The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Veggies for small gardens

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

The calendar shows March but I think we've added another month of winter. January, February Winterbruary or Imsickawinterbruary. What sustains me is the promise of spring and the myriad of garden catalogs that thankfully appear in my mailbox. I have a Pavlovian response to the mere glimpse of a new garden catalog. I drool over each page of voluptuous vegetables and bodacious blooms. Catalogs are part reunion and part show premiere. We can revisit our favorite plant friends and salivate over tempting new plant stars.

A great deal of toil, trouble and time goes in to getting new plants into those catalogs. The plants must survive the producer's quality check than on to independent growers for their critique.

To help us wade through the jungle of plant choices groups such as All America Selections (AAS) announce their winners each year. AAS, a not-for-profit organization of seed developers and producers, helps to entice gardeners to try new cultivars of flowers, vegetables and herbs. Winners are tested at trial gardens across North America including the Hartley Gardens at University of Illinois Arboretum. Each winner must show superior qualities or traits that distinguish them from similar varieties in side-by-side trials.

Many new vegetable varieties are a reflection of our trend to small space gardening. Most people don't have 3 acre gardens, but still want a variety of veggies. One of the 2014 AAS winners, Bean 'Mascotte', is a compact variety perfect for small gardens or containers. 'Mascotte' is a bush type bean that produces long, slender pods that stay above the foliage for easy harvest. 'Mascotte' offers a plentiful harvest of crunchy, tasty beans all season long. Additional beans for small areas include: 'Topcrop'; 'Tendercrop'; and 'Derby'.

Another new vegetable for 2014 is Cucumber 'Pick a Bushel'. As an all-around good cuke for pickling and salads it shows excellent heat tolerance. As a pickling cucumber it can be picked at the gherkin or spear stage and processed. The large yields of cucumbers can also be enjoyed fresh in salads and slaws. Semi-bush plants can be planted in the garden or in patio containers. Other good multi-use and compact semi-bush cucumbers are 'Saladmore', 'Salad Bush', 'Bush Champion', or 'Spacemaster'.

Eggplant 'Patio Baby' is a very early and highly productive eggplant with a compact habit, making it a great choice for containers or in the garden. Deep purple, egg-shaped fruit should be harvested at baby size (2 to 3 inches) and are delicious roasted or in dips and salads. The leaves lack the prickles of other eggplants which allows for painless harvesting and makes 'Patio Baby' child-friendly, too. Plants will continue to produce fruit throughout the entire season.

For another winning vegetable 'Cayennetta' is an excellent tasting mildly spicy pepper that is very easy to grow, even for novice gardeners. The prolific 3 to 4-inch chili peppers form on a very well branched upright plant. It requires no staking which makes it a perfect plant for container or patio gardens. As with most peppers 'Cayennetta' loves hot summers; however, unique to this variety is that it has good cold tolerance. It also has a dense leaf cover to protect fruits from sun scorch. This pepper is an all-around good choice no matter where you're gardening.

Thanks to AAS for information and pictures. Check out pictures of the winners at Just don't drool on your keyboard.

Have you made a plan for your vegetable garden this year? Join area gardeners for a morning of educational classes at Allerton Park Visitors Center in Monticello on Saturday, March 29, 2014 from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. $10 registration fee. Enjoy learning about Tiny Greens, Tasty Tomatoes and Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces. PH: 217-762-2191 or view flyer:

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