This spring has brought more interest in growing our own food and increasing food self-reliance. Maybe this is part of your response to Covid-19 or maybe you just want to leap into spring. You are probably wondering what can bring fastest results with early harvests.
Either way, here is information on some vegetable crops that offer fast returns and some sources for more information. I included a paragraph on fast crops in my blog post If Spring is Too Wet .
Ready in 21 Days from Sowing
See below for information on baby Asian greens, most of which can be cut or pulled for salad after only 21 days.
Ready 30 to 35 Days from Sowing
Baby kale, mustard greens, collards, radishes, spinach, chard, baby salad greens (lettuce mix, endives, chicories) arugula, and winter purslane all grow fast in spring. Beet greens from thinnings can be cooked and eaten like spinach. Note for newbies: Thinnings are small plants pulled from a direct-seeded row, to leave enough room for the chosen ones to grow bigger. The smallest thinnings (when you thin to an inch (2.5 cm) apart) can be used for salads and the ones from when you thin to 3” (7.5 cm) can be lightly cooked or put in a salad mix. Also it is possible to sow rows of almost any type of greens and cut them with scissors for salad once they are 3”-4” (7.5-10 cm) tall. Grab a handful and cut about an inch (2.5 cm) above the soil. In cool weather you can get a second cut (maybe even a third), but once it’s warm they will produce tough flower stems, rather than juicy leaves. Do avoid turnips and radishes for this way of growing, as many of them have prickly leaves.
Ready in 40 Days or Less
Many Asian greens such as Chinese Napa cabbage, Komatsuna, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, pak choy, Senposai, tatsoi, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy are fast-growing. There’s a huge range of attractive varieties, they’re better at germinating in hot weather than lettuce, and faster growing than lettuce. Most reach baby salad size in 21 days, full size in 40 days. Transplant 4-5 weeks after spring sowing, or direct sow. Nutritious as well as tasty. Flavors vary from mild to peppery; colors cover the spectrum: chartreuse, bright green, dark green and purple. A diversity of crops without a diversity of growing methods! Grow when you normally grow kale. 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 Kim Chee. On my website SustainableMarketFarming.com, I did an Asian Greens of the Month post one year recently.
One summer we sowed Tokyo Bekana as a lettuce substitute. 20 days to baby size, 45 days to a (large) full size. We have also grown this at other times of year, when faced with an empty space we hadn’t planned for.
Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills, two mizuna-type mustards.
Mizuna and other frilly mustards are very easy to grow, and tolerate cold wet soil to 25°F (-4°C). In addition, they are fairly heat tolerant (well, warm tolerant). Use for baby salads after only 21 days or thin to 8″–12″ (20–30 cm) apart, to grow to maturity in 40 days. Mild flavored ferny leaves add loft in salad mixes and regrow vigorously after cutting.
Ready in 35 to 45 Days
Baby carrots (thinnings or the whole row), turnip greens (more thinnings!) endive, corn salad, land cress, sorrel, parsley and chervil and some of the faster smaller turnip roots can be ready in 45 days or less. Read the small print on the website, packet or catalog for help in choosing the best varieties.
Ready in 60 Days
Beets, dwarf snap peas, broccoli, collards, kohlrabi, turnips and small fast cabbages (Farao, Gonzales, Stonehead, Fast Ball, Golden Acre, Savoy Express or Early Jersey Wakefield).
Ready in 50 to 60 Days After Last Frost Date
Zucchini, yellow squash, bush beans, and small cucumbers can grow fast. Make succession plantings every few weeks throughout the summer, until about two months before your first frost date. The rate of growth will speed up in summer, so the later plantings will yield in less time than the first.
Garlic scallions can be grown over-winter, but will grow quickly in spring, taking perhaps eight weeks. Plant scrappy little garlic cloves you don’t want to cook with in close furrows and wait till the leaves are 7” (18 cm) tall before digging up the plant and preparing like onion scallions (spring onions). Can be eaten raw, but more often cooked. You can also plant whole bulbs without separating the cloves. This is a good use for extra bulbs that are already sprouting in storage, and an excellent use for small spaces between other plants, particularly as garlic repels some pests.
Our garlic scallions in March. We usually space the rows much closer than this. We start harvesting when they reach 7″ in height.
See other blog posts in my Cooking Greens for the Month series, and Asian Greens for the Month, as well as Lettuce of the Month
Try Eat-All Greens, an idea form Carol Deppe. Patches of carefully chosen cooking greens are sown in a small patch. When they reach 12″ (30 cm) tall, Carol cuts the top 9″ (23 cm) off for cooking, leaving the tough-stemmed lower part, perhaps for a second cut, or to return to the soil.
Spinach is good for salad or cooking uses. Be aware that the fastest biggest spinach may not last long once it warms up! We have found Acadia and Reflect have good bolt-resistance from outdoor spring sowings.
See my article Intercropping: Minimize Your Effort While Maximizing Yields, in the Heirloom Gardener of Spring 2018.
Jennifer Poindexter on the Morning Chores Site has a nice simple web post on 16 Fast Growing Vegetables .
Steve Albert on the Harvest to Table website has a good post on Quick-Growing Vegetable Crops. It includes recommended fast-growing varieties of 29 crops.
Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs, as well as sustainable agriculture conferences. Pam also writes for Growing for Market and other magazines. Her books, Sustainable Market Farming, and The Year-Round Hoophouse are available at Sustainable Market Farming. Her blog is on her website and also on Facebook. Read all of Pam's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.