Miniature vegetables are one of the latest trends in specialty vegetable gardening. Miniatures are — you guessed it — very small versions of full-sized vegetables like squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and peas. You’ll find them in high-end restaurants, tossed in salads and used as garnishes, and at specialty gourmet shops, where they can be quite expensive. It’s cheap and fun to grow these in your own home garden and the results can be quite charming and delicious.
They are ideal for the small garden. It’s clear that small varieties allow you to plant more in a small space or container garden. But, another consideration in a small garden is sunlight. Large varieties, even if enough space to plant, can shade out other vegetable plants. Choosing small variety vegetables and miniatures and careful garden planning are two great tips to planting a small garden.
Here are some great selections for growing miniatures and small vegetable varieties:
Miniature and Small Variety Basil
An adorable variety of miniature basil called Windowbox will have you dreaming of toy trains and lollipops. It grows into a 10-inch umbrella-shaped plant with tiny bright green leaves, perfect for a miniature train or candy-themed garden. Plant seeds 1 inch apart after temps stabilize at 50 degrees. After seedlings are well established, thin them to 8 inches apart to allow plenty of room to mature. Keep flower buds pinched back and feed regularly to extend harvesting.
Miniature and Small Variety Corn
Many people assume the miniature corn in supermarket salads or pickled in cans is the result of dwarf corn. This is not necessarily the case. Most of what you come across is just immature ears of standard-size corn that’s been harvested from the stalk just after the silk emerges, before fertilization. Most varieties can be grown this way.
If you have a small garden without much space, there are dwarf varieties such as Blue Jade, Lady Finger and Chires Baby. These grow 3-4 feet high and produce multiple tiny ears of corn — sometimes as much as 20 ears per plant. A warning about dwarf varieties: They can take as long as 140 days to mature, so they need to be started very early indoors in colder climates.
Miniature and Small Variety Eggplant
Miniature eggplants are known for their lush foliage, beautiful color and great flavor. Listada de Gandia or Striped Guadaloupe Eggplant is a stunning purple and white striped variety that measures 8 inches round, borne on a small plant standing just 18 inches high. The plants need to be staked, as they can barely hold the eggplants, and you need a very warm climate, as these like heat. For colder climates, try Li’l Darling, a mini eggplant about the size of a walnut on an attractive plant standing just a foot tall. It matures quickly, in about 45 days.
Miniature and Small Variety Tomatoes
The Micro Tom takes the proud title of being the world’s tiniest tomato plant, growing only 8 inches high and producing fruit that is only 1 inch in diameter. Developed at the University of Florida, Micro Tom is a genetically altered determinate tomato plant that takes 85 days to grow from seed. They are a novelty in small gardens and work very well along the border. Seed can be quite expensive — $3.99 for just 15!
Other micro tomato varieties include the Micro Tina, with fruit the size of a cherry, and Micro Gemma, with a yellow micro fruit. Tiny Tim is another miniature variety recommended for indoor growing that yields small braids of 3/4-inch fruit.
Miniature and Small Variety Sweet Peppers
Not all small peppers are hot. In fact, there are many miniature sweet peppers. Mini Red Bell, Mini Yellow Bell and Mini Brown Bell are all good choices in a small garden. They stand 2 feet high and produce peppers that are about 1 inch in diameter. Flesh is sweet, thick and firm. They take 60 to 70 days to harvest and need about 18 inches of spacing for ideal growth.
Miniature and Small Variety Squash
Like corn, miniature squash is produced when you harvest the squash at an early stage of growth. However, there are dwarf varieties, such as Honey Bear, Dwarf Yellow Crookneck, Buckingham Patio, and most patty pan type varieties, that will produce small vegetables. Plants stand about 18 inches tall and produce vegetables that are optimally harvested at about 6 inches long. Some varieties may have a short trailing vine, but there is generally no need for staking with the miniature plants.
Miniature and Small Variety Watermelon
Miniature watermelons are such a delight because they are so contrary to the larger ones. Melothria Scabra, or Mexican Miniature Watermelon, produces watermelon-looking fruit that are only 1-2 inches in diameter. The fruit taste and rind are more like a cucumber, though. Other true mini watermelon varieties include Bush Sugar Baby and Golden Midget.
Miniature and Small Variety Cantaloupe
Miniature cantaloupe, or melon, grows to about the size of a softball, making them the perfect size for a single serving. There’s no more cantaloupe going to waste because you can’t finish it! Good choices for the small garden are Li’l Sweet, Tasty Bites, Hales Best and Hearts of Gold. As with most cantaloupes, they are grown on a trailing vine and must be set in the ground after all danger of frost has passed.
Miniature and Small Variety Okra
Okra is a hot season crop that likes warm soil temperatures of 70 to 90 degrees to germinate. So, be sure to plant your okra when soil is sufficiently warmed. Good dwarf varieties suitable for the small garden include Long Green Pod, with pods reaching 7-8 inches long; Penta Dragon, with small deeply fluted pods; and Little Lucy, with beautiful foliage and burgundy okra of about 4 inches long. Dwarf plants reach a height of 24 inches and must be spaced accordingly.
Miniature and Small Variety Peas
Tiny pea pods are a delight in fresh salads and vegetable dishes. There are a number of dwarf varieties that are easy to grow and don’t require any staking in the small garden. Tom Thumb produces a good crop of sweet and tasty tiny pea pods of no longer than 2 inches and shows good resistance to frost. Charmette is a “petit pois” type of pea that produces huge numbers of tiny tender pods, which must be picked young. Hatif d’Annonay is another popular variety from France with nice dark green pods grown on small bushes.
Miniature and Small Variety Pumpkins
Miniature pumpkins are a favorite among schoolchildren and those who love to decorate. Mini pumpkins have compact bush-type vines, unlike their much larger cousins which grow on sprawling vines that take up much room in the garden. Mini pumpkins typically measure 3-4 inches wide with deep grooves and vivid color. Good varieties: Crunchkin, Munchkin Farmore, Hooligan, Baby Boo (White), Lil Pump-Ke-Mon (orange and green stripes) and Wee-Be-Little (smooth).
Miniature and Small Variety Cucumbers
One of the biggest benefits of miniature cucumbers, especially for the small garden, is that they don’t take up too much room as they grow. Plants are generally very compact, are very resistant to disease, and require no, or minimal, staking. Harvested cukes measure about 4 inches long. Good varieties to try are Spacemaster 80, West Indian Gherkin, Fanfare, Patio King and Miniature White.
Want to learn more about miniature and small vegetable varieties for small gardens?
Check out these websites:
The Out-of-Ordinary Vegetables: Miniature Vegetables from Cornell Cooperative Extension
Product of Miniature Vegetables in Florida from University of Florida IFAS Extension