Okay, so a month doesn’t begin to compete with your local fast food restaurant. Still, most people think of raising vegetables as something that takes ALL SUMMER! But, that doesn’t need to be the case.
There can be several excellent reasons for wanting to grow some speedy crops, ranging from an apartment dweller with very limited space, to a beginning gardener who wants to see some quick, nutritious, and tasty results, to an experienced gardener who wants to fill a temporarily empty spot with something productive rather than weeds that need to be pulled, to living in an area with a very short growing season, or maybe you just want to take a vacation near the end (or the beginning) of summer and don’t want to be strapped to your garden for the whole summer.
These, and more, are all equally valid reasons for wanting some speedy crops.
I’ve broken out these crops by speed of harvest, fastest first. With a range of 3 – 5 days out to 60-90 days, hopefully there’s something to fit everyone’s needs.
Twenty two of these can be ready to begin providing you with food in a month or less.
You’ll no doubt notice that days to harvest is always a range. Several factors account for this. First, different varieties of the same crop often mature at different rates.
Second, variations in growing conditions affect the rates of maturity.
Third, many of these speedy crops can begin being harvested while they are still fairly young, continuing on through full maturity.
Fourth, many of the greens are what is known as “cut-and-come-again” meaning you cut off – harvest – the older leaves around the outside, then come back a few days later and cut some more. This process can often be repeated multiple times for the same plant, giving an extended harvest time. Better to store the excess in the garden where it stays fresh, full of flavor and nutrients (unless it gets overripe) than the refrigerator where it begins to lose both taste and nutrients within 24 hours!
Enough introduction – on to the list of speedy crops…
- The first crops to be available for harvest, and superb for apartments, are simple sprouts. This includes things like alfalfa, broccoli, cabbage, radish, dry beans, and others. These pack a very large nutritional wallop – far more vitamins and enzymes than the seeds – while not needing soil or sun, and they can be ready to eat in as little as 3-5 days. There are entire books on the subject of sprouting but, with few exceptions, all you need is some seed, a couple of empty glass jars, some string or rubber bands to go around the jar necks, and a piece of loose cloth or old nylon stocking to stretch over the mouth of the jar, clean water, and a place to drain them after you rinse them several times a day (a dish drainer over the sink works fabulously). No soil. No sun. And just keep them at room temperature. Depending on the size and age of the seed, soaking for 12-24 hours can increase the sprout rate. I also like to change the soak water every 6-8 hours to keep it fresh and help to wash away the anti-sprouting enzymes in the seeds.
- Next would be shoots or microgreens, essentially small partially developed versions of the large plants we normally think of. These do require some soil (about an inch in most cases) and sunlight (window sill or grow light), and they generally take 14-21 days to be ready to use. This list would include things like wheat grass, pea shoots, and sunflower shoots. When you’re ready for your microgreen salad, just cut them off right above the soil level and munch. Low calorie, nutrient dense food grown right in your own kitchen.
- Green onions come in at the same rate as the shoots being ready for their first harvest in about 15-20 days. If you cut them a bit high, leaving at least an inch of green, they will usually regrow several times. These are an excellent window sill spice up where they can be grown year round, or, they can be grown outside in USDA zones 3-9, but they don’t do well in the snow.
- Mizuna is a mild flavored member of the Japanese mustard family grown for it’s leaves. You should be able to get your first cutting of the outer leaves around 20 days after sowing. It takes about 40 days to reach full maturity if you want to harvest heads similar to lettuce. Some of us prefer it’s milder flavor when the leaves are smaller/on the younger side. Mizuna generally grows well in USDA zones 4-9 and is one of the cut-and-come-again greens. It can be used in salads, soups, or stir fry. The Japanese often pickle it, especially the purple-leafed variety.
- Radish is next on the list with the average time from sowing to harvest being 21-30 days – 21 days for the smaller varieties like Cherry Belle and 30 days for the larger ones like Icicle and French Breakfast. Radishes can generally be grown in USDA zones 2-10, but they do best with consistent watering and are not drought tolerant.
- Collard greens are ready to harvest in 21-35 days and have a great advantage as a green leafy vegetable that does not rapidly bolt to seed in high heat. They are also relatively tolerant of cooler weather, making them an excellent choice for short season areas. This is another of the cut-and-come-again greens usually being viable for as much as 80 days after planting, but the leaves of most varieties are larger than other greens we typically think of, giving a larger harvest from the same small space a very real possibility. They do tend to be a bit stronger flavored than most salad greens though and are generally considered best when cooked – stir fry, saute, or use in soup. Collards are considered best suited to USDA zones 6-10, but can be quite successful in colder areas when started indoors like kale, or given protection with row covers or cloches.
- Bok choy does well in USDA zones 4-7. The leaves can be harvested starting around 21 days after sowing and the heads in 45-60 days. This is another green that is most often used in cooking rather than salads. The baby outer leaves can be used as an excellent substitute for spinach.
That’s 7 crops you can have ready to eat in about 3 weeks or less. Now let’s stretch it out to around 4 weeks and see what can be added to our speedy crops list.
- Mixed Asian greens can be ready for harvesting baby leaves by 20-21 days and provide a nice variety of colors, flavors, and textures all from a single packet of seeds. Excellent for use in salads, sandwiches (way better than plain old lettuce!), stir fry, soup, omelets, or…
- Cress, also known as pepper cress, peppergrass, and pepperwort, and not to be confused with water cress, is another of the cut-and-come-again speedy vegetables. The name comes from German and means sharp or spicy, which gives you a good clue as to the taste of this green speedy crop. Cress is ready to harvest in 3-4 weeks, and you definitely want to cut it before it develops tiny white flowers and becomes bitter.
- Mustard greens need to be harvested young, 3-4 weeks, because the large leaves get tough and bitter as they get older. This is another one that does well in cool weather but not the heat of summer making it a good spring or fall speedy crop.
- Tatsoi is a non-heading mustard very similar in flavor to bok choy. Leaves can be harvested when they are 3-4 inches long, about 25-30 days after sowing.
- Kale – The Red Russian variety is the fastest to mature completely at about 40 days, but the young and tender leaves can be harvested as a cut-and-come-again green starting at 25-30 days after sowing. Kale’s best flavor comes in cool weather and even after a light frost.
- Baby Carrots are not an obvious choice for a speedy crop, but they can, nonetheless, be a fine, fun choice here if you choose a fast-growing small variety such as Adelaide (50 days to full maturity) or Little Finger (60 days to full maturity) and enjoy the small carrots as you thin the crop to make room for fully mature carrots to finish developing. Full size carrot varieties generally need 65-80 days to reach full maturity but they can also be harvested young as you thin them to make room for the full size carrots to develop. Most varieties can be grown in USDA zones 3-9. One advantage to growing carrots in the fall is the ability to leave them in the ground, under a good mulch cover, over winter. They can be harvested all winter and into the spring helping you get through the “hungry time” in the spring before other things are available to harvest and eat.
- Spinach is a time honored and well known cut-and-come-again speedy vegetable with some varieties being ready for you to harvest baby leaves from around the outside of the plant at about 28 days after sowing. Spinach is another of the cold weather speedy crops that does not do well in the heat of summer but loves cold weather. Spinach generally will not germinate if the soil temperature is above 70 degrees, or, if it does germinate, the germination rate will be low and it will probably bolt to seed before you can harvest much. Plant spinach in early spring as the soil is just beginning to warm, or fall when the soil has started to cool off. Young plants are susceptible to freeze damage and should be covered, but more mature plants can often survive down to 15o F. without protection so this is an excellent winter crop that can be grown in USDA zones 2-9.
- Tokyo Bekana Cabbage is a loose-leafed cabbage that is often mistaken for lettuce due to similarities in both flavor and appearance, but it’s a much better source of dietary fiber than lettuce and it can be used both raw and cooked. It can be harvested generally from 30-45 days after sowing, but is also an excellent microgreen that can be used in 14 days. Finding seed for it may be the tricky part though, especially this year.
- Turnip greens are harvested from 30-40 days after sowing, before they become too tough and fibrous. Well known in the south, but deserving more attention in northern diets for their high vitamin C content, as long as you don’t cook them to death.
- Beet greens are harvested from 30-50 days after sowing and can be grown in USDA zones 2-10, depending upon the variety.
- Arugula is another of the somewhat spicy leafy salad greens that can be cut multiple times. It prefers cool weather and can generally be harvested beginning about 30 days after sowing.
- Leaf Lettuce comes in an assortment of colors, prefers cool weather, can be cut many times if you leave the central growing portion, and is generally ready to begin harvesting young leaves at about 30 days.
- Swiss chard is very similar in taste and use to spinach, but a bit more heat tolerant. It also comes in a variety or very pretty colors and is ready for harvesting the outer leaves about 30 days after sowing.
- Mache is another of the leafy salad greens, but with a bit of a sweet, nutty flavor, none of the bite or sting found in so many others. (photo from http://www.bostonfoodandwhine.com/2009/06/02/what-is-mache/) It can also be cooked just like spinach. It grows in USDA zones 2-10 and is ready to harvest from 30-70 days after sowing. It goes by several other names as well. Maybe you’ve heard one or more of them: corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, field salad, and field lettuce. Mache has 3 times as much vitamin C as lettuce, also B6, beta-carotene, iron, and potassium. Mache often grows as a weed in cultivated fields. It’s usually rather pricey in the specialty shops that carry it, but you can grow it nearly for free.
- Many herbs of the leaf variety can be snipped and added to cooking by around 30 days from sowing, if not before, like the green onions mentioned previously. Examples would include basil, peppermint, and sage (culinary sage, not the ubiquitous – here – sage brush)
By adding one more week to our schedule, we’ve added 15 more potential crops for 22 things you can grow in about a month. If we add another week or two and take it out to 5-6 weeks, we can get a few more crops.
- Zucchini is a prolific, easy to grow vegetable that begins producing harvestable fruit about 40 days after sowing. You’ll get more zucchini if you plant 2 or more in close proximity, but even a single plant will generally give you a respectable harvest. Harvest the fruits when they are 6-10” in length. My family loves fresh baked zucchini bread so I like to shred my “extra” zucchini and freeze in plastic baggies, pre-measured for my zucchini bread recipe https://eclecticmusings.blog/2020/06/16/zucchini-bread/ .
- Green beans of the bush varieties are a good garden choice requiring no staking and less room than pole varieties. My personal favorites are “Bountiful” and “Provider” because they germinate better at lower temperatures, produce good sized crops, and tolerate some cool weather while the beans are maturing. You can begin harvesting young beans from “Bountiful” at about 40 days and about 45 days for “Provider”. Bountiful is stringless and both are resistant to common bean diseases. Another good one to try is Black Valentine. It can be harvested starting around day 45 and makes good soup beans as well as green beans, depending upon how long you leave the beans on the plant.
- Turnips of some varieties are ready to harvest in 45-60 days so they also make our Fast Food From Your Garden list. Purple top white globe is one of the fast maturing ones that also stores well and has a sweet, mild flavor.
The following crops take at least 7 weeks to reach harvest, but may still be within the range you may want to try:
- Beet roots take 48-100 days from sowing, depending on the variety, with most being ready to harvest in the 50-60 day range. Thankfully, pickling them is not the only way to eat or preserve them. See, for example, https://eclecticmusings.blog/2020/06/18/arugula-beet-salad/
- Broccoli rabe (pronounced rob) is a distant Italian cousin of the well known broccoli more closely related to turnip than to broccoli. It should be harvested BEFORE it flowers. Unlike broccoli, the leaves are the part used. They are similar in taste to mustard greens – another closer cousin. This leafy vegetable really begs for the cut-and-come-again routine because of it’s mature size (up to 2 feet tall with leaves to match) and how quickly it bolts and becomes bitter once it gets close to mature. Best bet with this one is to look at the seed packet time to mature (usually 50-60 days) and subtract at least 5 days.
- Okra is ready to harvest about 50-65 days after planting. As long as the frost doesn’t get it, it will keep producing rather like the mythical hydra – cut off a head and a new one will grow in its place. Okra loves hot weather! It can be grown in zones 5-10 as long as it’s protected from cold snaps.
- Cucumbers take 42-70 days. Best known for making pickles, but also enjoyed for fresh eating by many people, usually in salads. Cukes are also a favorite with the chickens. Cukes come in both bush and vining varieties with the bush varieties being well suited to container gardening on a porch or patio. The vining varieties can be trained up a trellis with the use of old nylon stockings tied to the trellis to support the fruit – space saving and pretty!
- Kohlrabi generally needs 40-65 days for harvest. It comes in white, green, and purple, with a taste similar to its cousin cabbage. It likes cool temperatures and does not do well over 75oF. Harvest the stalks and use them like celery or cut the bulb at the base of the stems and use like cabbage or even potatoes. Kohlrabi generally grows well in zones 3-7.
- Peas, both edible pod (also known as snow peas) and shelling peas have harvest times of 42-65 days after sowing, depending upon the variety. They can be grown in zones 3-11, but they like cold weather and a light frost on the mature plant can really sweeten the peas, especially the edible pod varieties.
- Chinese (Napa) Cabbage is an excellent winter vegetable that grows to about 20 inches in height with a circumference of 5-6 inches. It can survive in zones 4-7 with a bit of cover in the winter to protect it from the really hard freezes. It needs at least 4 hours of sunlight to grow, making it one of the less sun-dependent vegetables on the list. Time from planting to harvest is 60-80 days. Chinese cabbage has a very mild flavor and is most often used in stir-fry, but also makes a good addition to salads.
- Buckwheat is not a vegetable, but an often overlooked grain that is very doable in a home garden. It makes a gluten free flour that is high in lysine, one of the essential amino acids our bodies need, but are not able to make. Buckwheat actually has a couple of good garden uses. It grows well even in very poor soil and can be tilled in 30 days after planting to make an excellent green manure for boosting organic matter in the soil. If left for 60-90 days, you can harvest the seeds, the grain. Buckwheat is an unusual grain in that the same plant can have flowers, green seeds, and ripe seeds all at the same time. Hence the 30 day window for harvesting. You’ll generally see the best yield at about 75-80 days, but it can still give you a respectable harvest after 60 days. I have not been able to find a local source for this seed so you’ll probably need to get it via mail order, as I do.
- Broccoli probably needs no introduction. When grown from transplants rather than seed can be harvested in about 55-65 days. If you’re planting it from seed, plan on 90-100 days, which is definitely not a fast crop. Broccoli likes cool weather and will quickly bolt to seed if it’s much over 75. On the other hand, a light frost makes the heads sweeter. When ready to harvest, if you cut the central head out while leaving the main body of the plant, most varieties will sprout side heads and give you at least one more harvest, albeit smaller.
For further information on the USDA zones please see https://eclecticmusings.blog/2020/06/18/usda-hardiness-zones/
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If you know of additional speedy crops, please comment below.