Fastest Growing Vegetables for Short Season Gardens
Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a mild enough climate where temperatures rarely drop below freezing, allowing for year-round gardening. Even if you do experience all four seasons, the difference between a 90-day average growing period in a zone 2 growing area and 125 growing days in zone 3 can make a substantial impact on what types of crops you can successfully grow before frost inevitably hits. However, even in Zone 1 there are crops with a fast enough sprout to harvest time where you can experience a bountiful garden before the cold inevitably returns. Even if you live in an area with a longer planting window, you can still use the following information to grow more food by utilizing succession planting or planting a fall garden to enjoy fresh produce right up to your first frost, possibly even longer!
Many snap beans are ready to harvest within 50 days, allowing plenty of time for most gardeners to even succession plant over a few weeks to extend their harvest. However, as long as you continue to pick your beans regularly once they start to produce, you'll be swimming in beans often right up until frost depending on how long your season is. If you live in zone 4 and above, you may even be able to get away with planting a second crop mid summer to spread out your harvest even further. Like lettuce, snap beans come in a variety of sizes and colors, though many will turn green once cooked. However, used in salads and other raw applications, colorful snap beans varieties like Dragon Tongue, Golden Butterwax, and Purple Teepee can really add a pop of color and amazing flavor to your favorite summer dishes. Look for bush beans if you're growing season is shorter, as in most cases they will start producing sooner than pole varieties.
Lettuce and Other Leafy Greens
Lettuce is one of the most over-priced items you can buy in the grocery store when you look at the price per weight in relation to other produce. Let's look at bananas for an easy example. Taking into account that most bananas are shipped from tropical areas outside the United States, even organic bananas rarely get above $1.00 per pound. However, greens like spinach or even basic lettuce varieties, which can be grown in most any backyard, it's not uncommon to see 5-8 ounce containers of greens going for as much as $3 to $6 a container. That's as much as $12 a pound! While growing lettuce may not seem as glamorous as tomatoes, the Internet opens the door to ordering all kinds of different varieties of lettuces and other greens to make your own unique salad mixes. Instead of focusing on growing a full head of lettuce, increase your season yields even further by using a cut and come again method. Remove just the outer leaves over and over again and allow them to grow back for continuous harvest. Try heirloom gardener favorites like Black-Seeded Simpson, Oak Leaf Lettuce, or the deep-colored Red Besson lettuce.
Radishes are not typically the first vegetable you want to eat straight out of the garden like carrots or cherry tomatoes. However, you don't have to plant boring, bland radishes to get fast turnarounds on your harvest. While short season gardeners may not have the length of season to grow large show-stopper varieties like the often-pictured watermelon radish, you don't have to plant standard radishes either. Look for bright and colorful radish mixes that can turn around in as little as 30-40 days like Easter radishes, or heirloom varieties like bright yellow Helios, or sweeter, less spicy varieties like the Pink Beauty.
If you live in a short-season climate, you may also benefit from the cooler temperatures that fast-growing vegetables like beets crave. While carrots can often take a full season to get to a large size, beets often mature starting within 50 days of planting your seeds. While beets don't typically like to be moved around a lot, many gardeners have experimented with early starting beet seeds in soil blocks to shorten the outside time to harvest even further. Beets also count as a double vegetable in that you can start harvesting the tender and healthy beet greens in as little as 30 days from when you first plant. Like most of the other items on our list, experiment with different types and varieties of beets outside of the traditional red. Beets come in different shapes and colors ranging from sweet golden beets to the candy cane target striped Chioggia beet.