In the last few years, vegetable growers and hybridizers have recognized the increasing demand for smaller-sized plants that can be grown in containers. Patio tomatoes were the first to appear on the market: seeds for patio-sized eggplants, peppers and even corn are more recent additions to the list.
We are blessed with two full-length growing seasons and it's now cool enough in early October to plant seeds for cool-season, winter vegetables without risk of the new plants scorching or bolting (going to seed too quickly) in a late hot spell. This year the seed catalogs are offering an even bigger selection of baby or small-growing winter vegetables suitable for containers. Those of us who relish freshly-picked produce will find many new types and varieties to choose from.
Lettuces once were the primary choices for container gardening. Seed catalogs (see list below) now offer micro-greens, popular Asian greens, smaller-leafed arugula, baby spinach with smaller leaves as well as small (12 inches high) Swiss chard. Leaf lettuces (rather than head lettuces like iceberg) are "cut and come again" plants, as are the other leafy greens mentioned. All can be picked or snipped leaf by leaf and the plants will continue to produce tender new leaves all season long.
Newer types of baby carrots are picked when they are just two to three inches long; tiny turnips are mature when they are an inch and a half or two inches in diameter. Multiple sowings can be made in the same container to maintain a constant supply. Newly-developed petite pea vines grow to 12 inches. Pea plants may not have enough warm weather to produce peas before the first frost hits (average first frost date, Nov. 15), but the small sprouts will slow growth in winter and than have a growth spurt as temperatures warm again in late January.
Because the root systems of smaller or baby-sized vegetables are also smaller, you don't need deep and, therefore, heavy containers to grow a crop. Wide, shallow pots at least six inches deep are ideal and they're easier to move into sheltered spots when frost is predicted or into sunnier or shadier spots as the angle of the sun changes with the seasons.
Fill the pots (clay, plastic, glazed or unglazed, composite or ceramic-all will work fine) with sterilized potting mix, leaving an inch or two of space below the rim. Cover the drain hole with a small square of fiberglass window screening to prevent dirt from washing out the hole. Slow-release granular or encapsulated fertilizers can be added to the potting soil or sprinkled onto the soil surface after seeds have germinated. Use a mister attachment on the nozzle to water newly-planted seeds and seedlings and keep soil evenly moist, not wet, during the cool months. Rainfall may not provide enough irrigation, so check soil moisture levels weekly.
John Scheepers, www.kitchengardenseeds.com
Baker Creek Seeds, www.rareseeds.com