21 Fast Growing Vegetables For Impatient Gardeners
Gardening expert Sarah Hyde will walk you through factors to consider with days to maturity, what to look for when buying transplants to save time, and share 21 quick crops to try if you are an impatient gardener! All of the crops listed here should mature in less than 60 days under optimal growing conditions.
Part of the enjoyment of vegetable gardening is observing the process unfold – a tiny seed slowly growing into an edible plant. But it does take time, which we all could use more of these days. Some crops take over 100 days to mature! What should you do if you’re short on time and still want to grow your own food?
Try planting one of my favorite fast growing garden vegetables, perfect for impatient gardeners! There are actually several veggies that you can throw in your garden that mature quickly. It doesn’t matter if it’s in-ground, raised beds, or in containers, each of the vegetables you’ll read about should produce quicker yields in the right conditions.
So, ready to get planting (and eating) quicker than normal? First you’ll read about what typical days to maturity are (to understand it a little better) followed by my favorite veggies that are quick growers. Let’s jump in!
- 1 Days to Maturity
- 2 Microgreens
- 3 Arugula
- 4 Green Beans
- 5 Beets
- 6 Spinach
- 7 Lettuce/Salad Mix
- 8 Sorrel
- 9 Orach
- 10 Baby Bok Choy
- 11 Radicchio
- 12 Dandelion Greens (Italian Dandelion)
- 13 Tokyo Bekana
- 14 Tatsoi
- 15 Radishes
- 16 Hakurei Salad Turnips
- 17 Mini Broccoli
- 18 Swiss Chard
- 19 Kale
- 20 Summer Squash/Zucchini
- 21 Sugar Snap Peas
- 22 Kohlrabi
- 23 Final Thoughts
Days to Maturity
The most important information about how long a crop will take is called “days to maturity.” Look for this phrase listed in seed catalogs or on seed packets. It is commonly written just as “days.” This is how many days the crop takes (once germinated) to first become harvestable.
Generally days to maturity are measured based on spring days when the light levels are increasing. Planting in the fall or winter will add days to maturity to almost every crop.
Keep in mind that days to maturity almost never include the time it takes to germinate the seed – which can vary from 2 days to 2 weeks, depending on the crop and temperature of the soil. Fortunately, most of the quick crops listed here germinate quickly given optimal conditions!
Do not be fooled into thinking you will be eating tomatoes 50 days from seed! Tomatoes listed as 50 days are 50 days + 3 to 4 weeks growing inside = 71 to 83 days from germination. This is an important distinction, which many gardeners overlook.
Can I Just Buy Transplants?
Yes and no – most of these quick growing crops are best started from seed. A few crops listed here, such as head lettuce, can be purchased as transplants at your local nursery. Transplants are great if you cannot grow your own and can save you time, with one big caveat: unhealthy, leggy, or root bound transplants will NOT save you time!
Unhealthy transplants are those with visible disease or pest problems. Leggy transplants are too tall and spindly due to not receiving enough light. They are weak and will most likely not mature into the beautiful crop you want. Good transplants are short and stocky with even-looking growth.
Root bound transplants have been sitting in the pot for too long, and the roots have begun to circle the bottom of the pot and turn brown. Root bound transplants may take longer to mature due to major “transplant shock” – the time it takes for the circling roots to establish a healthy, new direction after planting.
Some overly-root bound transplants will fail to thrive completely. Healthy roots are bright white with visible root hairs, and are just touching the bottom of the pot.
So if you need or want to buy transplants to save time, be a selective buyer! Check the condition of the roots, stems, and leaves before you buy and plant healthy transplants promptly!
How Can I Make My Plants Grow Faster?
The truth is you cannot make a plant mature in significantly less days than the “days to maturity” listed. You can provide optimal growth conditions so that the seed reaches its target date. Optimal conditions include: light, water, air and soil temperature, and soil heath.
When starting seeds of a new vegetable for the first time, become familiar with any special germination needs of the crop. Some crops specifically require light to germinate, or need an exact temperature range. Thankfully, most vegetable crops have similar, simple requirements for germination and can be started on a temperature-stable indoor windowsill.
Microgreens are the ultimate fast crop and can be grown in your kitchen window! They are baby vegetable or herb seedlings and are high in nutrients. Loaded with flavor, crunch, and texture, microgreens are hugely popular with chefs and are becoming more widely available in specialty grocery stores. Growing your own lets you choose varieties, is more economical, and is a great way to add quick greens to your diet.
Some microgreens will be edible in as little as 10 to 14 days from sowing, others take 16- 25 days. Arugula, broccoli, mustard, mizuna, and kale are just some of the many quick microgreens. Slower microgreens include alfalfa, beet, basil, sorrel, and many other common herbs.
When growing your own, it is ideal to purchase seed that is specifically sold for microgreens, since the seed tends to be higher quality and germination tested.
The general method is to thickly sow seeds indoors in a shallow tray in soilless media. Cover the seeds lightly with media, water well, and provide a warm environment.
Keep the seeds moist until germination and until harvest. For short, stocky microgreens, supplemental, bright lighting may be needed if your window is not south-facing, or during winter.
Most microgreens are considered mature and harvestable when they have cotyledons (first two leaves), and the first true leaf. Harvest as needed but before the microgreens mature past the first leaf. Wash before eating. Sow repeatedly in small batches to have fresh microgreens continuously!
Arugula lends a spicy, earthy, and even a hint of sweetness to salads or sandwiches. Enjoy these complex flavors in as little as 28 days a baby, salad-size leaf. It can be harvested for weeks after the baby size, up until it bolts. Mature arugula has a much spicier flavor and hearty texture.
Arugula tends to be one of the first seeds to germinate in the spring garden, even with cool soil temperatures. Unlike other veggies, it can also be harvested many times but will bolt once the weather turns hot. Reseed multiple times over the growing season for a fresh supply of tender baby leaves. In hot weather, arugula can be grown in the shade of larger plants to keep it from bolting as quickly.
Green beans can be ready to eat in as little as 50 days! If you’re late to the game in the garden and it is already July, you can still have a lovely crop before frost.
Be sure to choose early bush varieties. Bush beans do not need trellising (a huge time saver!) and tend to mature quicker than trellised varieties. Green beans are not frost tolerant, so check that you have enough days before your average fall frost before planting.
A multi-purpose crop, beet leaves and roots are both edible. The highly nutritious greens are harvestable in a few weeks from sowing. Baby beets can be ready in as little as 40 days and most larger beets are to size by 50-55 days.
They need proper spacing and even watering to mature quickly. Thinning the seedlings at cotyledon stage to 2” to 3” between plants will help your beets grow quickly.
Spinach needs cool soil temperatures to germinate and thrives in cool spring and fall weather. 28 days (after germination) is all you need to be eating your own homegrown spinach. Seeds can be spring-sown even when nights are still freezing.
For continual harvesting, remove up to ⅓ of the leaves from each plant, carefully avoiding the central growing point. Spinach will keep on producing until the weather gets hot in the summer, or sub-zero temps finally freeze out the hardy crop.
Fun tip – a few light freezes in fall improve the sweetness of spinach – though be sure to pick leaves only after they have thawed out during the day!
Four weeks is all you need to harvest your own salad mix! Growing your own gives you a wide selection of varieties to choose from, with fun names like Flashy Trout Back, Deer Tongue, or Rouge d’hiver.
A healthy crop of lettuce in cooler weather will yield at least two, sometimes three or four generous harvests. Sow continuously through summer in cooler spots of your garden to have fresh lettuce on hand all season long.
You won’t soon forget sorrel’s lemony kick! Sorrel can be grown as a microgreen, or planted in your garden as a perennial down to zone 3. Tangy tasting leaves emerge early in the spring and can be harvested right away, at any size!
When harvesting baby leaves off a perennial plant, be sure to only pick ⅓ of leaves at any time. This allows the plant to recover and have enough leaves to keep photosynthesizing. As hot summer days arrive sorrel will send up seed stalks that can add interest to the perennial garden.
Orach is a unique green sometimes called mountain spinach, that can be found in green-leafed or red-leafed varieties. Related to amaranth, the leaves are edible and taste like spinach, but tolerate and thrive in the heat. It’s a fun, multipurpose crop to try since the blooms and seed heads can be used as a cut flower.
Orach is also quite quick to harvest, with baby size leaves ready at 28 days. It can be grown as a microgreen too, at prime size in only 10 to 14 days.
Baby Bok Choy
The flavor and freshness of homegrown bok choy is so much better than store-bought that you will never want to eat bok choy from the grocery store again! Bok choy is also one of the easiest, quickest crops to grow in your garden, with baby-sized heads forming as soon as 37 days.
Choose a variety that is bred for small sizes, or harvests the side shoots off a larger bok choy for baby bok choy. Full-size varieties only take a bit longer, about 50 days. Try a green-stemmed or red-leaved variety to add interest to your garden.
Bok choy does best in cooler spring and fall days since hot summer temperatures cause bolting and spicy flavors. Flea beetles also love bok choy, so plant a trap crop or use a row cover to achieve pristine leves. Flea beetle damage is unsightly, but the bok choy is still edible and the damage will not be noticeable when it is cooked in a stir-fry.
Radicchio has a wide array of growth types, from cute, mini-cabbage heads in a stellar burgundy color to speckled leaves and romaine lettuce size leaves. It lends a bittersweet, unique flavor to salads and brightens up the bowl with contrasting deep red and white color.
The quickest radicchio varieties can be harvested in 50 days. It’s also grown similar to head lettuce but is somewhat less uniform in growth than head lettuce. Radicchio does best in cooler temperatures, and many varieties are best grown in fall.
Dandelion Greens (Italian Dandelion)
Dandelion greens are a quick, highly nutritious leafy green that has a similar growth habit to head lettuce. With a somewhat bitter taste, dandelion greens have either lovers or haters and not much in-between! Baby leaves can be eaten at 40 days, with full size leaves harvestable at 52 days.
Cultivated dandelion is more closely related to chicory than the yellow-flowered lawn weed. Try growing a red-stemmed variety to add some color to your spring salad plate. Harvest the outside leaves only (rather than cutting the whole plant) to have continual greens for months.
Tokyo Bekana is a super fast, easy to grow, hybrid Asian green that looks like a cross between napa cabbage and bok choy. It’s one of a few types of cabbage that can be eaten as a microgreen at 10 to 14 days, as a baby salad-size leaf, or as a full size leaf at 45 days.
The full size “heads” can be harvested whole and treated like bok choy in the kitchen, eaten cooked or raw. Keep sowing over summer for a fresh supply of this crisp, flavorful green.
Tatsoi is a super fast, economical Asian green that will surprise you with a mellow flavor and hearty texture. The round, dark green, glossy leaves make a great substitute for spinach in the warmer months. Hot temperatures may give tatsoi a touch of hot mustard flavor when eater raw, but which usually dissipates when cooked.
it can be eaten as a baby leaf at 25-28 days, or harvested as a full size head at 40. Fun, hybrid red-leaved varieties are available, though the seed is far more expensive than the standard open-pollinated variety.
One of the fastest root crops you can grow, radishes are a fast growing favorite for many gardeners. Have full-size radishes in 28 days! Try the elongated red and white French Breakfast radishes for a treat that is hard to find in grocery stores.
Sow continuously over summer to ensure a supply of crisp, small radishes with a pleasant sweet/spice balance. Over-mature radishes become pithy and can be extremely spicy.
Hakurei Salad Turnips
A super sweet treat in early spring, salad turnips are not your regular turnip. Crisp, sweet, and juicy roots with tender, edible greens make salad turnips an outstanding quick crop. Hakurei is the most commonly available hybrid variety, though there are open-pollinated varieties available as well.
Salad turnips have a similar growth habit to beets. They are good to be picked over time, as the roots size up from ping pong balls (40 days) all the way up to baseball size. As you carefully harvest the larger turnips, leave the smaller ones to size up later.
Try growing mini broccoli, sometimes called broccolini, and you will never go back to regular broccoli. The sweet, tender, elongated shoots are a culinary dream and have a crunch similar to asparagus. Snapping the long stems off the blue-leaved plants is a satisfying way to do meal prep. Stems and florets can be steamed whole or chopped up as you would asparagus.
Mini broccoli will have edible shoots with small florets as soon as 30 days from transplant. If you harvest the 6” shoots regularly, the plant will continue to produce shoots throughout the season. Hot weather will temper shoot production and reduce sweetness.
Swiss chard’s rainbow of colors is a treat for a gardener’s eyes. A quick crop that tolerates heat, Swiss chard can take the place of spinach in almost any recipe. Grow Swiss chard for baby leaves that mature in a month, or as full-size leaves that are ready in as little as 55 days.
Swiss chard stems are edible and lend a beet flavor when added to stir-fries or eaten raw in salads. Try growing the Bright Lights variety to get vibrant stems in red, yellow, orange, and white.
Yes, good old kale is a great crop for impatient gardeners. With outstanding health benefits, cold-hardiness, and adaptability to container gardening, kale is an impatient gardener’s friend. Due to kale’s popularity, transplants are commonly found in garden centers.
Two or three mature, healthy plants will yield a bunch-worth of kale a week, which is plenty for most kale lovers. Kale can be sown for harvest at baby stage (28 days) or allowed to mature and harvested leaf by leaf, ready at 50 days.
Summer squash, aka zucchini, is the fastest fruiting crop in the garden. Plant a squash seed and harvest the fruit in 50 days! Plant when the threat of frost has passed, in a sunny location.
Be sure to allot ample space for the giant leaves, since some plants can grow up to 4 feet across! Summer squash loves the heat and needs plenty of water to develop delicious fruits.
Mix up your normal green zucchini with tender yellow crookneck or funky-looking saucer-shaped patty pan squash. Costata romanesco is an Italian heirloom variety that will impress you with its nutty flavor, enormous plants, and beautiful striped fruits.
Sugar Snap Peas
A winner with kids and adults, sugar snap peas can be harvested as soon as early as 51 days from planting. Planting a bush variety that does not require trellising will save time and is just the right height for children to help harvest.
Kohlrabi is one of the most intriguing-looking vegetables, with a round, smooth bulb and edible kale-like leaves protruding from the sides. Green skinned or purple skinned varieties are available of this traditional German storage crop. It’s quick too; in just 40 days you will have harvestable kohlrabi.
Peel the bulb to get to the crunchy inside that is similar in crunch to jicama but tastes like a sweet broccoli stem. Kohlrabi works great in coleslaw, can be fermented, or just eaten raw as a snack.
Growing your own food is always a time investment when compared with the instant purchase at the grocery store. However, the flavor, variety choice, and pure satisfaction of seeing the magic process of seed to the table cannot be matched. Choosing any of these 21 quick crops will balance the beauty of homegrown food with the needs of impatient gardeners.