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June 4th, 2012

Baby Vegetables

At the farmers’ market they charge twice as much for so-called “baby” vegetables. Is there a trick to growing my own?

blog-dougThere are two ways to achieve a miniature harvest: select vegetable varieties that mature at a diminutive size, or plant regular-sized vegetables and pick them before they get big.

In the first category I’d put things like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants—vegetables that aren’t fully flavored until they achieve maturity. My favorite tiny tomato is ‘Wild Cherry’, about the size of a currant and available from Tomato Growers Supply Co. We’re trialing Burpee’s ‘Cherry Stuffer’ sweet peppers in the Organic Gardening test garden this year. There are tiny eggplants, too, like ‘Little Prince’ from Renee’s Garden.

Other vegetables, including many roots vegetables and leafy crops, develop their flavors at a young age. There’s no need to wait for carrots, turnips, beets, radishes, or onions to reach full size before harvesting them. Kohlrabi, zucchinis, cucumbers, and crookneck summer squash have a superior taste and texture when harvested small. The early thinnings of salad and cooking greens—think of them as microgreens—are deliciously tender. And don’t forget the wonders of new potatoes.

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds has gotten on the bandwagon with The Happy Baby Garden, a seed collection of kid-size vegetable varieties. Just remember to plant a few extra rows to compensate for the scaled-down harvests.  —Doug Hall

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