Fast growing crops are invaluable in lots of ways. If you’re growing for the first time a quick success is rewarding and boosts confidence. If you only have a short time window to grow in – you might be a student in temporary accommodation, growing in a school, or going away on holiday – you can choose fast growing crops that will mature in the time you have available.
And they can help you to grow a lot more food in a tiny space. Use one or all three of the following techniques:
- Plant them in the gaps between larger, slower growing crops – like courgettes – and harvest them before the main crop matures. (A technique known as ‘interplanting’).
- Grow them in an empty pot before your main crop goes in. For example, you might grow pea shoots or rocket in March / April before the weather is warm enough to plant out tomatoes or runner beans in May. (This is sometimes known as a ‘catch crop’.)
- Use them as alternatives to slow growing crops like broccoli and cabbage.
Here’s a table of some of the most useful speedy crops, please add your experience and ideas in the comments below.
|Crop||Avg days to maturity *||Notes|
|Pea shoots, bean shoots||14 – 40||Delicious and hardy – great for early and late sowings. Perfect for filling a short gap in a pot or simply growing as a fast crop. Needs very little, if any, sun. Use dried peas, broad beans or ful medames from health food shops rather than buying expensive seed packets. Leave the roots in the soil after growing or put in a wormery – worms love them! (This is one of the most popular crops in my family – read about my peashooter here).|
|Sunflower shoots||14 – 30||Sweet and succulent, add flavour and texture to salads. Harvest before first set of ‘real leaves’ appear – as these taste bitter, and unpleasant. Seeds sold for sprouting work well.|
|Micro herbs||14 – 30||Some herbs are well suited to sowing thickly and harvesting as micro leaves. These include: coriander, basil, mustard, fenugreek, and dill. Use to garnish dishes (can look beautiful!) and to add a particularly vibrant herb flavour. You can also grow these (apart from the Basil) using herbs from the local deli.|
|Radish||21 – 40||Some varieties are very fast – there’s even one called the ’18 Day Raddish’! Leaves are also edible cooked or in salads – pick the leaves young as they can get a bit tough and bitter when older. (For a less hairy leaf try edible leaf radish or purple sessai). Leave a few plants to go to seed for pretty flowers and edible, crunchy, tasty radish seed pods.|
|Rocket||30 – 40||Fast, tasty green leaves – harvest small or let mature and grow as cut and come again (harvest the outer leaves and it will keep growing).|
|Mizuna, pac choi, mibuna, red giant, serifon, etc||30 (baby leaves) – 60||Fast and flexible – you can harvest these spicy Asian leaves as micro greens, baby leaves or full grown plants. If you’ve never tried them, I’d recommend buying a pack of mixed Asian salad leaves – and discovering which ones you like best.|
|Turnips or baby beetroot.||40 (baby leaves)- 80 (baby roots)||Sow thickly and thin to eat the leaves in salad. You can then harvest the roots small (and tender) or leave to mature longer. A flexible crop.|
|Chard, spinach, orach, amaranth, sorrel||40 – 60 (baby leaves)||More salad leaves you can harvest as baby leaves or leave longer to mature. Bright lights chard, purple orach and red amaranth will add a splash of colour, too.|
|Chinese Cabbage, Chinese broccoli||60 – 70||Good alternatives to traditional cabbage and broccoli (which can take 250 days to mature!) for the small space grower – maturing in a fraction of the time. Lovely in the kitchen, too – use in stir fries or salad.|
|Finger carrots||70 – 90||Like beetroot, you can harvest early for small carrots or leave to mature. The young leaves are edible if a little bitter, and rich in potassium. Add in small quantities to a salad.|
|Spring onions and leeks||70 – 90 (for baby leeks)||Spring onions and leeks are tall and slender, fitting neatly into small gaps between other crops. Harvest the leeks small and young for a sweet, tender crop (note: full sized leeks take 180 days or more to mature). An added benefit of growing a few onion related crops is that their smell deters and confuse some potential pests.|
|First early potatoes / peas||90 – 100||Not as fast as some – but if you sow in March, you’ll be able to harvest in June – and you’ll still have time to grow another crop in the same pot! Start the next crop in small pots in May so that it’s ready to go straight in when your potatoes or peas mature.|
What’s your favourite fast maturing crop? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments