One of the hardest parts for beginning gardeners, any gardener really, is the waiting. We start off with a little seed and a bit of soil. We plant it, nurture it, watch it spring forth in the miracle of life, and then we wait. We wait for it to get its adult leaves. We wait for it to branch out, reach for the sun. We wait for it to give us some food.
Growing what we eat takes time. Some things — asparagus, apples, apricots — take years before they produce any food. Other stuff takes several months. On the whole, the propagation process requires a lot of persistence and patience. However, there are some plants that work their magic quickly. They provide the (nearly) instant gratification we all like so much, both in terms of the labor of growing food and the pleasure of eating it.
From seed packet to the dinner plate, in less than 60 days, who wouldn’t give them a go, right?
What a wonderful green it is. It provides a spicy kick for salads, or it can be sautéed and steamed like spinach. And, it sprouts up so quickly that some folks have taken to calling it rocket. Leafy greens like arugula require rich soil and about a foot of growing space (perfect for container gardening), and with that, a grower can be eating in just over a month. From there, simply harvest the outer leaves, and let the plant keep giving more.
2. Bok Choy
Also know as Chinese cabbage, bok choy is a cool weather vegetable most of us are now familiar with. It takes around a week to germinate (go from seed to sprout), but it works quickly from then on. Within 45 days, there will be fresh, homegrown bok choy to include in soups, salads and stir fries. Be aware that this plant does not like the summer time heat, so plant it in early spring or once the autumn crispness has arrived.
3. Broccoli Rabe
Another plant with many aliases, such as rapini or Italian turnip, broccoli rabe tricks us from the get-go: it’s not really broccoli (a distant relative) so much as mustard. Regardless, it’s quick-growing, with some varieties — Quarantina — maturing in just 40 days. By reputation, broccoli rabe is another cool weather crop, but some growers say, if young plants are harvested from regularly, the season can last right through the summer.
4. Bush “Green” Beans
They trick with getting beans quickly is to go with bushing (not vining) plants and snap bean varieties, which are eaten as green beans rather than shelled beans. Essentially, these happen faster — in 50-60 days — because we are picking immature fruits, before the seeds have fully developed. There are several great choices, with fun names, to try: Bountiful, Kentucky Wonder, Bush Blue Lake.
This stuff is so easy to grow that no soil is necessary, but to get the best results — a proper and nutritious green — requires a little more. As children, many of us grew cress as sprouts on the window sill, and this is done by putting the seeds on a wet paper towel. When the sprouts are a couple of inches high, they can be eaten. For something more significant, sprinkle the seeds into some moist (very important) potting soil and let them grow beyond sprouts.
6. Mesclun Mix
While having something green is always nice, it also good to get a little color into the mix, or mesclun, as well. Mesclun mix, as seen in many a produce department, is a combination of loose leaf lettuces that make great tasting salads, and they all grow quickly. They need only be distributed in a wide, shallow pot atop a good potting mix and watered well. Like arugula (often included in these mixes), harvest the outer leaves and let the plants keep growing.
7. Mustard Greens
Mustard is much more than the classic yellow condiment that we are all so familiar with. Mustard greens are absolutely delicious, like a peppery Dijon, and they are packed with nutrients. They also grow extremely quickly. They like cool weather, wet soil, and frequent harvesting, which should be when the leaves are three to four inches. When the weather gets hot, the flavor goes a bit bitter.
A flash of red root, a spicy bite, and edible leaves to boot, radishes are quick-growing vegetables that are great for companion planting with slower stuff. They’ll get in, grow up, and ship out before those carrots, tomatoes or cucumbers need the space. They add crispness to salads, the greens are great, and smaller radishes are ready within a few weeks.
9. Sugar Snap Peas
Sugar snap peas are another crispy, crunchy addition to salads and stir-fries, if they can make it out of the garden: they are nearly irresistible for snacking right off the plant. The general rule with both peas and beans is to plant them where they will be growing, as they do not like being transplanted. Again, going with the bush variety here equates to faster munching, and that starts at around eight weeks.
When it comes down to it, with these nine vegetables, we can be pulling in a pretty full and steady harvest in less than two months. Soon enough, those other, slower vegetables will be jumping into the mix, and gardening becomes a blast.
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