I’m trying to think back to how many aubergines I have grown in my life. I dont mean plants – there have been a great many of them – but actual aubergine fruits, fully matured and ready for roasting to a delicious savoury gooeyness with crispy edges. I do recall one that got pretty close to fully ripe before suffering a devastating slug attack, to the fruit, not the plant. There wasn’t enough of it to save. There may have been one more, perhaps that same year.
So the long and short is: I haven’t had a great deal of luck with aubergines. I’ve tried them every year since I’ve owned a greenhouse, but I’m just not getting it right. With the endless triumph of hope over experience I do seem to keep at it (though as I write this I’m wondering quite why) and this year is no exception. They seem a particularly tricky crop, up there with chillies, but even harder to get right. At least chilli fruits are small. The bulk of an aubergine seems to count against it fully developing and then ripening, in all but subtropical conditions, or that’s my excuse at least.
And yet, and yet, I have been entrusted with growing the aubergines for the local community garden. A little alarming. I dont have to grow them to maturity, thank goodness, but I mentioned that I have a heated propagator and was immediately created ‘Aubergine Seed Guardian’. This has entailed sowing more aubergines than I would ever imagine sowing in my real life, and from the resulting 16 plants I can’t help hoping that surely at least one or two ripened aubergine fruits might result, to break my sorry record.
They have more in their favour than sheer numbers too. First off, they are a good, early ripening cultivar, ‘De Barbentane’, one of the many early ripening cultivars of vegetables offered by Real Seeds www.realseeds.co.uk . The fruits are modestly sized when ripe, and so there isn’t the same bulk to ripen as with more traditionally sized fruits. I also started them early, in the heated propagator, to give them the longest possible season in which to ripen, and transferred them outside to the mini greenhouse once they were germinated, before finally punting them out into the larger greenhouse. This was a perfect plan in the warm weather of a few weeks ago, but the current cold snap has knocked them back and made them all look a little sorry for themselves. Growth seems to have halted completely, some tips are becoming contorted and the plants just look plain hard done by. Not wishing to admit defeat quite so early in the game I have launched a rescue programme, pouring on the TLC, potting them up into fresh compost, and positioning them directly onto the heated mat in the mini greenhouse, which starts to feel like a little intensive care unit for heat-loving plants. Aubergines are heat lovers and cold haters, and while my tomatoes are putting up with the cooler weather surprisingly well (planted out in the greenhouse), the aubergines just couldn’t stand it. They are cosy as can be now.
The other factor they have in their favour is that once they are a decent size and looking healthy again, they will be handed over into the care of the community gardener, who will plant them out directly into a sunny polytunnel, to be tended by the nurturing hands of the community, and to linger no longer than is strictly necessary under my aubergine killing shadow. If we can muddle through the next few weeks together, I reckon they’ll do alright.