by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Impatient gardeners want vegetables that grow fast! Discouragement sets in while waiting for the tomato and pepper harvest. Supplement with these fast-growing vegetables, and you will be picking fresh vegetables in just a few weeks. Succession plant every other week for a continual supply of healthy goodness the entire year. Here are the nine plants you can start early in the growing season.
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Arugula (Eruca vesicaria) has a slightly peppery flavor that makes it delicious in salads. Replace basil with arugula for pesto with zing. Because its roots are relatively shallow, arugula can also be grown successfully in containers. Seeds emerge in under 14 days and are fully ready to harvest by the end of the month. The earlier you harvest the leaves, the more tender and sweet the arugula will be. A better flavor is had through the heat of summer when this plant has some shade.
Bok Choy (Brassica rapa) is another quick-growing vegetable. Bok choy (also known as pak choi) is a type of Chinese cabbage. You can grow two varieties: baby bok choy, which is less than 10″ inches tall, and standard bok choy, which grows 1-2′ feet tall. Bok choy is best planted in partial shade for best results, though it can handle full sun in spring. Directly sow your seed into the garden and realistically harvest it in 45 days. Transplant a Watters starter plant and harvest next week:)
Broccoli Rabe (Brassica ruvo) is called broccoli raab or rapini and resembles broccoli; it is closely related to turnips. This vegetable grows best in full sun and is ready to harvest in 50-60 days. This plant bolts fast into flowers, so harvest the clusters as soon as they appear. The leaves and stems of broccoli rabe are also edible and taste best when young.
Cress (Lepidium sativum) is another unique green made popular by its peppery flavor and ease of growing. The flavor is better when grown in spring or autumn. The summer heat increases this peppery flavor to almost hot. It’s often grown throughout the winter as a delicious microgreen. Sprout cress seed in shallow trays lined with wet paper towels. Sprinkle the seeds over the surface and cover them with plastic wrap. The cress germinates within a couple of days. Harvest as soon as leaves are about 2 inches in size. You can sow each week successively for a continual harvest.
Kale (Brassica oleracea) is one of the most cold-tolerant plants on this list of vegetables. It can be grown all 12 months of the year in mountain gardens. Proper irrigation is important because drought bitters the flavor. Harvest leaves from the outside of the bunch when they’re large enough to eat and continue to let the plant produce.
Mustard Greens (Brassica juncea) also need consistent water, as they will turn unpleasantly bitter if allowed to dry out. Although it’s not as cold-hardy as kale, it can tolerate light spring frost. Like lettuce and other greens, mustard greens are sensitive to heat and do best in early spring or given shade during the hot summer months. Harvest your mustard greens when the leaves are large enough to eat.
Radishes (Raphanus sativus) are one of the fastest-growing vegetables to tuck into your garden. Every garden should have some. The perfect vegetable for impatient children because of how quickly they grow. They can be harvested just three weeks after planting. Try planting heirloom radishes for unique colors, shapes, and flavors. Thin seedlings once they’ve sprouted so the roots can grow without constraint. Don’t bother trying to start radishes indoors either––just sprinkle the seeds outdoors where you want them to grow.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a nutritious vegetable that grows quickly in cool weather. Plant in 6+ hours of sun, and it’s ready to harvest in 4-6 weeks. Cut the individual older leaves and let the young inner leaves continue to mature. Cut all the foliage leaving 1″ inch showing at the base, and your spinach patch erupts with all new foliage all over again.
Turnips (Brassica rapa) are an old-fashioned vegetable that provides a great harvest. Both the leaves and the roots can be eaten. Turnips are among the least fussy plants on this list when it comes to temperature and garden conditions and can be planted through the entire growing season. Pick roots when they are tender, around 2–3″ inches in circumference, and harvest leaves when they are young.
Until next issue, I’ll be helping gardeners grow faster vegetables here at Watters Garden Center.