New Year, New Garden

Happy New Year!

Even before New Year's Eve, we had received a couple of seed catalogs. Now, we have half a dozen, with more undoubtedly on the way. Whether you realize it or not, the 2015 gardening season has begun!

Now is the perfect time to think about what you will grow in your vegetable garden come spring, and seed catalogs are full of great suggestions. Trending this year are compact vegetable varieties suitable for containers or small space gardens. Plant breeders seem to have outdone themselves with lots of new tomatoes, peppers and squash, staples of the summer garden here in the South.

Tomatoes rank high on almost everyone's list, and there are varieties suitable for all kinds of growing situations, from patio pots to a traditional row garden. When looking for tomato varieties, consider how much support the plants will need. Indeterminate tomatoes typically grow a bit larger in Tennessee than the catalog listings indicate. Be prepared with a large, sturdy trellis. If you cannot provide appropriate support, consider one of the smaller tomato types that can be grown in a hanging basket.

Peppers, both hot and sweet, are also popular. Peppers are typically more compact than tomatoes, but nevertheless benefit from a cage or trellis. Some peppers bear so much fruit the branches will break if left unsupported. Several new introductions remain small and are suitable for patio containers.

Squash have gained a reputation for being uncontrollable sprawlers that take up too much room, but recent introductions promise gourmet-quality squash on compact plant. Most of the better summer squash types are Cucurbita pepo, a favorite target of the squash borer. The surefire, organic way to control this pest is to prevent its access to your plants. Keep squash covered with a row cover or grow tunnel until female flowers appear. Then, remove the cover to allow access by pollinators. Once the squash is mature, borers are less of a threat. A few varieties of summer squash are parthenocarpic, meaning they will set fruit without a pollinator. You can keep these types covered for the entire season. The cultivar 'Cavili' is one such. Another is 'Easypick Gold' shown in the photo.

Among the early, cool season crops, lettuce is probably the most rewarding one for small space gardens. Looseleaf and loosehead varieties of lettuce will give you the most salad greens per square foot. Butterhead lettuces, such as the miniature heirloom Tom Thumb, will grow to maturity in a six inch pot, and are pretty enough to partner with flowers. Scallions grow well with lettuce, and combine well in salad, too. We are partial to 'Parade' an annual scallion that makes long, straight onions with lots of white stalk.

Early January is the time to start celery, onions and leeks from seed, in order to have plants ready for moving outside around the first of March. Leeks and onions grow well in a sunny windowsill. For celery you will probably need supplemental lighting, unless you have a greenhouse. Supplemental lighting for growing vegetable plants indoors continues to improve. Many good choices are available. LED units are the most expensive, but have the lowest operating cost.

Here are some links to seed companies that you may want to investigate: