Early Sowings for Early Harvests

Plant crops with a fast turnaround time to savor your harvests just weeks after sowing.

Are you eager to leap into spring with early harvests of home-grown vegetables? You’re in luck! Lots of quick-growing crops will deliver prompt harvests if you know which varieties to plant and when to plant them. Read on to find a list of crops to try, as well as information on starting early, getting plants to grow faster, and cultivating more crops in small spaces.

Small ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ cabbages can be ready to eat in 50 to 60 days. Photo by Pam Dawling

Vegetable Crops for Fast Returns

Ready in 30 to 35 days are baby kale, baby mustard greens, radishes, spinach, chard, salad greens (lettuce, chicory), arugula, and winter purslane. Beet greens from thinnings can be cooked and eaten like spinach. Spinach itself is good for salads or cooking. (But be aware that the fastest-growing, biggest spinach may not last long once the weather warms up!) I’ve found that ‘Acadia’ and ‘Reflect’ spinaches have good bolt-resistance from outdoor spring sowings.

A bed of early lettuce growing in late March, alongside a row of radishes. Photo by Pam Dawling

Many Asian greens are ready in 40 days or less: bok choy, tatsoi, komatsuna, mizuna, ‘Maruba Santoh,’ ‘Senposai,’ ‘Tokyo Bekana,’ and ‘Yukina Savoy.’ Most reach baby salad size in 21 days, and full size in 40 days. Transplant 4 to 5 weeks after spring sowing, or direct-sow. Asian greens are faster-growing than lettuce, and come in a huge range of attractive varieties. They’re nutritious as well as tasty — their flavors vary from mild to peppery. Grow these greens whenever you would normally grow kale. But be aware that Asian greens sown in spring will bolt as soon as the weather heats up, so be ready to harvest a lot at once — if you planted a lot, that is! You can make kimchi with the bounty. Mizuna and other frilly mustards are particularly easy to grow, and they tolerate cold, wet soil as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, they’re fairly heat-tolerant (well, warm-tolerant). After 21 days, use them in baby salads, or thin them to 8 to 12 inches apart. Their mild-flavored, ferny leaves add loft in salad mixes and regrow vigorously after cutting.

Ready in 35 to 45 days are baby carrots (thinnings, or the whole row), turnip greens (more thinnings), endive, mâche, land cress, sorrel, parsley, and chervil. Some of the smaller turnip roots can also be ready in 45 days or less.

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