To get a crop out of your garden quickly, choose some fast-maturing vegetables. For vegetables that are normally transplanted, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, the maturity date stated on the plant tag is the number of days after the plant is set out until harvest. For seeds, it is the number of days from planting the seeds to harvest, which is normally stated on the packet. Be sure to label your plantings. Popsicle sticks written on with pencil are the most economical plant labels and stay readable the longest.
How to Plant Early Season Vegetables: Early Season Lettuce Cultivars
Fresh lettuce from a spring garden tastes so much better then grocery store lettuce. While most varieties take two months to mature, there are some naturally fast-maturing lettuce varieties. Choose fast maturing varieties to start out the season, and then in a week plant another crop. Succession planting every three weeks throughout the spring and up until late summer will provide you with fresh lettuce all season long. Plan on each loose leaf lettuce plant being productive for three weeks.
New Red Fire Lettuce is a Ruby red looseleaf variety that matures in 29 days. It can be grown in the summer as well as the spring and fall since it tolerates heat without bolting. (1)
Dazzle Lettuce is a miniature romaine lettuce that matures in 35 days. This red variety forms a small head, or heart, and each one is enough for one salad. It makes a beautiful, colorful and nutritious Caesar salad. (1)
Tom Thumb Lettuce is a miniature butterhead lettuce which produces small heads in 34 days. Its dark green outer leaves reveal a cream-colored center, and each head is the perfect size for a salad. It can be planted in summer, since it tolerates high heat without bolting. (1)
Revolution Lettuce is a red, frilly-leaved looseleaf lettuce similar to lolla rosa that matures in 38 days. It is thick and crunchy leaves stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, and it is resistant to bolting from heat. (1)
Two Star Lettuce is a neon green looseleaf variety that matures in 45 days. It has frilly leaves like endive that are succulent and crisp. (1)
How to Plant Early Season Vegetables: Early Season Squash Varieties
Early season summer squash is best picked when it is small and tender. A few varieties will mature into winter squash if left to grow, and the seed packet will state this. Squash likes warm weather, so provide protection if a frost is expected, but make sure to uncover them as soon as it warms up. Although summer squash tends to stay smaller than winter squash, some summer squash plants get quite large, so plan on providing sturdy supports to grow them upright, or allow space for them to sprawl.
Early Yellow Summer Crookneck Squash was introduced in 1900. Its mild fruit can be picked at 5-6
inches, within 42 to 60 days. (2)
Black Italian Marrow Zucchini, or Black Zucchini, is a productive, everbearing bush plant. Its
green-black fruits can be picked in 44 to 64 days when they are 6 to 8 inches long. Plants can grow to 4 to 6 feet high. (2)
White Patty Pan, or Scallop Early White Squash is an early variety summer squash. Its fruit matures in 47 to 65 days. Plants can grow to 4 to 6 feet high. (2)
How to Plant Early Season Vegetables: Early Season Carrots
For clay soil, containers, or a fast-growing salad, small carrots are best. Unlike the baby carrots sold in supermarkets, these are naturally small and grown for their flavor. Baby carrots at the grocer are actually large carrots that were not straight, so they were cut up and shaped like baby carrots.
Little Finger Carrot or Lady Finger Carrot is a French variety bred for gourmet baby carrots. Harvest these when they are as big as your index finger, in 50 to 68 days, for use fresh, canned, or pickled. Small varieties of carrots are good for container growing. (2)
Parisian Carrot or Parisienne Carrot is an English gourmet baby carrot that dates back to 19th century Paris. Harvest these sweet, orange carrots at 1 to 1 ½ inches. These round European heirloom baby carrots are orange and very sweet. They do well in containers. (2)
How to Plant Early Season Vegetables: Other Early Season Vegetables
To make your salad complete or to make your first batch of fresh salsa, choose some quick-growing salad vegetables and peppers. All radishes are ready to harvest quickly, some as soon as 25 days. Plant some later-maturing vegetable varieties at the same time to keep the harvest coming.
White Wonder Cucumber is an 1893 introduction from W. Atlee Burpee. Its ivory colored, 7 to 9 inch long fruit will mature in 36 days. This variety will keep producing in the hot weather, and is good for pickles or slicing. (2)
Contender Beans are a popular stringless variety from 1949, and harvesting begins in 40 to 55 days. The heat-tolerant, disease-resistant plant reaches 12 to 20 inches tall and produces 6 to 8 inch dark green beans. If left to mature and dry, the beans can be used for baked beans, soup, or refried beans. (2)
Bloomsdale Spinach matures in 39-60 days, and can be harvested whenever the leaves get big
enough. This old favorite is an heirloom dating back to before 1908, and continues to produce better
than most spinach varieties. (2)
Oregon Sugar Pod Pea is a dwarf vine producing sweet, 5 inch snow peas in 70 days. Peas can be planted before frost end for the season. This very popular variety is productive and resistant to many diseases. (3)
De Cicco Broccoli was introduced in the 1890s and matures in 49 days. The plants produce 3 to 6 inch central heads and continue to produce side sprouts after the main head is harvested. When the head is ¼ developed, start using the young leaves as salad or cooking greens, similar to collard greens. This variety does well when planted in the spring, late summer, or fall. (3)
Doe Hill Golden Bell Sweet Pepper is a pre-1900 heirloom from Virginia, and is one of the earliest sweet peppers to produce. Its small, golden-orange, pumpkin-shaped peppers are sweet and fruity, and make good early summer salads. The 2 foot tall plants are disease resistant and well adapted to most locations. (3)
Red Russian Kale is a mild, tender variety that does not get bitter. It matures in only 40 days and will continue to produce on 2 foot plants. The veins are accented with red, and become more red with cold weather. (3)
Hungarian Wax Pepper is a hot banana pepper that matures in 60 days. Its medium-hot, 6 to 7 inches long fruit are shaped like bananas, maturing from pale green to yellow to red. It is well adapted to cool and warm growing conditions and can be used fresh or canned, or pickled. The plants are suitable for containers, getting 2 to 3 feet tall, and will continue producing until frost. (3)
For a fast-growing salad or the freshest salsa, there are many vegetables that can be harvested in a shorter time period than their later-maturing relatives. This can extend the amount of time that you can be harvesting from your garden. You will be surprised how much better your fresh, home-grown produce tastes.
Source for seeds and/or plants and information: