It’s OK to think small, at least when it comes to vegetables


Small plants can be great plants.

Regular readers will be calling foul at this declaration, since it was just a few weeks ago that I lamented the great shrinking of garden plants and encouraged gardeners to start thinking big. But I’m officially adding an asterisk to that column to make room for an important category of small plants — vegetables.

Not everyone has space for an expansive vegetable garden. Not everyone — and I’d even argue that most people fall into this category — needs 40 tomatoes within two weeks. And plenty of people aren’t interested in the kind of commitment that a big vegetable garden requires.

Thanks to plant breeders, there are plenty of options to grow almost any vegetable in a reasonable-sized container on a porch, balcony or maybe a corner of the driveway.

There are so many “mini” vegetables to choose from that All-America Selections, the nonprofit, North American plant-trialing organization, launched a special edible container trial last year, and some great plants rose to the top.

I grew Pot-a-peno pepper, a compact jalapeño pepper that produces regular-sized peppers, both in a raised bed and container. It was productive, offering plenty of peppers for two of us, with moderate but not mind-blowing heat.

Watermelon lovers who don’t need a melon the size of a small canoe will get a kick out of the very cute Mini Love watermelon. The Asian watermelon is considered “personal sized” and can produce up to six,  7 to 9-pound fruits with few seeds on small, 3 to 4-foot vines. Park them in a very sunny and warm spot and they may offer better production than ones grown in the ground.

Lettuces of any kind are a good choices for container growing, but Bauer oak leaf lettuce is particularly well suited for containers because it’s a particularly fast grower that can be harvested as baby leaves or a full-sized head. Lettuce appreciates a bit of protection from hot sun, so it’s perfect for a part-sun (or even part-shade) spot where other vegetables won’t be as happy.

Love cabbage? Yep, you can grow that in containers too. Katarina grows sweet, 4-inch heads that mature up to three weeks earlier than other cabbage varieties, making it not only perfect for growing in a container but also for working into ornamental containers as well.

All of these varieties are F1 hybrids, which is a first generation seed of cross-pollination, not the product of any kind of funny business in a lab. But you won’t be able to harvest seeds from the varieties because the plants they produce won’t come true the following year. But odds are that if you’re growing in containers, you have several years worth of seeds in a packet.

So maybe it’s not so bad to think small, at least when it comes to vegetables.

The All-America Selections website,, offers links to seed sellers of all winning varieties.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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