Growing eggplants in the UAE
By Abinaya Ashok. 12/11/2019
My first brush with vegetable gardening 3 years ago was from a nursery bought small eggplant sapling. I did not know anything about vegetable gardening back then and requested our gardener to plant them in our barren backyard. In such a short span with little care except watering them every day, they started to produce lovely vegetables, which gave me the enthusiasm to try growing different kinds of vegetables and fruits in our backyard.
In today’s section, I would like to write about how to grow and care for eggplants in the UAE.
Germinating Eggplant saplings
Use a seed starter tray or any small container with drainage holes, fill it with potting soil and sow the seeds .25 inches/.6 cms deep and leave them in partial shade. You can buy a seed pack from the Nursery at Emirates Bio Farm or pick the seeds of a locally grown eggplant from your fridge and try your luck :)
Eggplant seeds germinate quite fast in about 2-3 days. I start sowing my eggplants seeds by around mid-August and leave them in partial shade early October. The eggplants shrubs love the sun so starting early gives me the chance to enjoy the produce for a good 7-8 months of the year. I would avoid sowing after May as the harsh summer can kill them before they acclimatize to the local conditions.
Alternatively, you can also buy medium saplings from Emirates Bio Farm for as little as 10 AED. I highly recommend getting mature saplings if you are new to vegetable gardening but very eager to get your hands dirty.
1) Eggplants germinate in 2-3 days
2) 10 days old eggplant saplings
3) 4 week old sapling
Caring for Eggplants Saplings
Transplant the saplings once they have a minimum of at least 15-20 leaves and look mature in your eye. Eggplant plants grow to become strong shrubs so for maximum yield, transplant them directly on to the ground. If you live in an apartment, transplant them to sturdy pots which can take their weight. Eggplant plants love direct sun and can take strong heat so don’t hesitate to choose a sunny plot of your garden. Since I start early when the sun is still harsh, I try to move them to a temporary pot and leave them in partial shade like in the picture below. If you move them to the ground directly early on, try to cover them with something during the peak hours if you notice the leaves wilting towards the end of the day. I usually take an empty yogurt can, drill 20-30 holes at bottom, invert it and cover the sapling during the day. I remove it early in the evening to let the plant stay on for the night. This also prevents insect/ant/bird attacks when the plant is small.
Eggplants grow very fast and need very little care. I usually feed them with some organic manure or rich soil once every 2 weeks. They can grow to a height of anything between 40-150 cms depending on the variety. As they grow and spread out, it would be essential to give them a support with a few sticks to avoid the shrub from sagging down.
Eggplant plants start flowering in about 60-70 days after germinating. The flowers normally range from a shade of lilac to dark purple depending on the variety. It is very normal for eggplants to keep just flowering and also for the flowers to keep withering away for about 2-3 weeks with no fruit formed. If you live in an apartment, devoid of bees or butterflies, you can have a shot at hand pollinating. There are lots of youtube tutorials on the best ways to do it. If you live in a garden, try to keep a pot of sunflowers, zinnias or marigolds around the eggplants to attract bees.
Mature eggplants vegetables are easy to spot to harvest given their beautiful purple colours. I usually pick them when I notice the aubergine is firm and creamy in texture. I also watch out for the green stem at the top of the vegetable which opens up a bit as if its ready to push the vegetable down. The aubergine or some varieties has thorns at the top of the stem so please be careful when you harvest them.
Notice the texture and the stem at the top lifting up
Caring for eggplants
Eggplants are easy to grow and require very little care except being watered every day. They do not attract a lot of pests and are relatively easy to manage. A fully grown eggplant shrubs lasts for a good 2 years and we have had one of our plants survive 2 Dubai summers and continues to give us wonderful yields. In the variety “black beauty” we grow, we have on an average 5-6 small eggplants a week during the non-summer days. There are very few crops which survive the extreme summer of the region in a normal garden and eggplants are one of them.
Our weekly black beauty variety harvest
A favourite from last year’s harvest shaped like heart with lots of love
Recipes: Baba Ghanoush, Grilled eggplants, Eggplant saute, Stuffed eggplant curry, eggplant fritters are a few we make regularly from our yields
Fun fact about eggplants: Did you know they belong to the family of the berries and is a close cousin of the tomatoes.
If countries adopted a national vegetable based on their geographical conditions, I would place my bets on eggplants to be the winners for UAE!
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