By Sue Odland
Spring is finally here! A season of new beginnings, new opportunities, and new cravings for fresh greens. A store-bought salad is not the only option. Consider planting a mini-vegetable garden to delight your body, mind, and senses! Miniature varieties of vegetables are easy to plant, maintain, and harvest. They are perfect alternatives for those with limited growing space, or for those who favor container gardens. Mini-gardens can be grown on a sunny windowsill, balcony, deck, or on the ground. Even though these vegetables may look small, they offer big flavor with little effort. Here are some simple steps to create your own mini-garden magic.
Look at your living space to find a sunny location that is close to a watering source. Try to locate the mini-garden as close to the kitchen as possible for quick access to fast, fresh ingredients.
Measure your space, then choose your containers, large or small. Think traditional planting pots or boxes, crocks, bowls, or even large mugs. Since miniature vegetables require little space and depth for planting, they can be grown in anything that can hold soil. If the containers do not have drainage holes, add 2-3 inches of small rocks, or pieces from a small broken terra cotta pot into the bottom of the container to provide extra drainage.
Mini-tasting gardens are all about big taste in a small space. Choose what you love to eat. This can be challenging, as the choices are endless. To find ideas on what to plant, check the ingredient list of favorite salad combinations from grocery stores or restaurants. Locate seeds or plants at your local garden stores, home improvement stores, or online.
For greens, many seed companies offer pre-mixed seed combinations like mesclun mix, which can contain up to 10 varieties of tender, young greens, including red and green lettuce, spinach, arugula, chard, mache, and frisee. Simple to grow – delicious to eat.
Other compact gardening favorites to grow from seed include the pink and white striped Chioggia beet, the Early Scarlet Globe radish, and a personal favorite, the Thumbelina Carrot. Charming, round, crisp, and delicious!
For tomatoes, peppers, or herbs, begin with starter plants for best results. Choose a dwarf variety of tomato that will grow in a small to medium size container or hanging basket. Proven varieties include; Patio, Window Box Roma, or Tiny Tim. Place one next to a colorful Bolivian Rainbow Chili Pepper, and you have an artistic masterpiece.
Fill your containers with an organic potting mix, which can be found at local garden centers or home improvement stores. Moisten the soil before planting. Vegetables, herbs, and even flowers can be planted together in one container or individually. Your choice, your vision.
If growing from seed, sow seeds close together, and not more than ½ inch deep. As new seedlings grow, they become crowded. Create more growing space by removing smaller seedlings. If growing vegetables such as carrots, radishes, or beets, plant new seeds every two weeks to enjoy a continuous harvest.
For mini-greens, plant in cool weather, either spring or fall. Tender greens grow best in cooler weather. Greens require soil that is evenly moist; avoid letting the soil dry out. When salad greens grow to 5” high, cut them with scissors just above the soil line; new growth will sprout from the same plant in a few weeks after the cutting. As the heat of summer approaches, move your greens from direct sunlight into a partially shaded location, to keep the tender leaves from drying out, or simply harvest them fully, and replant in fall.
If growing from starter plants, place the plants closer together to make the best use of the space. Check the mini-garden every day or two. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated. Harvest mini-vegetables or herbs as needed.
One year, I created a mini-French vegetable and herb garden on a multi-tiered, wrought iron, wheeled flower cart. I placed found mugs and bowls in varying hues of blue and green on each shelf, then filled each with favorites like adorable round carrots, baby spinach, mesclun salad mix, radishes, nasturtiums, lavender, basil, and rosemary. As the summer sun intensified, and the greens required less heat, I rolled the cart to a location with more shade and cooler temperatures. It was beautiful and delicious.
A mini-garden may not be as abundant as a traditional in-ground garden, yet the beauty of the blooming plants will add a sweet, decorative accent to any space. Why not plant some home-grown garden magic of your own this season?
Spring Salad Serenade serves 2-4
• 4 cups of mixed greens (Loose leaf lettuce, frisee, watercress, spinach, etc)
• ¼ – ½ cup golden raisins
• ¼ – ½ cup pistachios
• ¼ – ½ cup mandarin oranges
• toasted coconut shreds or flakes to taste (optional)
• balsamic vinaigrette
Mix the first four ingredients together. Then top with desired amount of balsamic vinaigrette and toasted coconut to taste.
Note: To add extra depth to the salad, consider adding pineapple, mango, or a honey ginger flavored vinaigrette.
Recipe courtesy of author D.A. Wils.
Quick Springtime Salad – serves 2
• 2 cups spinach or mesclun mix lettuce
• 4 oz log of goat cheese sliced ½- inch-thick
• bread crumbs (gluten free or regular)
• 1/8 cup cranberries or other dried fruit
• 1/8 cup nuts – almonds, walnuts or pecans.
• balsamic vinaigrette
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Dip both sides of sliced goat cheese into bread crumbs.
Place coated goat cheese in oiled baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes.
Option two – microwave goat cheese for 1 minute until warm, but not melted.
Mix remaining ingredients. Add a splash of balsamic vinaigrette to taste.
Top salad with warm goat cheese.
Serve with hot, crusty, bread and butter.
Sue Odland is a freelance writer and avid gardener, who delights in the first tastes of spring.