In my vegetable garden, I want to grow as much food as possible. Planting fast growing vegetables like arugula, leaf lettuce, radishes, Asian greens, and turnips allows me to do just that by succession planting from early spring through late summer. Who says fast food can’t be healthy? I like to call these my super speedy superstars and they’re ready mere days or weeks from seeding.
Planting fast growing vegetables
Fast growing vegetables are perfect for spring, summer, and fall succession planting. Succession planting is simply following one vegetable with another so that you can grow as much food as possible. Bonus – keeping the garden productive means less space for weeds to grow. So, after early crops like peas and spinach are harvested in the May and June garden, they’re followed up with new sowings of quick growing vegetables like bush beans, baby beets, and summer lettuce.
For succession planting, especially as the summer turns to autumn, it’s important to figure out if you have enough time to grow and mature a crop for harvest. For this, you need two pieces of information; 1) the days to maturity for your desired crop and 2) how many days you have before your first expected frost. To find the days to maturity, read the descriptions in seed catalogs and on seed packets carefully. For example, ‘Red Sails’ leaf lettuce takes 27 days from seed to harvest for a baby crop, or 55 days for full-sized heads. Once you know the days to maturity, calculate how many days you have left until the first average frost day to check that you still have enough time to grow the crop.
With fast growing veggies, you don’t need a long season to grow a heavy harvest. I plant these quick crops throughout spring, summer, and fall in my garden, seeding whenever there is an open space in the garden. No garden space? No problem as you can grow speedy vegetables in raised beds, containers, or fabric bags on sunny decks and patios. Be sure to add some compost to the soil between successive crops to encourage healthy growth.
8 fast growing vegetables for gardens and containers
1. Baby kale: We all know we should eat more kale, but there is no easier way to enjoy this nutritional powerhouse than by growing it as a tender, baby green. Seed it thickly in garden beds or cold frames as soon as the soil is workable in early spring. You can also start the seeds indoors and transplant the seedlings into the garden in mid-spring. Opt for the smooth-leaved varieties like ‘Red Russian’ (25 days) or dinosaur (30 days), avoiding the slower growing, curled kales like ‘Winterbor’ that can take up to two months to reach a harvestable size.
2. Asian greens: Asian greens, like mustard greens, offer a ridiculous range of foliage colors, textures, and even flavors – from mild tasting to slightly spicy to pungent. The bolder colored varieties add pizzazz to your salads and stir-fries with lime green, maroon, or even purple leaves. My favorite Asian greens include tatsoi (21 days), mizuna (30 days, try purple), and mustards like ‘Giant Red’ (21 days), ‘Ruby Streaks’ (21 days) and ‘Komatsuna’ (32 days).
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3. Arugula: Arugula is the poster child for fast growing vegetables with standard garden arugula ready to pick a mere 21 days from seeding. It’s also my salad green of choice with its lobed foliage that has a peppery flavor. It’s best dressed simply – a drizzle of olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and a sprinkle of salt. “Wild” arugula types like ‘Sylvetta’ are much slower growing and will need 50 to 60 days of growth before they are ready to harvest.
4. Radishes: With their cheerful colours and globe-shaped or elongated roots, spring radishes are a welcome, and almost instant harvest, in spring and autumn. Seed can be sown in early spring as soon as the earth is workable and the soil temperature is above 8 C (45 F). That’s usually 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost date. Top picks include ‘Easter Egg’ (30 days), ‘Amethyst’ (30 days), ‘D’Avignon’ (21 days) and ‘Cherry Belle’ (22 days). Even many varieties of daikon radishes, like ‘Red Meat’, aka Watermelon and ‘KN-Bravo’ are quick to grow and ready to harvest 50 days from sowing.
5. Pak Choi (Bok Choy) – Pak choi, a type of Chinese cabbage, is a cold tolerant crop ideal for spring, fall, and winter harvesting. There are many recently introduced cultivars, like ‘Asian Delight’ that are very fast to mature and ready to pick 4 weeks from seeding. Use the whole young plants in stir-fries or pick the leaves individually for salads. I love varieties with green leaves, but there are also some, like ‘Purple Pan’ with burgundy-purple leaves.
6. Spinach – No self-respecting salad garden is complete without a planting of cold tolerant spinach. As the plants grow, harvest the outer leaves often to encourage fresh leaf production, but pull the plants before they bolt. Once the flowering process begins, spinach quickly turns bitter, so don’t wait to harvest. If you plant late spring spinach in partial shade the plants tend to last longer. There are many cultivars to grow in pots and beds including ‘Tyee’, a bolt-resistant cultivar with deep green, semi-savoyed leaves and ‘Lavewa’, which has smooth, baby-style leaves for delicious salads.
7. Turnips – ‘Hakurei’ Japanese turnips (38 days) are a cool season vegetable and a farmers market favorite for their creamy white roots (that look like small bulbs) that are best pulled when 1 to 1 1/2 inches across. The roots are crisp and delicious when sliced raw in salads or roasted in the oven. However, it’s really the vigorous green tops that I crave. We eat turnip greens raw in a simple salad, cook them like spinach, or add them to smoothies. They are among the finest salad greens you can grow.
8. Microgreens – Microgreens are nutritious and pricey to buy, but so damn easy to grow. They are “baby baby” greens that are harvested when they are between 10 and 25 days old, depending on the crop type, and just 1 to 3 inches tall. Microgreens can include typical salad crops like arugula, lettuce, kale, and spinach, but they may also be the baby shoots of young root crops and herbs – basil, carrots, radishes, and beets, for example. I use a shallow tray to grow microgreens, adding 1 to 2 inches of moistened potting soil and sowing the seed densely. They will need plenty of light to grow quickly, so I place the trays under my grow-lights – in a pinch, a bright window will also do. Scissor harvest when the first set of true leaves has developed.
Other crops that mature in around 6 to 8 weeks include baby carrots, green onions (AKA scallions), zucchini (AKA summer squash), cress, and bush green beans. Discover more of the fastest growing vegetables the best-selling book, The Speedy Vegetable Garden, which features dozens of quick to mature greens, crops, and microgreens for both indoor and outside growing.
What’s your favourite super speedy vegetable?
Linda Regan says
I love the article and plan to start growing them. I have a few questions. 1. If you shear the tops off, will the plant continue to grow. 2. If you pick from the outside leaves will your plant last longer. Thanks
Christine L Milau says
I have had many types of lettuce and spinach that I took the outside leaves, and the plant continued to grow very nicely. I pick the leafy greens until the plant “flowers”, as it starts to then get a little bitter.
April Demes says
Thanks for the inspiration, Nikki! I’ve been wanting to rebuild my cold frame (got smashed by a heavy fall of snow) and you just kick-started my motivation!
Wondering where Nikki buys her seeds.
Niki Jabbour says
Many places 🙂 Depends where you live. I do buy local seed from Annapolis Seeds and Yonder Hill Farm but also from companies like Johnny’s Seeds, Kitchen Garden Seeds, Halifax Seed, and Baker Creek. – Niki
Michael Lyttle says
When is the best time to plant parsnips and turnips in southern PA? What might cause onion plants to have curled tops? Started from seed. If not thrives could it be nutrient excess or lack?