"In search of the perfect Asian eggplant variety, production system"

To meet the increasing Canadian demand for ethnic vegetables, Ontario’s Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is investigating varieties of greenhouse Asian eggplant. Michael Brownbridge, Vineland's Research Director for Horticultural Production Systems, explained to us the process for selecting the perfect variety and improving production systems.

Due to changing population demographics and eating habits, Canadian consumers are seeking different vegetable varieties on their plates. That is why growers are being challenged by retailers to grow ethnic vegetables, year-round. Using a greenhouse can provide the solution to this problem, but everybody knows that a greenhouse is nothing without the right variety inside. That is why researchers at Vineland are in search of the perfect Asian eggplant variety and production system.

Michael Brownbridge shows several ethnic varieties from the high wire Asian eggplant production trials at Vineland's research greenhouse.

According to Michael Brownbridge, the research focuses on identifying the right contenders in the first year. "We sourced many different eggplant varieties from around the world - China, India, the Netherlands, Italy, Pakistan and Taiwan. Previously, our Consumer Insights team conducted a study to better understand what typical South Asian and Chinese consumers are looking for in eggplant varieties. We already know that they prefer a long skinny shape, but what kind of colour do they prefer? Deep purple or a lighter version, and do they prefer a dark/black or a light coloured calyx? From there we can start to select the right varieties."

Brownbridge explained that they will select varieties that have the correct features for a high wire greenhouse setting. "We need to understand the type of eggplant we have, see how they grow and determine if they have the capacity to grow in a commercial Canadian greenhouse setting."

Upright growth habit

As the varieties will eventually be grown by commercial growers, Vineland is trying to understand whether it is in the genetics of these varieties to be able to grow at full potential in a high wire system. According to Brownbridge, this is the hardest part of the research. "Obviously, when growing in a high wire system, you need to have a plant with the right traits, such as upright growth habit, and with the proper vigour to grow to the height required in a production greenhouse. We are also looking for a variety that is able to flower constantly, because in a commercial greenhouse setting there is a need for crops to produce flowers for at least nine months out of the year. And of course the yield potential is another crucial factor."


Brownbridge further mentioned that researchers are also studying root systems. "It is important to find a variety that has a good root system for a greenhouse setting. That is why we are also looking to graft these eggplant varieties on tomato rootstocks in order to increase growth, vigour, heat tolerance, disease resistance and endurance."

Right now a low tech system is used for basic screening to see which varieties have the right growth characteristics. In a later stage, extensive trials will determine more technical characteristics. Researchers will also take a closer look at applying biocontrols and cropping strategies like pruning and deleafing.

For more information:
Vineland Research and Innovation Centre
Michael Brownbridge, PhD
Research Director Horticultural Production Systems

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