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Ok, so you have a decent supply of food. But if you are rationing, or want to make your food supply last, you should check into fast growing vegetables. That way, you can have more vegetables quickly to either store or eat now. And that allows you to keep your longer-term food storage for leaner months.
Right now, due to the Coronavirus and the resulting panic buying, the produce section at the stores is pretty thin. You may have already stocked up on grains, pasta, soups, and the like. But do you have fresh produce?
Many people are trying to gain self reliance right now. The Victory Garden is making a comeback. Unfortunately, a lot of self reliance efforts take many months or even years to accomplish. Fast growing vegetables are the exception to this rule.
There has never been a better time to start growing your own food. In all my 43 years, there has never been even a short period of time that I couldn’t go to the store to get virtually anything that I needed.
If you really don’t feel you are going to have enough to feed your family, you need to grow your own food. Only have a balcony or other very small space? You can do container gardening. If you have a larger area to garden, your options will be much more varied.
Today I want to share with you the best fast growing vegetables so you can increase your food supply quickly. Ready? Here we go!
Sprouts are the absolute fastest of the fast growing vegetables. They are typically ready to eat within 3 to 7 days. And they are very nutrient-packed as well. The best part? They don’t even need soil!
Sprouts are just seeds sown in a jar. And they are so easy to grow.
Growing spectacular sprouts:
- Soak seeds overnight
- Pour into a jar with a mesh lid
- Drain the water out of the jar
- Tip jar upside down over a bowl so the water can continue to drain
- Rinse and drain the sprouts twice a day
- Your sprouts will be ready between 3 and 7 days
You can sprout virtually any whole, raw seed. I highly recommend alfalfa, peas, sunflower seeds, broccoli, and radish sprouts. Any of these are amazing to put on a sandwich, or toss into a fresh salad. You can even use sprouts in a stir-fry.
If you have livestock, you can sprout grains for them as well. This is also known as fodder. It is done in a similar fashion, but usually on a larger scale and with trays instead of jars. Chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, cows, and horses appreciate sprouts. Consider sprouting wheat, sunflower, lentils, peas, or broccoli for them.
With fodder, you can turn 50 pounds of seed into about 250-300 pounds of nutrient-dense, fresh food. It’s a great way to stretch your feed dollars!
Microgreens are similar to sprouts, but are grown in a thin layer of soil. They are even more nutrient-dense than sprouts. Again, you can use nearly any kind of seed. Microgreens are typically ready to harvest in 1-2 weeks, depending on the seed you are growing.
Growing magnificent microgreens:
- Put about 1 inch of soil into a shallow tray
- Place tray in a sunny window, on a warming mat if desired
- Smooth out the soil as much as possible
- Soak seeds overnight to speed up germination
- Spread seeds evenly on top of the soil
- Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil
- Mist with a spray bottle until the whole surface area is moist
- Mist a couple times a day to keep soil evenly moist
- Harvest when microgreens are between 1-2 inches tall, by cutting close to soil surface with sharp scissors
The most popular microgreens include lettuce, mustard, radish, beet, cabbage, sunflower, cress, and buckwheat. Some are quite spicy, while others will have a more mild flavor. Any one of these can be eaten raw on sandwiches or in a salad, or as cooked greens.
Radishes are a great choice for a fast growing vegetable. When grown from seed, radishes can be ready to eat within 3-4 weeks. This is a wonderful option for succession planting. You can easily get multiple harvests with radishes.
To take full advantage of your space, plant half of your desired planting area. About 2 weeks later, plant the other half of the area. When you harvest the first half at about 4 weeks, plant that half again. You could also do weekly planting by dividing up your area into quarters.
Growing radiant radishes
Radishes do best when direct sown in the garden in full sun. They are quite frost-tolerant, so you can start planting 4-6 weeks BEFORE your average last spring frost. Radishes prefer soil that is rich in organic matter, and not compacted. Mix in some compost into your rows for the best harvest.
Sow radish seeds 1/2-1 inch deep in rows 12 inches apart. This will give your radishes enough room to grow, while still giving you room to weed and harvest. Thin the seedlings to about 2 inches apart 2 weeks after planting. (Pro tip – remember microgreens? You can eat the seedlings you thin out.) Ensure consistent, even moisture; you may want to consider mulching around your plants to help keep the soil moist.
Radish greens are also edible, delicious and nutritious. These greens are best harvested when they are young and tender, before they get too long and bitter. You can cut the outer leaves of the radish greens to eat, without impeding the growth of the root. Just don’t take the whole top off!
Like radish sprouts and microgreens, radish greens are great in a salad or on a sandwich. They can also be cooked like collard greens, or made into a pesto. You can find a lot of radish root and greens recipes here.
Green onions (scallions)
Green onions are another good fast growing vegetable. While the bulbs take quite a bit longer, the green tops can be ready to eat within 3-4 weeks. To harvest the tops, simply snip with scissors, leaving 1-2 inches of green growth above the soil surface. These tops will continue to grow, allowing you to cut and come again.
Growing great green onions
Green onions can be grown from kitchen scraps, sets, or seed. Growing from seed takes the longest time. To grow from seed, plant in full sun after danger of frost has passed. Sow seeds thinly in rows 1 foot apart, and cover with 1/4 inch of soil. When seedlings are 1-2 inches tall, thin to about 3-4 inches between each seedling.
If you want a quicker harvest, you should grow your green onions from kitchen scraps or seedlings. To grow only the scallions, I would highly suggest growing from a previously-purchased green onion. Simply drop the leftover green onion roots into a glass of water, making sure the roots are pointing down. Change the water out every couple of days. In about a week, you can harvest another bunch of scallions.
While the bigger, more mature kale leaves can be somewhat bitter (which is why a lot of people don’t like them!), the tender smaller leaves can be harvested in as little as 25 days. Kale loves cool weather, and get sweeter after being touched by a bit of frost.
Growing keen kale
Plant kale in full sun, 3-5 weeks before last average spring frost date. Sow seeds thinly, 1/4-1/2 inch deep. After 2 weeks, thin seedlings to 8-12 inches apart to allow mature growth.
The soil around kale should be mulched to help keep the soil cool and retain moisture. Harvest the younger, tender outer leaves as desired. Keep the center stalk intact to ensure the plant still grows.
Tender, young spinach leaves can be harvested and eaten after just 4-6 weeks after planting. They are quite frost-tolerant, so you can start them early and do succession planting. Keep in mind that spinach doesn’t do well with high heat, as it gets very bitter.
Growing spectacular spinach
Spinach loves cool weather. It should be started as early as you can work the soil, about 4 to 6 weeks before your last average spring frost. If you have extremely high temperatures, spinach can still grow nicely if they are provided some shade. Consider growing spinach in shade from other crops.
Sow your seeds 1/2 inch deep, 2 inches apart. Spinach roots are very tender and don’t do very well being transplanted. Even weeding can disturb the roots, so you may want to mulch well to prevent weeds. Thin seedlings to about every 4 inches. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Lettuce comes in a huge range of varieties. Head lettuce typically takes longer to harvest, but leaf lettuces can be a very fast growing vegetable. Depending on the variety, you may be able to harvest young lettuce leaves in as little as 30 days.
Growing lovely lettuce
Head lettuce is typically started as seed indoors to transplant, but this variety takes longer to mature. For fast growing vegetables, I would suggest leaf lettuces so you can cut and come again as desired.
Since there is so many varieties, you’ll want to follow the directions on the seed packets to get the proper spacing for the variety you have chosen. As lettuce is a cool-season crop, plant your seeds as early as you can, after the soil is about 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lettuce needs loose, well-drained soil. Compost is a wonderful amendment for growing lettuce. Leaf lettuce can be planted closer together than head lettuce, with about a 4 inch spacing. Space your rows at least a foot apart. Sow seeds 1/4-1/2 inch deep.
Some varieties of swiss chard can be eaten in just 30 days. Best when young and tender, swiss chard is perfect in stir-frys, or cooked like collard greens. Swiss chard is pretty hardy, and withstands both cool and hot temperatures.
Growing spectacular swiss chard
Swiss chard appreciates rich, well-drained soil, and full sun. Sow your seeds 1/2 inch deep, in rows spaced 18 inches apart. Ensure there is plenty of space between the seeds, as they will need pretty aggressive thinning (make sure you use the seedlings you thin!). Plants will need about 12 inches between them.
Harvest the outermost leaves as needed by cutting down to 1 inch from the ground. Frequent harvesting will ensure that the plant continues to produce.
While full-size carrots can take 70 days or more, some types of baby carrots are ready to harvest at about 30 days. This makes baby carrots a great choice for fast growing vegetables. Carrots are another cool-season crop, and don’t do well in extreme heat. Carrots can also be stored for quite a while, so they make a good choice for families.
Growing captivating carrots
Make sure your soil is loose and fluffy, and free of rocks. Carrots don’t do well in compacted or clay soil. They like sandy loam. Add organic matter to the soil, and if you have clay soil, add some sand and incorporate well.
Plant your seeds in full sun, right around your last average frost date. Sow seeds about 1/2 inch deep, and 1-2 inches apart, in rows 1-1 1/2 feet apart. Seed tapes make it easier to get the correct spacing, as carrot seeds are so small. Keep the area well weeded. When the carrot tops are 4 inches tall, thin your plants to every two inches to provide enough room for growth.
Generally not thought of as fast growing vegetables, you can actually start harvesting small zucchini after about 35 days. Frequent harvesting is very beneficial, as it encourages the plant to produce more. Zucchini also taste better when harvested young and small.
Zucchini blossoms are actually edible as well, but keep in mind that the more blossoms you harvest, the less zucchinis you’ll get. Try them battered and deep-fried!
Growing zippy zucchini
Zucchini is a very easy vegetable to grow. At a time when I couldn’t get anything else to grow, my zucchini took off! Squash are tolerant of poor soil, and do well even when a little neglected.
Zucchini does best when direct sown, so as to not disturb the roots. Sow seeds after outdoor temperatures are in the 70’s. Make sure the soil temperature is above 60 degrees. I like to plant my zucchini in hills 2-4 feet apart, rather than rows. This allows the soil to warm up more quickly and ensures proper ventilation when the plants mature.
Put 3 seeds onto each hill, and push each seed 1/2 inch deep into the soil. When your zucchini seedlings are about 2 inches tall and have at least 1 true leaf, keep the strongest and snip off the less vigorous seedlings.
As with most squash, zucchini is a bit of a space hog in the garden. The plants can get pretty big and unruly. Keep in mind that zucchini is a very productive plant, and one plant can produce 6-10 pounds of fruit in a growing season. This may help you avoid planting too many.
Green beans can produce a hefty harvest, with some (especially bush beans) as early as 40-60 days after sowing. Bush beans don’t require trellising, and take up a smaller amount of garden space than their traditional cousins. Bush beans are determinate, which means all the beans will be ready at about the same time. This makes them ideal for canning, but if you want a staggered harvest, do succession planting every 2 weeks.
Growing gainful green beans
Sow seeds in full sun, after the last average spring frost, 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart. Space your rows at least 18 inches apart. If growing pole beans, you can put a trellis between two rows for support. Or you can train your pole beans to go up and around a “teepee” structure. This makes a fun playhouse for kids!
One of the great things about green beans, is that they don’t need fertilizer. Green beans are nitrogen-fixing, so they naturally add nitrogen to the soil, improving it while they grow.
As their name indicates, snow peas are a fantastic cool-season crop. However, they do best if they don’t get much frost. Snow peas should be planted after the soil temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in an area with a lot of heat, mulch should be used to keep the soil cooled and keep moisture more constant.
Snow peas are one of the longer of our fast growing vegetables, with an average harvest at about 60 days. But since they can be started so early, they are definitely worth the garden space.
Growing sweet snow peas
Plant seeds 1-1 1/2 inches deep in well-drained soil, 3-4 inches apart, in rows spaced 18-24 inches. They can be planted as early as 4-6 weeks before your last spring frost date. Snow peas actually appreciate some shade, especially in the hottest part of the day.
As with most other pea varieties, snow peas enjoy being trellised. A trellis can be fashioned out of a few rows of string between a few sticks, the whole length of the row. Or you can make it fun and build a “living teepee”.
Make sure you keep up on harvesting your snow peas. Frequent harvesting allows the plant to produce more peas. Snow peas are eaten pod and all, and are delicious straight off the vine, or cooked in stir-frys.
Why you should choose fast growing vegetables
Right now, you might have a decent food storage stocked up. But to make that food storage last, you should rotate in some fresh foods. These fast growing vegetables will get you a harvest pretty quickly.
None of these vegetables require a lot of care or space. I encourage everyone, especially in these trying times, to grow at least some of their own food. It is an important practice in self reliance. It is so rewarding to grow your own food, and provides a much desired sense of food security. Won’t you try your hand at it?
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