As we spend the winter months planning our gardens, it’s easy to forget the limitations of our space and the difficulties of a cold climate. However, there are still many options for those with small urban gardens and short growing seasons. Here are 12 of our favorite plants to grow in the garden. The list is not exhaustive, but these are the top favorites for the vegetable garden.
Pole beans usually take longer to ripen compared to bush beans. However, they are an excellent choice for small spaces since they serve multiple purposes. When grown along fences or trellises, they can create beautiful privacy screens and produce edible greens and beans if the season allows.
Our favorite pole bean varieties are the Scarlet Runner beans (read more about them by following the link) and the Purple Peacock. The Purple Peacock is a stunning plant with dark purple pods, twining stems, light purple flowers, and dark leaves. It makes a beautiful and valuable screen in the garden, and the pods are tender and delicious, turning green when cooked. Moreover, the plant is incredibly productive, especially during warm summers.
Beets are a versatile plant that can be grown in a small space. The tender greens can be used in salads or steamed with garlic. Bulls Blood is an excellent variety with colorful tops. Chioggia is a more easily digestible beet that’s pretty, tasty, and ferments well. Cylindra is a great beet for slicing and freezing. It is sweet and perfect for soups and pickles.
Cabbage is a crop that thrives in cold weather. Our preferred variety is red cabbage, which can be grown in a flower garden for both aesthetic and culinary purposes. It grows well and can be used to make delicious dishes. Read more in Growing Food – Cabbage.
Carrots are an essential addition to any garden. Among the varieties we grow, scarlet Nantes or Touchon are particularly sweet carrots perfect for fresh eating, while Red Core or Royal Chantenay are large carrots that work great in recipes. Although we have experimented with many other varieties over the years, these remain our favorites. Read more at Growing Food – Carrots.
Garlic is an easy-to-grow crop that holds high value. It can be used as both food and spice and can also be stored for a long time. We plant garlic in the fall, and you can read more about it here. In our cold climate, we grow hardneck garlic. Music and Russian Red are great varieties.
Lettuce is a versatile crop that can be grown year-round in little space. You can grow it indoors in the winter season using hydroponics, while in the summer, it thrives well outdoors. For indoor cultivation, Romaine lettuce gives the best results. However, in early spring, the Red Sails variety does well in the greenhouse; in the summer, it grows well outdoors. Read more here: 3 Reasons To Grow Your Own Salad and How To Do It.
Spinach is a green vegetable that is a great addition to any garden. It can be grown in a small space and doesn’t require much maintenance. Plant it in the fall once the summer crops have been harvested, and it will continue to grow in the spring, providing fresh greens earlier than most other plants. You can also plant spinach alongside zucchini, as the spinach will be finished growing by the time the zucchini needs more space to grow.
Kohlrabi is a humble vegetable that can be grown in small spaces and has a short growing season. We often grow it in the greenhouse before tomatoes, as a space filler when other plants fail, and even indoors during the winter. Good varieties include the purple Kolibry and the white Konan. Kohlrabi can be used as a substitute for cauliflower in recipes. Learn more about growing kohlrabi by reading our guide.
Peas are an excellent choice for small spaces and cold climates. Varieties such as Homesteader or Green Arrow are particularly successful. I have also saved seeds from prior harvests and planted them again, with great results. Additionally, we grow peas and beans as nitrogen fixers to improve soil fertility. We usually plant them along the edges of beds or fences or even with tomatoes.
Potatoes may not be the first choice for those with limited space, but the Purple Caribe is an excellent option. It is an early, high-yielding variety with a long storage life. The plant grows compactly, allowing for denser planting. In case there is no space in the garden, potatoes can also be grown in containers. Read more about potatoes here: Growing Food – Potatoes
Tomatoes are a must-have in any garden. However, in a cold climate, they benefit from a greenhouse or at least a microclimate. It is best to choose early varieties that are suitable for a short growing season. In our northern garden, we mainly grow Heirloom tomato varieties. If I had to choose just one tomato variety, it would be Bull’s Heart. Other varieties that I would add to the list of favorites are Native Sun, Early Annie, and Manitoba. Learn all about growing tomatoes in cold climates here: Tomatoes.
We would love to hear about your favorite and must-have vegetable varieties.