Many people believe it takes a long growing season to produce homegrown vegetables. That’s just not so. There are numerous quick-growing vegetables that can put an early harvest on the table.
Many popular vegetables—including tomatoes, broccoli and melons—do require long growing seasons. But you can grow and harvest numerous other vegetables in less than 10 weeks.
“There are a lot of great vegetables that you can grow and harvest in as little as 30 to 70 days,” says Mike Podlesny, author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A guide to vegetable gardening for the rest of us and creator of the Seeds of the Month Club.
Because even the most seasoned urban farmer can get discouraged weeding and waiting for those long-season vegetables, it’s smart to plant fast-growing crops to enjoy quickly.
“Not only do quick vegetables grow well in limited space (as well as in containers), when it comes to the leafy veggies, you can snip outer leaves off with scissors and let the plant keep growing,” Podlesny says. “This gives you the ability to harvest more from each plant all season.”
When choosing quick-growing vegetables, select ones that have the “days to maturity” identified on the seed packet or in the catalog description, and that mature fast for that vegetable.
For example: Some varieties of kohlrabi list days to maturity as 80 days. Others varieties list as 45 days. To get a quick harvest, select the shorter, 45-day variety.
For the fastest crops, it’s also important that the seeds germinate quickly.
“All gardeners should hydrate their seeds for up to 24 hours before they plant them in the soil,” Podlesny suggests. “This helps to speed up the germination process.”
To hydrate seeds, he recommends that you use a cup of compost tea and put the seeds in there.
“Wait 24 hours, drain the tea through some cheesecloth—or even a paper towel—over a sink to make sure you don’t lose any seeds,” he says. “Then, plant them per the instruction on the seed packet.”
It’s standard in the seed industry to include the germination time in the days to maturity estimate, but the estimate is typically based on plants that have been germinated and grown under optimal conditions. So, it’s important to understand that ideal germination and growing environments affect the estimated harvest time.
Because conditions aren’t always ideal on urban farms, it’s not unusual for plants to reach maturity a few days later than that identified on the packet. Still, picking quick-growing vegetables can dramatically boost yields over the course of a year.
You can grow and harvest the following vegetables in less than 10 weeks. Also, they prefer growing in cooler temperatures. That makes them perfect for planting in spring and fall.
Sow directly into loose and friable loamy garden soil so they will not grow misshapen.
The vegetable varieties identified are those that do well in many regions and have recently grown quickly and well on my farm. It’s amazing how quick-growing these vegetables are.
Arugula is a leafy green that has gained popularity in recent years, has a slight peppery taste and is also known as “rocket” because it grows so quickly.
It reaches maturity in about 40 to 50 days after sowing, but you can cut baby greens in as little as 20 days.
You can also try unnamed varieties of arugula and the Astro variety.
Beets are old-fashioned root vegetables that are often overlooked these days. However, they are easy to grow, resistant to diseases and insects, a great source of vitamins and tasty.
The root and the greens can both be eaten. The greens make a nice addition to salad mixes, so there is almost no waste.
Beet roots can typically be harvested within 50 days, while the leaves can be cut for baby greens starting at about 35 days. In many areas of the country, they can be planted every two weeks to keep a continuous harvest going from spring through fall.
Red Ace and Merlin are two good varieties to try.
Kale is a very cold-tolerant member of the cabbage family, and it has been gaining popularity in recent years. It’s also resistant to heat so it can be grown year-round in many different regions.
There are varieties that are good for baby or mature greens, and cold weather enhances the flavor.
Kale matures in about 50 days or can be picked for baby greens at about 25 days.
Red Russian and Toscano are varieties that are typically successful.
Kohlrabi is the strange-looking relative of cabbage, and it can also be grown spring through fall in many areas. The edible portion is crisp and tastes something like the heart of a cabbage plant when eaten raw.
Several quick-maturing varieties are ready for harvest starting at around 45 days. Kohlrabi is another vegetable that can be planted every two weeks for a continuous harvest.
Early White Vienna and Winner are good varieties.
There are few greens as popular as lettuce, and it’s extremely easy to grow.
Several types are available, but the best for urban farms are usually the loose-leaf, nonheading varieties. Unlike the heading types (which are normally harvested all at once), the loose-leaf types can be harvested slowly over time.
Today, many seed companies also offer packets of mixed lettuce seed. They usually contain several brightly colored lettuce varieties that are beautiful to grow and delicious to eat.
You can harvest lettuce in 50 to 60 days for mature leaves or 30 days for baby greens.
Baby Oakleaf, Green Salad Bowl and Red Salad Bowl are all good individual leaf lettuce varieties.
Radishes were one of the first vegetables grown by humans. They grow quickly, are very easy to cultivate and can be sown every two weeks during spring and fall to provide a continuous harvest.
(Most varieties don’t do well in summer heat.)
The traditional round, red radish matures in as little as three weeks, and there are many varieties and colors.
Rover and Pink Beauty are two traditional red varieties to try.
Spinach is particularly rich in vitamins and minerals, and it makes a great addition to salads or can be cooked. Like arugula, kale and lettuce, you can harvest it time as either baby or mature spinach.
Baby greens are ready in about 25 days, while the mature greens take about 40 days.
Space and Bloomsdale Long Standing are varieties that are successful for many.
Sugar Snap Peas
This vining crop can grows vertically to save space and tastes incredibly sweet. You can eat the entire pod (with the peas inside) straight from the garden.
For quick crops, it’s important to choose earlier maturing varieties such as Sugar Ann.
Harvest of sugar snaps typically begins at around 55 days.
Chard is from the same plant family (Beta vulgaris) as the beet, but it’s grown for greens rather than the root. Cook the leaves for a mild flavor.
You can harvest chard over time. A few established plants will supply a continuous harvest spring through fall.
Beautiful multicolored varieties are available. Harvest chard as baby greens at about 30 days or mature at 55 days.
Bright Lights or Five Color Silverbeet are spectacular and tasty multicolored varieties to grow.
You can eat the turnip root as well as leaves. And it’s extremely easy to produce.
Homegrown roots are surprisingly sweet and are best when harvested while they are still tender (about 2 inches in diameter). They typically mature in about 40 days.
Hakurei is a good variety that is crisp, tender and very sweet.
There are many more quick-growing vegetables that you can grow, but these represent some of the most popular, tastiest and easiest.
I strongly recommend quick-growing vegetables for urban farms, because quick harvests are very encouraging and help keep the gardening spirit strong. There’s nothing tastier or more rewarding than an ongoing harvest of homegrown fresh vegetables.
Sidebar: Tea Time
You can easily make compost tea by steeping compost in water for a few days and then straining the water to remove the solids. The resulting garden “tea” contains loads of microbes that are beneficial for watering seedlings or hydrating seeds for quick germination. Basic supplies needed to make the tea are compost, a 5-gallon bucket, a burlap sack, string, water, a window screen and a cord.
To make the tea:
- Fill the burlap sack with compost, and tie it shut with the string.
- Place the compost-filled sack in the bucket, and fill the bucket 3⁄4 full with water.
- Place the screen over the bucket—to keep mosquitoes from laying eggs in the tea during summertime—secure the screen on the bucket with the cord and let the water steep for two or three days.
- After the tea has steeped, remove the screen and the compost-filled sack, and place the screen back over the bucket. Pour the water in the bucket through the screen into a watering can or garden sprayer.
Use the finished tea on seedlings or seeds to get them off to a quick, healthy start.
This article appeared in Hobby Farm‘s Urban Farm 2019 annual, a specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such asBest of Hobby Farms and Living off the Grid by following this link.