July 4, 2011 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
This is the debut of a series of exchanges between Urban Gardens and Seasonal Wisdom, exploring the latest in gardening, green living, and design. Teresa O’Connor of Seasonal Wisdom shares her know-how for growing food in urban garden containers.
Blue Jade Corn. Photo: Moonlight Micro Farm
From colorful lettuces and crunchy peas to blue corn, there are plenty of foods you can grow in urban gardens. Here are five of my favorite vegetables that taste great, look gorgeous and thrive in small spaces. Even your snobbiest foodie friends will be impressed by these beauties…
1. Corn in the City
It’s rare to see corn in urban gardens, because few sweet corns do well in containers. But ‘Blue Jade’–aka ‘Blue Baby’–corn (shown above and below in bowl) is a notable exception.
This handsome heirloom grows only 2 to 3 feet tall, making it ideal for small spaces. Expect two to three ears of steel-blue corn on each plant after 70 to 80 days. The delicious cobs turn jade-blue when cooked. For best results, grow corn in clumps, rather than one long row. I grew mine in a square raised bed.
Find seeds at Seed Savers Exchange.
Toss lettuce and mesclun seeds of all types into containers, and in less than two months, you’ll have delicious salads with unusual colors, textures and flavors … all grown in small spaces.
Many greens are “cut and come again.” You can cut the small leaves 1 to 2 inches above the soil, and they’ll come again for more harvests. Shown is a gourmet baby salad mix from my garden called ‘Italian Misticanza’ from Renee’s Garden Seeds. This regional seed mixture, discovered in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, features everything from chicories and endives to milder green and red leaf lettuces. It’s as beautiful as it is delicious.
Only about 5 percent of peas are eaten fresh in the United States. Yet, this cool-season vegetable tastes best straight from the vine, and does fine in small spaces. Grow peas in spring. Or, sow seeds in summer for a fall harvest. Peas typically do well in containers, as long as you can provide support for the vines.
Some peas like ‘Super Sugar Snap’ can reach 5 to 6 feet tall, requiring a tall trellis. ‘Green Arrow’ is an English heirloom that provides plenty of peas, but only grows about 2 feet.
Little ‘Tom Thumb’ (shown top) doesn’t need any support at all. This unusual heirloom grows under a foot tall, and survives freezing temperatures. Even at this tiny size, the ‘Tom Thumb’ in my garden is already producing plump peas for snacking. Find seeds at Seed Savers Exchange.
Even tiny gardens can grow tomatoes, as long as they have the right plants and proper growing conditions (e.g., full sun; warm temperatures). Patio tomatoes grow less than 2 feet at full maturity, and offer different options. There’s ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow,’ (45 days), which cascades over containers with yellow cherry tomatoes. For a more old-fashioned tomato taste try ‘Super Bush’ (shown), which provides smooth, juicy red fruit in 70 days after transplant.
Basil is a convenient companion plant for tomatoes. Try planting your tomatoes with different varieties of basil. Then, imagine all the foods you can concoct with that combination of ingredients.
With their pretty purple flowers and gorgeous fruit, eggplants belong just as much in the ornamental garden as they do among edible plants. Fortunately, many thrive in containers and ripen fast enough for northern gardeners to enjoy as well. One of my favorites is ‘Fairy Tale’ (shown ). This award-winning hybrid grows less than 2 feet tall, but produces plenty of purple and white striped fruit in 50 days.
Pick these slender eggplants when they are less than 4 inches long. For a summer meal, sauté eggplants with olive oil, garlic and herbs straight from your urban garden; then toss with fettuccini and feta cheese to taste.
With the right plants and a bit of ingenuity, you can grow more foods in small urban gardens than you might think. Enjoy!
About Author Teresa O’Connor of Seasonal Wisdom
Teresa O’Connor writes about gardening, food and folklore at www.SeasonalWisdom.com. Trained as a Master Gardener in California and Idaho, Teresa’s articles have been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, Coastal Living, and Gardening How-To magazines. She co-hosts Nest in Style on Horticulture Radio for Horticulture Magazine, and co-authored Grocery Gardening: Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Foods . Find her on Facebook SeasonalWisdom and Twitter @SeasonalWisdom .