Following the long winter, as my stores of vegetables dwindle and I am once again reduced to buying Olivia’s spinach at the grocery store, cringing over the kale and lettuce there which never compares to the quality of my own home-grown produce─I am all too eager to get seeds in the ground to grow my own vegetables as fast as possible.
I’m not just boasting when I say that my own home-grown veggies are in every way superior to the grocery store produce. Studies show that fruits and vegetables from your own garden actually are higher in nutrients than those that are picked before they are ripe and trucked thousands of miles to get to you. Home-grown vegetables have superior flavor, not just because you can pick them when they are perfectly ripe, but also because the varieties found at the supermarket has been strategically adapted for commercial farming─they’ve been bred for increased yield, improved disease resistance and for their ability to withstand being shipped to the consumer. At home we can select varieties according to our own personal preferences; whether that preference is for a particular flavor, a specific use or increased disease resistance.
Growing my own vegetables to feed my family also saves me money, which I can then use to pay my bills (go figure) or invest back into my farm! This spring I assembled this list of crops that I can grow to produce fresh veg for myself and my family in just 30-60 days. These are important crops because they fill that stretch of time while you’re waiting for crops that take longer to mature.
Note: Maturity dates are typically found on seed packets or within the description in the seed catalog. It might say “Days to Maturity” or “Days to Harvest”, which is key information the seed company is providing you about that species. For direct-seeded crops count from the first day it pops up above ground to the projected date of maturity. The maturity dates for transplants may be delayed by a few weeks.
Super fast growing vegetables (5 – 38 days)
Sprouts: These are so easy and simple to grow that─even in the smallest of apartments─it’s just good sense to utilize this source of fresh veg. Check out this article I wrote about growing your own sprouts. (5-7 days)
Shoots: Much like the sprouts, you’re eating the baby greens of select plant varieties to gain a fresh vegetable source that is power-packed with nutrients at this juvenile stage. My favorites are buckwheat, pea shoots, and sunflower shoots. (10-14 days)
Cress: Grow this like shoots, or direct sow a patch in the garden as soon as the soil is exposed in the spring. You’ll be eating fresh greens in a little over a week! (10 days)
Radishes: So easy to grow and so versatile. Everyone knows you can eat radishes sliced in a salad, but have you tried sauteing them? or roasting them in the oven? Some varieties, like the Rover radish and the popular D’Avignon (aka – french breakfast radish) mature in just a few weeks (21 days); eat those while you’re waiting for the more exciting red meat radish (aka – watermelon radish) and the increasingly popular Nero Tondo radish (both mature in 50 days).
Greens! There are a whole host of green leafy vegetables that can be grown in just under 30 days. Many lettuce mixes reach maturity by 28 days and work great in raised beds. Select varieties of lettuce mature in 26, 27, and 28 days respectively─as is the case with the red salad bowl, flashy trout back, and the favorite black seeded simpson. Some types of pac choi will mature in 30 days or eat them at the baby stage, and magenta spreen (a spinach-like alternative) is ready in just 30 days too.
Broccoli raab: These look like small florets or shoots of broccoli, but they’re actually related to turnips and you would harvest and eat the stem, leaves, and broccoli-floret. While it’s less popular in the States, broccoli raab is probably the number one vegetable in China. If you like to stir-fry this one is for you. Grow this one to eat while you’re waiting for the later-maturing heading broccoli. (35 days depending on the variety.)
Turnips: some varieties mature very quickly─like my absolute favorite: the hakeuri turnip. This small white turnip is sweet and delectable and has been increasingly popular with commercial growers and home gardeners alike. Eat them raw as a snack, on salads, boil them or roast them in the oven with other root-crops. You can even eat the greens! So good and super easy and fast to grow! (38 days)
Still pretty fast-growing vegetables (40 – 60 days)
More greens: if you can wait a little longer the options for green leafy vegetables are almost limitless. Claytonia (40 days), mustards (40 and 45 days depending on the variety), tatsoi─a succulent fleshy spinach-like asian green (43 days). Some lettuce varieties take longer, but some of my favorites are ready to harvest in 45 and 48 days: check out Skyphos and Cherokee. Swiss chard (50 days) is popular in the summertime, but will actually tolerate some cooler temperatures and a light frost; get it in the ground as soon as the soil temperature is 40°. Kale is ready is 50 days and if you select cut-and-come again varieties you can have that plant all through the season and even keep it into the winter. Mache is a simple little green (50 days), but so cold hardy that it’s worth keeping an established patch in the cold frame of high tunnel all through the winter.
Turnips & Radishes: Later maturing varieties from those listed in the “super-fast” grouping. The scarlet queen turnip is newer (43 days), while the purple top turnip (50 days) is a traditional New England root crop. In recent years the watermelon radish (50 days) has gained popularity because of it’s red flesh and green skin, which is a fun culinary delight; and the new Nero tondo radish (50 days) is black with white flesh.
Beets: Are a crop that offers 2 sources of veg─leafy greens and tasty, fleshy beet-roots which can be cooked in a variety of ways. Most people are familiar with the traditional red round beet, like the Red Ace (50 days) or the Merlin (48 days), but the Babybeet matures much faster (just 40 days) and so does the Early Wonder (45 days) which also produces excellent beet-greens. Yellow beets (55 days) like the Boldor and the Touchstone Gold add more visual interest to any dish but seem to take just a few days longer to mature.
Summer Squash: Once things warm up enough, pop zucchini (47 days) and yellow summer squash (50 days) seeds into the ground and in less than 2 months’ time you can have squash coming out your ears! There are lots of different colors and shapes to experiment with too!
Beans: Another warm-weather crop that offers a quick return on your time and efforts, and also easier to grow too. Lots of varieties to choose from. (50 days depending on the variety)
Peas: If you have an established garden you can just pop these seeds in the ground as soon as the soil is exposed in the spring. Snap and snow-peas mature fairly quickly and tolerate the cooler temperature of spring and fall, which means you can sow them twice in the growing season. Eat them raw as a snack, steamed, stir-fried, or blanched and frozen for winter-use. (52 – 60 days depending on the variety)
Cucumbers: A classic summer treat, either on it’s own, in salads, or pickled. This warm-weather crop offers opportunity for succession sowing over the course of the summer as they reach maturity in 48 – 52 days depending on the variety.
Okra: Less popular here in the north than it is in the southern states, Okra can be grown to harvest in just 50 days.
Carrots: Some varieties are mature relatively early, like the Mokum (36 days to baby-size, 54 days full-size), and the Adelaide (55 days), referred to as a “true baby carrot” because it matures early and has real carrot flavor in small 3-4″ roots that you don’t normally get in premature carrots.
Scallions: A larger version of the common chive, scallions will be ready long before those onion plants or sets you put in this spring. (60 days)
Grow food fast!
Use this list to create a strategy for your garden to grow your own produce as fast as possible in the spring when the stores in your pantry are depleted. Or go ahead and plan succession sowings of some of your favorite crops─some crops grow so quickly that you can get 6, 7 or 8 harvests over the course of the growing season, which really allows you to make the most of your space. Growing your own vegetables not only saves you money, but ensures a healthier diet and lifestyle for yourself and your family, as well as an increased appreciation for food. Now get outside and get busy!
Do you grow your own veggies? Got any super-fast growing recommendations to share? Feel free to share! Leave a comment below!