinsing the sliced fruit (known as "degorging") can soften and remove much of the bitterness though this is often unnecessary. 
  • Some modern varieties do not need this treatment, as they are far less bitter. 
  • The fruit is capable of absorbing large amounts of cooking fats and sauces, allowing for very rich dishes, but the salting process will reduce the amount of oil absorbed. 
  • The fruit flesh is smooth; as in the related tomato, the numerous seeds are soft and edible along with the rest of the fruit. 
  • The thin skin is also edible, so peeling is not required.

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