If you look at the lists of crops that researchers suggest for space gardens and Martian farms, tomatoes are always on there. However, the first fruit NASA is aiming to grow on the ISS is a chilli pepper. I thought it would be fun to see how dwarf tomatoes and sweet peppers grow in my little space garden.

Since the Cuttings mission ended abruptly a month ago, the AeroGarden has lain fallow. I have missed its cheerful bubbling and light when I am in the kitchen, but there didn’t seem to be much point setting it up again before Christmas.

AeroGarden fruiting veg

On the 30th December, I sowed three seeds – Tomato ‘Veranda Red’, sweet pepper ‘Popti’ and sweet pepper ‘Redskin’. I tucked two seeds of each variety into one of Ryan’s new 3D printed growpods, using RootIt! sponges as the growing medium. (If both seeds germinate I will thin one out to leave the strongest seedling.)

Tomato Veranda Red (Image: Burpee Europe)

I was given the first two of the varieties as trial packets by Burpee Europe. Veranda Red is a new addition to their 2020 catalogue and was launched on the Pennard Plants display at RHS Tatton Park last year. Developed as part of the Burpee Europe breeding programme, Veranda Red is a dwarf bush (determinate) tomato with “a very adaptable plant habit”. It can be grown in 11 cm pots, but will also fill a 2 litre (16-17 cm) pot. Sown mid-April, it will fruit from late July to early September. (Does this mean my space tomatoes will be ready in March? We will have to wait and see!) Each plant can produce 50-75 cherry tomatoes, weighing around 15 g per fruit, and the variety has some resistance to late blight.

Pennard Plants say it grows to 12 inches (30 cm) tall.

“This is a significant breakthrough in adding flavour to this class of dwarf bush tomatoes. I am pleased with the outcome and hope that gardeners will enjoy this variety during the coming years.”

Breeder Simon Crawford 

‘Popti’ is apparently known as ‘Jungle Parrot’ in the USA, and grows to a height of 46 cm. Each plant can produce about ten fruits, each 4-6 cm in size. They ripen very early, turning from light green to deep red, and have thick and juicy flesh.

Aerogarden: Fruiting veg mission
The launch of the AeroGarden: Fruiting Veg mission!

I bought Redskin F1 from Nicky’s Nursery, and the website describes it as: 

“A true F1 dwarf bell pepper, a baby veg ideal for patio pots and containers. Compact habit growing to 30-40cm in height. Very early fruiting with an excellent yield of medium-sized fruits. RHS Award of Garden Merit.”