April 7, 2021
Tiny Plants for Big Tastes with Jen McGuinness!
No room to garden? Go micro! For supersized tastes without a big bank account or a big yard, fill your plate with homegrown food from compact plants. This week, author and blogger Jen McGuinness shows off 30 clever DIY projects and tiny plants from her hot-off-the-press book Micro Food Gardening: Project Plans and Plants for Growing Fruits and Veggies in Tiny Spaces.
I met Jen on Instagram (@frau_zinnie) where I got hooked on her beautiful photographs from her Connecticut garden. Although she grows some plants that we can only admire from afar, we share many favorites, albeit in shifting bloom times. And okay, I’ll admit, we bonded over our rescued house bunnies, too!
Raised in Queens, Jen knows what it’s like to garden in small spaces. After college, she gardened in an apartment with west-facing windows. When she and her husband bought their first home, the only spot that is sunny enough for vegetables is along their driveway. She documents her garden-creating adventures on her note-taking-worthy blog Frau Zinnie. You can also follow her on Facebook @FrauZinnie and on Twitter @JenMGardens.
Later, we met in person at Garden Bloggers Fling events, swapping tech tips and garden “what abouts?” on conversational bus rides between fast-paced garden visits.
Thanks to Zoom, we met again from our homes to celebrate her very first book!
What’s the story behind her handle “Frau Zinnie?” Jen told us, “When I started my blog I wanted to come up with a catchy name. I was trying to think of something that would tie into part of my German background and also show my love of zinnias which is my favorite flower for many reasons. So I did a rough translation of ‘Mrs. Zinnia’ into German and came up with Frau Zinnie.”
Jen wants to bring wildlife into her garden—including pollinators—and zinnias are sure bee and butterfly draws. After the Central Texas snowpocalypse, pollinators need food and they need it fast! Now’s a great time to plant quick-growing zinnias from seed or plugs in sun or part sun. There are many compact (dwarf) varieties, too. Just choose standard single flowers rather than frilly double flowered varieties.
So, what is a “micro plant?” Jen tells us that it’s any edible that’s about 18” or smaller at mature size. ‘Spicy Globe’ basil is my favorite for its heat tolerance, slight peppery taste, and compact 6-12” rounded growth.
I’ve grown it in beds, but I prefer to tuck into patio containers for a break from Texas afternoon sun and for quick snips at meal time.
Over the years, I’ve met so many small space creative gardeners who find growing possibilities in every container/scrap/recycled thing they find. Ashley Romero and Juan De los Rios cultivated ideas on their apartment balcony.
Kids love pint-sized container gardens to nurture their very own little plants, as in our visit to the Bernsen family garden.
In Micro Food, Jen steps us through growing compact plants for cool and warm weather, indoors and out. Along with standard containers, she also engages our imagination for fun styles from repurposed objects around the house or the thrift store.
She spent a busy spring and summer 2020 writing, creating the projects, growing plants and then photographing them. All this with a fulltime job!
Like all gardeners and writers (and PBS producers!), great ideas pop up suddenly after wrenching your tired brain for hours. She knew she wanted a rain barrel in the book, but needed to top it with something to make the cut. “So, when I figured out how to make a living wreath to go on top of that rain collector, I was so excited. And I think we were in the middle of dinner and I was like, ‘I’ve got it. I know what I’m going to do now,’” she said.
Jen covers all the basics including soil, fertilizer, lighting, and watering, along with food-themed gardens like “Stir Fry” and “Salsa.” She shows how to grow melons on mini-trellises, peppers in wine boxes, microgreens in foil pans, and baby bok choy in coffee cups!
For every project, she lists materials, from safety goggles to drill bits, and shows how to do it.
Watch now for lots more. Jen’s energy and passion will get you growing!
Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda