“What would be a good fruit to try and grow in a cold climate?” Question from Chelsea of Alpena, Michigan
Answer: Lots of classic garden berries are very hardy and grow beautifully up north. Blackberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, strawberries, and raspberries are among them. If you are new to berry planting, I would start with lowbush blueberries because they are quick to set fruit, easy to maintain, and very hardy.
Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) grow particularly well up north and are able to withstand climates far into Canada. Choose compact lowbush varieties that are easy to maintain. Two classics that are short, heavy-bearing, and flavorful are ‘Northblue‘ and ‘Northcountry‘. These would look right at home along the edge of a sunny patio or even in containers. Speaking of container berries, the new designer lowbush blueberries in the Bushel and Berry® Series are also excellent varieties to try. (In fact, all of there berries are quite hardy and low-care). Of these, I think Blueberry Glaze® is especially beautiful because of its tidy, boxwood-like habit and tasty berries.
Alpena, Michigan is blueberry country, so you should not have trouble growing them, but you should still know the basics. Plant your berries in full to partial sun. The key to happy blueberries is getting their soil right; they like well-drained, acid soils with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. When soils are too alkaline (have a higher pH) blueberry plants cannot access necessary nutrients, and their leaves start to turn yellow. To keep this from happening, amend the soil with Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss at planting time and feed with a fertilizer formulated for acid-loving crops, like blueberries. Water your berries if rain has been infrequent and the soil starts to become dry. If you start with robust, good-sized plants this spring you will have berries by summer.
If you are interested in growing other berries on a small-scale, read our article about the best fruits for container gardening. If you are interested in growing strawberries, watch the video below.
Why grow small vegetables? Because they are cute, great for children, and delicious garden novelties fit for small-space yards, patios, or balconies. Many are perfect for crudités, snacking, and look impressive in their diminutive cuteness.
Tiny vegetables do not always grow on compact plants, so I have chosen those that are small all around. Grow these, and you will have the most darling vegetable garden on the block!
There are two ways to achieve baby beets: Harvest standard beets when young or grow true baby beets that remain small. Itty bitty beets are very sweet and tasty and grow to a harvestable size fast. Of these, try ‘Babybeat’. Its dark-red beets are tiny, almost perfectly round, smooth-skinned, and look great in salads. They are also ready to harvest in just 40 days. Don’t discard the tops, which can be sauteed or added to salads.
True baby carrots are either perfectly round or small and cylindrical. They are often Nantes types, which means they are blunt-tipped, thin-skinned, and very sweet. All tiny carrots are good candidates for container gardens or gardens with shallow soils. The best for looks and flavor include the perfectly round and sweet ‘Parisian’ (55 days), the 1992 AAS-Winning ‘Thumbelina’ (60 days), and the round, blunt-tipped ‘Atlas’ (70 days), which hardly lives up to its grandiose name. The crisp, sweet, classic baby carrot ‘Adelaide’ (50 days), is my personal favorite for looks and flavor.
Of all the tiny cucumbers, I like ”Green Fingers’, which is a beit-alpha-type cucumber that bears super crisp 3- to 5-inch cucumbers on 4- to 6-foot plants. Trellising is recommended for its productive, disease resistant vines. For homemade pickles, try the highly disease resistant ‘H-19 Little Leaf’ (58 days), which has 3-4-inch cucumbers borne on short vines with smaller-than-average leaves that make for easy harvest. For a unique, short-vine, mini cucumber try ‘Miniature White’ (50 days). The white-fruited cucumber has small, pickling-sized fruits on bushy plants that are perfect for containers.
Baby romaine lettuce, commonly referred to as little gem romaine, is the most satisfying to grow because it’s all crisp, sweet, heart. All are fast-growing, generally reaching harvestable size in 55 days. Reliable varieties to try include the bright green and crisp ‘Green ‘Dragoon’, the purple-headed ‘Truchas’, and my favorite, the super sweet and dense ‘Tintin’. I harvest mine as whole heads when they are full, dense, and 4- to 5-inches high.
The short-vined ‘Sleeping Beauty’ muskmelon produces 1.5-pound fruits that are turban-shaped and have sweet orange flesh. Each vine bears as many as 6 fruits in just 85 days. For a unique watermelon of tiny proportions try ‘Golden Midget’ (70 days). The compact vines produce 2- to 3-pound fruits that turn gold on the exterior when they are ripe and have salmon-pink flesh. The little watermelons are sweet and produce fruit earlier than most watermelons.
Mini Bells (75 days) is a bell pepper mix that has red, yellow, and orange fruits that are just a couple of inches high. They are perfect for stuffing, and grow on 18- to 24-inch plants. Yum Yum mix (55 days) is another equally colorful and tasty mini-sweet-pepper mix with more elongated fruits reaching 2.5-inches long. These hybrid peppers are disease resistant and very fast to produce. The tiny, red ‘Sweetie Pie’ (65 days) bell pepper is a 2017 All-America Selections (AAS) Winner that produces loads of peppers on heat- and drought-tolerant plants.
Baby squashes typically grow on bushes fit for containers and small gardens and include both summer and winter types. Tiny, rounded zucchinis are the product of ‘Poquito’ (40 days), a spineless, bush variety that is very fast growing. The butternut squash ‘Honeybaby’ (90 days) has very little fruits that are only a few inches long but big on sweetness. This 2017 AAS Winner grows on 2-3-foot vines that produce squash faster than full-sized varieties.
Tom Thumb Tomatoes
The 2017 AAS Winner ‘Patio Choice Yellow’ (45 days) is an exceptional mini cherry tomato with mild, golden fruits and plants that only reach 18 inches. Despite its small size, it can produce as many as 100 tomatoes on one plant. Those that prefer red tomatoes can try the cherry tomato ‘Terenzo’ (56 days), a 2011 AAS Winner that is perfect for hanging baskets due to its slightly cascading habit. Its sweet tomatoes are plentiful.
Growing Miniature Edibles
All of these edibles require full sun and regular irrigation for best plant growth and yields. Before planting, fortify containers or beds with amendments, such as Black Gold® Garden Compost Blend and Black Gold® Earthworm Castings Blend, to provide needed organic matter and fertility. At planting time, be sure to feed with an organic fertilizer formulated for vegetable growing.