The 14 Fastest Growing Vegetables to Add to Your Edible Garden

The 14 Fastest Growing Vegetables to Add to Your Edible Garden
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The 14 Fastest Growing Vegetables to Add to Your Edible Garden

Plant these When You Can Hardly Wait for Your First Harvest

Each spring when gardeners plant their vegetable gardens, they can’t wait for the first harvest of fresh food. The anticipation of the first fresh salad greens or biting into a crisp, crunchy radish is intensified after a long winter without. It is always fun to have some fast-growing seeds that will be harvested soon after planting. Plants like tomatoes and peppers, along with winter squash and corn, take most of the summer to mature. However, there are some vegetables that can be planted early–some even before the last frost–that will be ready to harvest before the summer vegetables have begun to blossom. 

As summer comes to an end, the garden starts to wind down. For some gardeners, the end of the bounty in the summer garden is a little sad, but for others, it may also be a relief! You have worked hard to grow your garden, keep it healthy, harvest food and perhaps preserve it to use in the winter months ahead. It has been labor-intensive and, at the same time, that garden has given lots of satisfaction as well as enjoyment. The idea of planting more seeds and extending the growing season may not appeal to you right now. You are ready for a break from the garden. But hang in there! There are lots of vegetables that can be planted in the garden at the end of summer and will be ready to harvest before winter. Many of the very same vegetables that gave you the early start in the spring are the same vegetables that will close out the growing season in the fall.

There are several advantages to planting in the fall. For one thing, it is cooler for the gardener as well as the plants. It is a lot nicer to harvest vegetables when there is a cool breeze instead of the sun beating down on you. Usually, along with the cooler temperatures, there is more rain. That means less watering is needed by you to supplement the rainfall. Another advantage is there is a lot less pest pressure. Most of the pests you may have been fighting in the summer garden are past their peak levels. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any insects, but not the major problems that can occur in the summer.

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Before we jump in, we’ve outlined some simple steps to take before planting your fast-growing plants. Read on to discover how to make the most of your garden.

Step 1: Know your growing zone
Step 2: Extend your growing season
Step 3: Protect your plants
Step 4: Plant the right fast-growing veggies

 

Step 1: Understand Your USDA Hardiness Zone First

So how do you know how early or late you can plant in this year’s garden? The first thing you need to know is what growing zone you are in and what the average first and last frost dates are in that zone. There are a few vegetables that can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked, and they also will tolerate a frost. In the fall, if you count back from the first frost date, you can determine how many days you have left to grow in. Remember that this first and last frost date is an estimate. There could be an early or late frost, so to be relatively safe, figure about an additional week. Another reason to advance the harvest date in fall is that as the days move into fall, the daylight hours are getting shorter. In the spring when you planted seeds, the days were getting longer, which encourages the plants to grow more quickly. In the fall, each passing day has less daylight, causing plants to grow more slowly. 

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Step 2: Extend Your Growing Season

There are multiple easy ways to extend the growing season. If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse that you grow your seedlings in, you can also use it to grow food in the fall. If you have a cold frame that you use in the spring, use it for your fall garden. A cold frame is a structure that is like a miniature greenhouse. The frame is bottomless and just sits on the ground. It has a lid that is glass or plastic which can be kept closed if the temperature drops and opened if above freezing. Cold frames often were DIY projects made using repurposed glass windows or doors. Today, many gardeners are utilizing high tunnel systems or low tunnels. These are basically hooped structures covered with plastic, duplicating the greenhouse effect at a lower cost. A high tunnel is able to be walked in. The low tunnel is large enough to cover the plants only. 

Step 3: Protect Your Plants

It is not necessary to utilize a structure in order to get an early start or to extend the growing time. If you cover your plants with frost fabric, it will protect them from an early cold spell. Even just putting a pot or bucket over the plants can get them through a cold night. There are also a number of plants that like the cooler weather and can even tolerate a light frost without protection. By planting these crops so that they will be ready to harvest late in the fall as well as some more tender plants that mature quickly to provide a late season crop, you can extend the garden well into the fall season. 

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Step 4: Plant the Right Fast-growing Plants

Here are some favorite quick maturing vegetables for your garden. 

  • Lettuce. Most lettuces prefer the cool temperatures of early spring and fall. Some varieties can even tolerate a light frost with no problem. Sow the seed directly in the soil or you can start the seeds indoors for an even earlier harvest. Lettuce is a great fast-growing vegetable. You can be eating a fresh salad from your garden in only 45-50 days!
  • Arugula. Arugula is a great addition to any salad and only takes about 50 days to be ready to harvest. Arugula is one of the more expensive greens in the grocery, but you can easily grow your own. Harvest the leaves when they are about two to three inches long. Cutting the leaves will stimulate the plant to produce more leaves, giving you an abundant supply all season long.
  • Cucumbers. Cucumbers are not able to tolerate the frost so don’t plant too early in the spring. Your cucumbers can be started indoors for an earlier start and transplanted into the garden or container after the first set of true leaves have developed. Fifty days later you will be enjoying fresh cucumbers. You can allow the cucumbers to spread on the ground–or for ease of picking, provide a trellis. Cucumbers also come in varieties specifically for growing in containers. Don’t forget to plant some for late-season harvest. Just watch that frost date!
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  • Radish. Radishes are probably the fastest growing vegetable in your garden, being ready to pick in as little as 30 days from planting the seeds. Their peppery flavor is a hit on the             
    vegetable tray or added to a fresh lettuce salad. For a new experience with radishes, try roasting them in the oven with a little oil drizzle and salt to taste.
  • Pak Choi. Ready to harvest in just 50 days after sowing the seeds, this vegetable also prefers the cool spring and fall weather. Use your Pak Choi fresh or cooked. 
  • Beets. Beets are very cold-tolerant, with some varieties even able to handle a light frost. Beets are ready to harvest in about 60 days, but if you prefer, harvest earlier for baby beets. Also,
    the beet greens can be harvested and added to soups or salads. Use the outer leaves and always leave four or five leaves to help develop the root. In warmer zones, beets can be grown throughout the winter.
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  • Carrots. Choose the varieties that are half long at maturity and you will be eating fresh carrots only 50 days after planting. These varieties also do well if you are limited to container gardening on a patio or balcony.
  • Kale. Kale is so easy to grow and it keeps growing more leaves as you harvest from the plant. There are lots of varieties of kale, each with a slightly different flavor as well as different leaf shape. Kale can be ready to harvest as early as 40 days after planting. Eat kale fresh, added to a mixed salad or cooked in soups or casseroles. Kale chips are delicious as well as nutritious. Kale is so attractive that it can be planted in the flower border as an edible ornamental.
  • Okra. Depending on the variety, you can begin harvesting okra between 50 and 60 days after planting. Okra does not like the cold but loves the summer heat, so don’t plant too early in the spring. These plants are very prolific, and once the pods start forming, you can expect a continuous harvest until frost if kept picked.
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  • Spinach. Spinach is a cool-weather crop that can be sown in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Ready to harvest in less than 30 days, add spinach to your mixed salad greens or serve it alone wilted with a bacon dressing. If you plant a late fall crop, spinach can winter over and start producing new leaves early in spring for a really early harvest.
  • Green Beans. Plant green beans after the danger of frost is over and in less than two months you will be harvesting fresh beans. The flavor of beans fresh from the garden can’t be beat, and it is amazing how much each plant can produce. Plant bush varieties if you want to plant in containers or don’t want to trellis your beans.
  • Zucchini. Zucchini is ready to harvest in as little as 40 days after planting. Sow the seeds directly in the ground after the danger of frost is past. If you keep the zucchini picked, it will continue to produce until frost. But watch out! If you miss one, it will grow to a baseball bat size in just a few days. Don’t worry, though! It gives you the excuse to bake delicious zucchini bread!
  • Mustard Greens. Mustard greens are another cool-season crop that is ready to harvest in only an incredible 20 days! The greens will turn bitter in the warm weather, so plant them in the spring with another planting in fall. Mustard greens are not as tolerant of the cold as kale or collard greens, but they will survive a light frost.
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  • Peas. Peas are a cool-weather crop that will produce a harvest in just 60 days. Plant your peas as soon as the soil can be worked. Peas can grow in a bush variety or as a vine requiring trellising. Peas are a legume, so they are able to fix nitrogen in the soil. When you are finished harvesting the peas, don’t pull the vines. Instead, cut the plants off at the soil level and leave the roots in the ground to enrich your soil with lots of nitrogen.

As you can see, there are lots of vegetables that are able to be harvested in only two months–some in even less time. As you garden, you will learn what grows well in your garden and about how long it will take to reach maturity in your specific grow zone and conditions. The advantage is that you will be able to stagger the planting so that everything is not ready to harvest at the same time. 

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