Growing vegetables from seed is probably one of the greatest pleasures of gardening. You can see the whole process from seed to table and taste the results of your labor. Nothing compares to your own seed-grown, juicy, just-picked tomatoes, still warm from the sun. Garden vegetables also have far superior flavor and nutritional value than those found in stores. However, for most vegetables, growing from seed means a long wait before harvest time. Tomatoes, for example, can be harvested as long as three months after germination—a whole eternity.
Luckily for the impatient gardener, there are a variety of fast-growing vegetables that produce impressive results in little time. For example, lettuce can be harvested as quickly as twenty days after planting, while radishes take just three weeks. In addition to being very fast-growing and prolific, the vegetables listed here don’t require much ongoing maintenance, so they’re perfect both for the impatient and the beginner gardener.
With the right crops and varieties, you can start harvesting crates of juicy, fresh vegetables in a relatively short period of time. Here are the top seven fast-growing vegetables that will reward you with a plentiful and delicious harvest in less than five weeks.
Arugula: 35 days
Tasty and prolific, arugula, also known as roquette, rugola, and rocket, is a member of the cabbage family that is loved by those who have tasted it. The leaves have a unique, pungent flavor that is almost peppery. The flowers are also edible and can be added to salads or used as garnishes. The plants are very easy to grow and quick to mature (nearly 30 days after planting), so you can plant them for both spring and fall crops. They are also ideal for container gardening. Set aside a patch for this versatile, fast-growing vegetable, that’s also easy to grow, and you will never run out of fresh greens.
Arugula grows best in cool, moist, well-drained soil. It likes the full sun or light shade when it is very hot. It performs best in cool weather and tends to become bitter in high temperatures. Sow seeds directly in the garden in early spring, after the danger of heavy frost has passed. For a longer harvest, keep sowing at 2-week intervals until the weather becomes hot. Sow again in mid-to-late summer for a fall crop. Cover the seeds with a ¼-inch layer of fine soil and keep the seedbed evenly moist until the seeds germinate.
Arugula plants appreciate plenty of water during dry periods. This fast-growing vegetable is ready to pick about 35 days after sowing. This crop is sometimes bothered by flea beetles; cover the developing plants with floating row cover to keep these insects out. Otherwise, arugula is relatively free of pests and diseases.
Gathering the Harvest
You can start harvesting its flavorful leaves about 35 days after planting, depending on the variety. Pick the tender young leaves when they are about 4 to 6 inches tall. They stay fresh for 4 to 5 days in plastic bags in the refrigerator. When the plants flower and begin to set seeds, pull them up, cut the usable leaves off at the base, and compost the rest.
Bok Choy: 30-50 days
These attractive, non-heading Chinese cabbages also go by the names pak choi, pok choi, and others. They’re all the same vegetable, which, like all brassicas, is a member of the mustard family. Its distinctive dark green leaves with thick, light, succulent bases have a sweet, mild flavor and have been used in Asian cooking for nearly 2,000 years. Bok choy can be steamed, stir-fried, or added to soups, stews, and salads. If chilled at near-freezing temperatures and high humidity, it will keep for several weeks.
Sow bok choy seeds outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked in spring, setting seeds ½ inch deep and thinning plants to stand 8 to 12 inches apart. Bok choy needs cool temperatures for best growth and goes to seed as the days lengthen and the weather warms. Plant a second crop in the fall 50 to 60 days before the first frost. Bok choy will tolerate light frost.
Gathering the Harvest
Most bok choy cultivars take about 50 days after germination to reach full maturity, but you can harvest them at 30 to 35 days for a more tender, smaller head of leaves. Harvest when they reach 12 to 18 inches tall by cutting stems just above the soil line.
Kale 30-60 days
Kale is a close relative of collards and cabbage. It tolerates frost and is usually grown as a fall crop; the first frost can sweeten the flavor of the slightly bitter leaves. The foliage is a handsome blue-green and has frilled or wavy edges, adding color and texture to the fall and winter garden. Kale is rich in vitamins A and C and is a good source of fiber.
Kale prefers rich, well-drained soil in full sun. In most areas, sow seeds in early summer for a fall crop. In areas with mild winters, sow in late summer for a winter crop. Space the rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Thin the seedlings to 8 to 14 inches apart when they are large enough to handle. The thinnings make tasty additions to salads.
The plants may need extra water during dry periods. Kale is prone to the same pests and diseases as other cabbage family members. To prevent the buildup of diseases, avoid planting any of these crops in the same place for 2 years in a row.
Gathering the Harvest
Kale reaches full maturity about 60 days after planting, depending on the variety. However, you can harvest baby kale in just 25 to 30 days.
If possible, wait until after the first frost to begin harvesting, since it can sweeten the flavor. Pick the outer leaves as needed, starting when they are about 6 to 8 inches long. Be sure to leave the central bud, which will keep producing new leaves. The plants may survive the winter in some areas.
Looseleaf Lettuce: 45 days
Lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to produce. It grows it’s a fast-growing vegetable, and pests and diseases are usually not a problem. Lettuce foliage can be sweet or slightly bitter; it may be bright red, yellowish-white, or light to deep green, with smooth, curled, frilled, or deeply lobed edges. It is the classic ingredient in salads. It adds crispness to sandwiches and can be used as a garnish, braised, or added to soups. Lettuce is an important source of fiber and is high in vitamins A and C, as well as calcium. Some cultivars are also high in iron.
There are four major types of garden lettuce: crisphead, butterhead, romaine, and looseleaf.
Crisphead, or Iceberg, lettuce is the closest to the round heads of pale green salad lettuce found in supermarkets. The foliage is thin and crisp, and the heads are firm and round. The leaves blanch to a creamy white in the middle. Their maturity season is relatively long—80 to 90 days after planting.
Butterhead lettuce forms looser, softer heads than crisphead types, and the foliage has a more delicate flavor. Butterhead types are also more heat-tolerant, and their foliage is more easily bruised. The inner leaves are a creamy yellow, and the outer leaves are medium to dark green. Butterhead lettuce takes 45 to 75 days to mature. It is higher in iron than other types of lettuce.
Romaine lettuce has an upright habit and long, loose leaves. The outer leaves are green, and the inner leaves are creamy white. Romaine lettuce matures in 65 to 70 days. It is the most nutritious type of lettuce, as well as the most shade-tolerant.
Looseleaf lettuce does not form heads. Its leaves can be curly, deeply lobed, serrated, or savoyed (wrinkled). Some cultivars are bright red and look attractive in containers or window boxes. Looseleaf types are fully mature in 45 to 50 days and are more tolerant of high temperatures than other types making them a great fast-growing vegetable in the heat of summer.
Lettuce prefers rich, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. It is a cool-season vegetable that “bolts,” or forms flowers and seeds, in high temperatures. The leaf edges also burn in hot weather. Once lettuce bolts, the leaves become bitter.
Sow seeds directly in the garden in early spring, after the danger of a heavy frost has passed. For a fall crop in the North, sow in late summer, after the worst of the summer heat is over. (Lettuce will not germinate in high temperatures.) You can start the seeds indoors if conditions there are cooler and transplant the seedlings when outside temperatures cool down. Sow in the fall for a winter crop in the South. Space the rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Thin the plants or set the transplants to stand 4 to 6 inches apart for leaf types; 6 to 8 inches apart for romaine and butterhead types; and 10 to 12 inches apart for crisphead types.
Keep plants well-watered during dry periods to promote rapid, uninterrupted growth. Lettuce does not have many pest and disease problems, although slugs and cabbage worms may be troublesome. Hand-pick these pests to reduce their numbers. Lettuce is shallow-rooted, so avoid disturbing the soil around the plants when removing weeds.
Gathering the Harvest
Pick crisphead types when the heads are firm. Harvest loosehead types anytime the leaves are large enough to use. Harvest romaine and butterhead types when they have formed heads and the leaves are a good size. Cut the heads below the crown. On leaf types, you can just pick a few leaves at a time when you need them.
Mustard Greens: 30 days
This fast-maturing relative of collards and cabbage is grown for its foliage, which has a pungent, tangy flavor. (The mustard seeds used to make the condiment added to Middle Eastern and Indian dishes are a different species, and are not commonly grown in home gardens.) Use the immature greens raw as a substitute for lettuce or spinach in a salad, or allow them to mature and cook them as you would cabbage or collard greens. Mustard is an excellent source of fiber and is rich in calcium, iron, and potassium.
Mustard appreciates rich, well-drained soil in full sun. This cool-season, fast-growing vegetable can be planted as a spring or fall crop in the north and as a winter crop in the south. For a spring crop, sow the seeds directly in the garden after danger of a heavy frost; sow in August for a fall crop. Space the rows 15 to 24 inches apart, and thin the seedlings to 12 inches apart when they are large enough to handle. For a continuous supply, sow small amounts at 2-week intervals until the weather turns warm.
Water well in dry weather. Prolonged periods of warm temperatures will cause the plants to produce a seed stalk; pull out these plants. To prevent the buildup of diseases, avoid planting mustard and other cabbage family crops in the same place for 2 years in a row. Mustard is sometimes bothered by aphids and cabbage worms; use floating row covers to protect the plants from these pests.
Gathering the Harvest
Mustard greens are a fast-growing vegetable, so you can begin harvesting the young foliage when it is 6 to 8 inches long, just 20 to 30 days after planting. If left alone, leaves reach their full size of 15 to 18 inches long in about 40 days. Pick the lower leaves as needed, or harvest the whole plant at once. Pick the foliage before it becomes tough.
Spring Radish: 30 days
Spring radishes are one of the easiest and fastest vegetables you can grow, making them a good crop for children and other beginning gardeners. They require little care, are rarely bothered by pests and diseases, and even perform well in containers or window boxes. They are one of the first vegetables you plant in spring, and one of the first to be harvested. In addition, to providing a quick, tasty crop, radishes are also useful for marking vegetables that are slower to germinate, such as carrots. (To use radishes to mark a crop, just mix the seeds of the two crops and sow them together.) As a trap crop, radishes can entice insects away from other vegetables in the garden.
This cool-season crop needs full sun to light shade and deep, well-drained soil that is free of stones. In the North, grow radishes as spring and fall crops; in the South, grow them as a winter crop. Spring radishes grow quickly; you can plant them in early spring after the danger of a heavy frost and harvest them about a month later.
Sow radish seeds ½ inch deep in rows spaced 12 inches apart. Thin the seedlings to stand 1 to 3 inches apart, depending on the cultivar.
Too-fertile soil or too much fertilization can cause excess foliage to grow at the expense of root development. In warm temperatures, radishes grow slowly and may produce seed stalks. If you can provide good soil, cool temperatures, and continuous watering, you should have high-quality radishes with few problems.
Gathering the Harvest
You can start harvesting spring radishes about 30 days after planting. Pull spring radishes when they are the proper size for the cultivar. Finish the harvest before warm weather sets in, and before the roots become woody and pithy. Store them in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks with their tops cut off.
Spinach: 40 days
Almost anyone can grow this cool-season green. You can sneak spinach into quiches, pancakes, crepes, and omelets. It is valued by cooks for its distinctive, slightly bitter flavor, which blends well with both stronger and weaker flavors in cooked and raw dishes. It is also rich in vitamin A and iron. Gardeners like spinach because it is quick and easy to grow for a spring or fall crop.
This crop prefers rich, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. For a spring crop, sow seeds after the danger of heavy frost has passed; for a fall crop, sow seeds in midsummer. In the South, plant in the fall for a winter crop. Space the rows 12 inches apart. Thin the plants to 4 inches apart when they are large enough to handle.
Spinach is shallow-rooted and requires 1 to 1½ inches of rain each week for continuous, rapid growth. It does not have many serious pest and disease problems, although cabbage worms, aphids, and leaf miners are common. Choose disease-resistant cultivars to prevent problems with specific diseases in your area. Protect the plants with floating row covers to keep pests off the plants.
Gathering the Harvest
Most spinach varieties are ready to be harvested in just 37 to 45 days after planting. Cut the entire spinach plant to the ground when it has 3 to 5 leaves, or just harvest the outer leaves as needed when they are 3 inches long. When the weather turns warm and a seed stalk begins to develop, harvest the whole plant right away.
In this article, I have written some interesting and helpful information on seven fast-growing vegetables that will reward you with a plentiful and delicious harvest in no time, and most are even easy to grow. Whichever you choose, all of these vegetables have their pros and cons. I wish you to become a successful vegetable gardener and enjoy a sweet, juicy vegetable harvest in just five weeks or less!