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Micro-gardening: Veggies can grow in small spaces

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
'Fairy Tale' eggplant. Jessica Walliser

Think just because you live in the city, you can't produce enough produce to feed your family? Think again. A little garden can go a long way. Small spaces are the driving principle behind a new trend: Micro-gardening. It means exactly what you think it does — growing small plants in small spaces.

Micro-gardening can be done in containers, raised beds or even in a small, sunny corner of the yard. You can grow just about any type of vegetable in a micro-garden, but you'll want to look for pocket-sized selections to increase the variety of veggies that you can grow in such a small space.

Start by growing some micro-greens like baby spinach, chard and lettuce. “Little Gem,” “Bambi” and “Red Cash” are three excellent miniature lettuce varieties perfectly suited to a micro-garden.

Other outstanding veggie selections for small spaces:

“Extra Dwarf” bok choi. This miniature green is used whole in stir-fries and soups and even raw in salads. It is so easy to grow, so tasty and so carefree. Crunchy, dark-green heads are mature in as little as 30 days. With white petioles and leaves growing only 2 inches high, they are sweet and easy to grow. Start seeds directly in the garden in early to mid spring (and again in late summer for fall harvests).

“Romeo” round baby carrot. Looking much like orange Ping-Pong balls, “Romeo” carrots might appear to be a bit out of the ordinary, but they are just as tasty and nutritious as full-sized carrots. These carrots grow well in rocky and clay soils where straight carrots are prone to forking; and because they're short and sweet, they don't require any of the careful soil preparation that growing perfect, straight carrots requires. Sow seeds a quarter-inch deep directly into the garden anytime between early spring and late summer. If you continue to sow a handful of seeds every two weeks though the summer, you'll be harvesting right up to frost and possibly beyond.

“Jingle Bells” pepper. A hybrid sweet pepper with dapper little green fruits that mature to a brilliant, glossy red, “Jingle Bells” doesn't need to be staked. Its terrifically good production and superior taste make this diminutive pepper a top notch choice for the micro-garden. The fruits measure an inch and a half across, and the plant reaches only 18 to 24 inches high. Start seeds indoors under lights about 10 weeks before planting out. Peppers are a warm season crop so hold off on moving the transplants outdoors until well after the danger of frost has passed.

“Fairy Tale” eggplant. This is my favorite eggplant. The oblong fruit is a soft lavender color streaked with creamy white. “Fairy Tale” has a miniature stature (it reaches only 18 inches in height) and the small fruits are a perfect single-serving size. To grow them, start seeds indoors eight to 10 weeks before the average last frost date then set them into the garden, or containers, when the weather has warmed.

“Red Robin” tomato. This tomato is proof that you don't need a lot of room to grow tomatoes because “Red Robin” matures at a mere 18 inches in height. And, as further proof that size doesn't really matter, “Red Robin's” cherry-sized fruits are surprisingly productive (not to mention they've got a super sweet flavor). You can grow these tomatoes in the ground or in containers, even in hanging baskets, and no staking, or pruning, is necessary. Start your own from seed under fluorescent lights indoors. Plant the seeds about six weeks before your average last frost date and they'll be ready to transplant outdoors by mid to late spring.

“Rocky” cucumber. This super-cute little cuke is best harvested when it reaches only 2 or 3 inches in length. “Rocky” doesn't take up much space (the vines are not overly enthusiastic growers so no pruning is necessary), making this variety a great choice for in-ground micro-gardens or container culture. “Rocky” is easy to start from seed sown directly outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. Provide a climbing trellis to save even more space; and since the vines are resistant to powdery mildew, they're a great choice for beginner gardeners, too.

Look for seeds of these, and other miniature veggie varieties, at your local nursery. Many also are available in popular seed catalogs and via online sources.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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