Small space edibles: Food you absolutely can grow in your tiny garden
Even eggplants and carrots can be yours, promise!
Having a small space doesn't have to mean squashing your vegetable-growing dreams. You can place a vegetable garden of containers or miniature raised beds anywhere that gets at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day: a corner of your balcony, a patch of a postage-stamp-sized backyard, a piece of deck or the edge of your driveway. And the best news is that many companies are now getting savvy to smaller space limitations, so they're breeding patio varieties of common edibles that aren't going to take over your chosen garden area.
Here are a few patio-sized picks for your green thumb to get started with.
Whether your palate prefers sweet or spicy, there is a place for peppers on your patio. Burpee has created the space-saving Take 2 collection (they do this for tomatoes, too), which, as it sounds, features two types of snacking peppers in the same pot. Shishito peppers are also fun to grow. Plants are compact, but are prolific and dripping with peppers by the end of the season if you can't keep up!
Tomatoes are a juicy summer staple in most gardens, so it's nice to know there are compact varieties that will work anywhere that gets the right amount of sun. Renee's Garden has a new variety called Heirloom Container Tomatoes Tasmanian Chocolate. Plants only grow to be about 3 to 3.5 feet tall and produce mahogany- to light-chocolate-coloured tomatoes. Look for hanging baskets labelled with Little Birdy and varieties of red, yellow and orange cherry tomatoes. President's Choice sells Better Bush, Tidy Rose and Tidy Treats varieties in pots with cages already in place.
You might not get buckets-full of baba ghanoush from these patio-sized eggplants, but Eggplant Patio Baby F1 is very productive, with egg-shaped purple fruit that should be picked when they reach two to three inches.
A company called Bushel and Berry has changed the perception that you need a big garden with long, rambling rows to grow raspberries, blackberries or blueberries. The company sells self-pollinating, compact varieties (nine in total) of berry plants, sold in distinctive turquoise pots. The fruit tastes delicious and the foliage is ornamental, to boot. Look for yummy names, like Raspberry Shortcake, Jelly Bean and Baby Cakes.
Peas generally like lots of space to grow and trellises to climb. However, compact varieties can be contained to a pot with a smaller-scale plant support. Look for varieties, like Little Crunch and Little Marvel, which is a shelling pea.
There are big plants that produce small cucumbers, perfect for pickling, but there are also smaller compact plants that produce a decent-sized cucumber for slicing. Look for Patio Snacker Cucumber. West Coast Seeds recommends planting them in a hanging basket, so the short vines can spill over the sides.
There are some lovely varieties of carrots that can be sown in a pot, which are great for snacking, such as Romeo round baby carrots and Short Stuff Chantenay carrots. Make sure pots are at least 12 to 15 inches deep.
Salad greens, by nature, are pretty patio-friendly, but there are some specific varieties, like Container Kale, Green Curls and Container Spinach, Little Hero, that are destined for pots. You'll also find a lot of nurseries grow a variety of greens in special bowls with drainage. Snip the outer leaves and the middle will keep growing. You could also get creative and build your own lettuce table.
Tara Nolan is a freelance writer who covers gardening, décor, travel, and cycling, mountain biking and other outdoor adventures for a variety of publications. She is also one quarter of the popular gardening website Savvy Gardening.