Midget veggies no small fry


Anyone with a little space and time to spare can grow and harvest their own vegetables, whether it is in a corner of the back yard or in containers on a balcony. How? Midget vegetables.

Specially adapted for small-space gardening, midget vegetables help do-it-yourself growers reap the bounty of limited gardening space. With proper planting techniques and attention, the resulting "mini-garden" will yield enough fresh garden vegetables rival the produce section of any supermarket.

Mini-vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes and midget corn, are easy to work with and take up less space than standard veggie varieties. As a result, vegetable enthusiasts can take advantage of limited space without sacrificing great home-grown flavor. In addition, these small varieties mature weeks in advance of their full-sized brethren, which allows for larger and earlier harvests.

Available through local garden supply retailers or from mail-order seed catalogs, midget vegetables prove the old adage that sometimes less is more. Essentially, the only difficult aspect of gardening with midget vegetables is choosing which of the many kinds available you would like to grow.

When you've selected your vegetables, it is time to prepare the planting bed. For best results, build your mini-garden in a sunny, well-drained site or container with healthy soil and ample food and water. Remember, poor soil will mean a poor harvest, so amend your planting bed with organic matter to supply needed nutrients. The addition of a balanced fertilizer also will ensure that vegetable seeds and transplants are well-nourished.

When the planting bed is properly conditioned, you can begin to plant your vegetables. If starting your garden from seed, carefully follow the directions provided on the seed pack to ensure correct spacing and planting depth.

If working with transplants, remember that roots need to be handled gently to avoid transplant shock. Also, make sure plants are set deep into the new plant bed -- exposed roots invite disease, pests and an inevitably poor harvest. Cover the prepared planting bed with a landscape fabric such as WeedBlock from Easy Gardener Inc. Such a fabric will protect transplants against the harmful effects of invading weeds and help conserve water.

Whether you are starting your garden from seed or using transplants, proper watering is essential for hearty vegetables. Water dissolves nutrients present in the soil so they can be absorbed by hungry plant roots. It also stimulates seed germination by softening the seed coat and causing the seed embryo to swell and expand. Regular and thorough watering will increase the yield and size of each year's harvest.

To give newly planted seeds and transplants added protection from pests and frost, cover them with Fast Start, a plant and seed blanket. Simply lay the lightweight, clear fabric over the garden bed, allowing adequate room for plant growth, and secure with pegs or heavy objects.

Acting as a protective sheeting, Fast Start will block out harmful insects and frost, producing a beneficial greenhouse environment for young, fragile plants. Sunlight will penetrate the fabric as it warms the soil and plant life below.

When the outside temperature reaches 85 degrees, remove the Fast Start fabric so flourishing plants are not subjected to overheating.

Easy to create, mini-gardens and midget vegetables give everyone the opportunity to enjoy the greatest pleasure of growing vegetables -- a bountiful harvest.

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