Maximising Space 3: Fast Growing Crops

Pea shoots are fast, versatile (even growing with very little sun) and delicios

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:

  1. 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’).
  2. 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’.)
  3. 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.


First early potatoes grow quick enough to let you get another crop in the pot by late June


Your turn

What’s your favourite fast maturing crop? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments




13 comments… add one

  • I get sunlight for only an hour and half. What vegetables can I grow in containers. Please help!

  • Love the article, thanks. I need some advice. On my small balcony I have some rocket and miscellaneous herbs which are starting to grow. Should I leave them as they are or should I renew the soil or add new compost for example? Also on the internal windowsill of my kitchen I have a couple of old shoots of chilly peppers which did not give any fruits when planted last year. An other point, I have a small Indoor wormery (too cold to leave them on the balcony) and wanted to know the proportion of compost to soil to put in pots. Thank you very, very much.

  • I must say my eyebrows raised when you said the courgettes were ‘slow growing’. I’ve just planted my first ever courgettes – Defender F1 and the growth in the 8cm pot I sowed it in is the fastest of any plant I’ve ever grown. Quite phenomenal!

    Peppers are rather slower, although they are now setting first fruit after being sown in early February.

    • Hi Rhys, you’re right, courgettes are not really slow growing as such, thanks for pointing that out. My point really is that you’ll still have to wait around 10 weeks to get your first courgette, while you’ll get a crop of pea shoots in just 2 weeks. When you sow a courgette, you have to leave it lots of space to grow (they’re bushy beasts!) and so there will be a period after sowing your crop when much of the pot will be relatively empty. In that time you can grow pea shoots, or radish or perhaps even rocket in the empty space, while you wait for your (fast growing!) courgette to grow!

    • Oh, yes, and I meant to say congratulations on your first pepper setting – 6 May is amazingly early for a first pepper. My chilli plant, also sown in Feb, are still a long way off.

  • Hey it’s Chase from SoCal. Great info on spacing your vegtables correctly. I can’t tell you how many gardeners I know that plant their crops too close to each other. All plants require correct spacing so the root system doesn’t tangle. One thing I started doing was using fabric pots and seperating all my crops. Good luck and happy growing!

  • Bush beans! Pretty flowers, yellow or purple beans are available (altho my all-time favorite is always always Provider–best flavor, longest productivity, highest yields; I actually tested about 20 varieties one year). You can easily get two crops a year outdoors. Heck, I’ve got a pot of them in my kitchen that did modestly well during our late winter months.

    • That’s a good tip Lee – I’ve always gone for the climbing beans (on the theory that you can fit more plant in less space) but will try to give bush beans another go. I’ve tried searching for Provider – but it seems this variety is not widely available (if at all) in the UK. I’ll keep my eye out!

      • Speedy is a handy french bean for tucking underneath things. It cropped very well under my cucumbers last summer. I was away and didn’t sow until June but still got three crops off each plant
        And you missed one of the golden oldies out of the instant salads – never forget cress. Sow it in pots or the ground and let it get a few more leaves on than usual and you can keep cropping it for months with a pair of scissors or just plant something smothering – like those courgettes

  • Thank you for yet another terrific post. So useful!

    • V pleased it’s useful Jane!

  • This is a really helpful list: thank you. I particularly like the potato idea: works the same in a small garden to have new potatoes followed by tomatoes or something else that can’t be planted out until after the frosts. Thanks!


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