SMALL BOUNTY
Gardeners with limited space can grow a small crop of mini veggies
September 13, 2007
BY GERALD BLUDAU - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON
PHOTOS COURTESY OF PARK SEED CO.
With limited garden space, mini vegetables are becoming increasingly more popular for homegrown produce and their prominence in dinner plate presentation. Seeds are readily available from seed companies for many varieties including baby star lettuce, cherriette radish and sunburst hybrid squash shown here, courtesy of Park Seed Co.
For many of us who think we possess a green thumb, planting and raising vegetables in our own back yards can be a fun, fulfilling pastime. But for some, this is not possible because of a lack of space.

But there's a solution in the fairly recent introduction of "mini" vegetables. Trials conducted in the late 1960s and '70s had some success using vegetables such as cauliflower and lettuce. Much of this work did not initially succeed because many supermarket distribution systems did not have the sophistication and storage to bring the products to market.

Mini vegetables, however, have gained more attention in the past few years. Supermarkets have since geared up to promote and offer whatever comes available and in demand.

REASONS FOR HOMEGROWN VEGGIES
Growing your own veggies can be more rewarding. Some reasons for growing veggies, especially "mini" vegetables would be:

*They are more fresh, more succulent, more nutritious, possibly more healthy and, if you desire, free of pesticides.

*The smallest garden can provide sufficient vegetables for the entire family. Many times you don't even need a conventional garden. These "minis" can be grown in pots, bags, or various patio containers.

*Home gardening is economical.

*Home gardening gives you an array of vegetables to grow.

MANY MINIS AVAILABLE
Growing and raising mini vegetables really got its start in Europe and England because of less agriculture space.

In researching this article, I found out there are many mini vegetables available.

Just a few of these are carrot, cauliflower, kohlrabi, radish, squash, turnips, cucumber, tomato and pumpkin. These "mini" vegetables are available in many varieties.

MINI TIPS
When planning your gardening program, keep in mind the following tips:

*Plant seeds close together in blocks or clusters rather than in rows so the plants will cover the area and reduce weed growth. It is also good to plant quick-maturing crops like radishes, lettuce or mini-onions between crops like squash or tomatoes. It is important to note that certain cultivars will produce many vegetables when grown at close spacing but will produce normal size at regular spacing.

*Plant vegetables of similar height next to each other to minimize shading of short vegetables by tall ones and thus avoiding competition for light.

*Healthy plants mean tasty, favorable produce. Avoid unnecessary stress such as lack of water or over-watering and exposure to winds. Be sure to plant when conditions are favorable.

*Check regularly for pests and diseases. Most mini vegetables mature fast enough to avoid many of these problems.

*A mulch of grass clipping around many of these plants will conserve moisture and reduce or prevent weed growth.

*If you choose to plant in containers, expect to water on a more regular bases; there is no holiday from watering.

*A well-prepared, rich, organic soil will help hold moisture.

*Water thoroughly. Never moisten the surface as this does little good.

HARVEST WHILE SMALL
Many of these mini vegetables such as squash and tomatoes grow on normal size plants. But, the vegetables are small or they are harvested while small.

SEEDS AVAILABLE
Many of the seed companies have seeds available. A search of the Internet under "mini vegetables" will give you a number of sources for seed. Park Seed Co. is one of those sources and has extended permission to reprint the accompanying photos of miniature vegetables they stock, including baby star lettuce, cherriette radish and sunburst hybrid squash.

Some of you teachers may want to consider starting a gardening project with your classes - and Mother Nature. Vegetable gardens can be an excellent learning environment. They can help foster interest in food production, nutrition and soil preparation. And when they harvest their vegetables, the students reap the benefits of their work with a homegrown consumable product - a perfect lesson of Mother Nature at work in the classroom.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or
vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.