How to Grow Food in as Little as 3 to 4 Weeks

Garden = grow your own fast food

Many people garden for the pleasure of it. Some want to raise their favorite variety of tomatoes (like me) or the beans that have been handed down by their family for generations.

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Others want fresh, organic food for their families.

And still others want to grow enough food to feed their families all season long and to preserve for the year ahead.

None of these groups are exclusive - there are gardeners who raise vegetables for more than one of those reasons... maybe even all four.

Some folks garden to save money. True, if you jump in with both feet and buy all the things to build a complete raised bed garden, soil to fill those raised beds, trellis materials, transplants, soaker hoses, tools, etc all at once, you won't see a return on that money for a long time.

But if you approach gardening with a frugal mindset, you can save money. A lot of money. (For instance, you can build a raised bed garden for almost no money like I did.)

And you can raise food fast.

Uncertain times

I know the world is an uncertain place right now. Store shelves are pretty bare in some places. No one knows what the future holds, and some people want to garden this year so they can be sure they'll have food on their tables in months to come.

Food security. I talked about it last week: how to start a kitchen garden and increase your food security.

Nature's fast food: sprouts, shoots and microgreens

Are you wondering what you can grow NOW that will put food on your table fast? Don't assume you'll have to wait till fall to harvest your vegetables; you can grow food much faster than that - some in as little as three to four weeks!

No room for a garden? You might be surprised. Scroll down to the bottom to see what vegetables you can grow in a tiny garden and my suggestions for vegetables that grow well in containers.

Fast food

While it's true that you'd have to wait months for ripe tomatoes, watermelon, corn and so on, there are plants that will produce food quickly. For the most part, these plants will thrive in cooler weather too, so the time to plant them is very soon or even now, depending on where you live.

Many of these plants don't care for hot weather. Once the weather warms up, they tend to go to seed and your harvest is over.

But by then, the warm weather plants are beginning to produce, so while you're planting these fast-growing cool weather crops, plant these longer-growing plants at their appropriate times too. Consider it an investment. These plants will grow alongside your fast food, ready to provide fresh vegetables later in the season.

Let's take a look at the plants to you can start right now and have food on your table in as little as three-to-four weeks.

The fastest food

Certainly the fastest foods you can grow are sprouts and microgreens. Bonus: you can grow these indoors, any time of year.

Grow fast food in your own garden

You've probably heard of sprouting seeds in a jar. That's definitely the fastest-growing food!

I've sprouted organic broccoli seeds in soil, which works extremely well and provides fast, nutrient-dense food in just five days. This method takes slightly longer than sprouting but doesn't require as much time as microgreens.

Alfalfa, clover, lentils, mung beans, pea shoots and sunflower seeds are often sprouted in this manner as well as broccoli seeds.

Growing microgreens is similar to sprouting those organic broccoli seeds in soil, but microgreens are harvested in about 3-4 weeks.

Fast food in the garden

Cool season crops - those that are planted in spring - are fast-growing and can be harvested quickly, some in as little as three weeks. Most can survive a light frost.

How to grow food in as little as 3-4 weeks (sprouts are even faster!)

It's helpful to know the average last frost date for your area so you'll know when to plant. To find your average frost date, check out Dave's Garden and enter your zip code.

Seed packets say to plant "when the soil can be worked." To test, grab a handful of your garden's soil and squeeze. If it holds together in a ball, the soil is too wet to plant. If the ball disintegrates easily, the soil is less moist and is generally plant-able.

Check your seed packets for the best time to plant in relation to your last frost date. I've included some basic guidelines, but the packets will have more specific information.

Greens grow fast

Greens are easy to plant and easy to grow.

Sow a second planting two weeks after the first, and maybe a third planting two weeks after the second, so that you'll have a longer harvest.

Grow a spring garden for fast food

Most greens can be harvested in one of two ways: either cut off the more mature leaves and leave the rest of the plant to continue growing, or cut all of the leaves about an inch above the ground and let the plant grow back. The first method will give you a continuous harvest; the second method will yield two or three harvests.

To find the varieties that will grow the fastest, check seed packets and catalog listings for "days to maturity."

I buy my seeds from Mary's Heirloom Seeds. Mary sells only heirloom, non-genetically modified seeds and I'm extremely happy with the quality and germination rates of the seeds I've ordered.

Lettuce - ready in about 30-60 days depending on the variety grown. Begin planting two weeks before the last frost date. Grow looseleaf lettuce varieties for the fastest harvest. By cutting off the outer leaves as needed, the remaining plant will continue to grow and provide a longer harvest.

Arugula - ready in about 20-40 days. You can begin planting arugula as soon as the soil thaws in spring. Like lettuce, you can cut leaves as needed and let the rest of the plant continue to grow.

Mesclun - ready to harvest in about 35 days. Plant after the danger of frost has passed. Mesclun is a mix of greens that will grow well in both your garden or in containers. Harvest leaves as needed.

Mustard greens - baby greens are read to eat in about 25 days. Plant early in spring; it can tolerate a light frost. Mustard needs a lot of water while growing or it will taste bitter. Mustard does not like hot weather and is best planted in early spring. Depending on where you live, you can try growing mustard in the shade later in the season.

Spinach - ready in 37-45 days. Sow spinach directly in the soil 4-6 weeks before your last frost date; soak in water for several hours before planting for faster germination. Spinach loves shade and lots of water. Baby spinach leaves are sweet and tender; don't let it grow too long.

Chinese cabbage - ready in as little as 50 days. Plant 4-6 weeks before your last average frost date. Chinese cabbage prefers cooler temperatures. If you live in a hot climate you can try growing it in the shade.

Bok choy - harvest leaves after 21 days or the entire plant in 45-60 days. Plant seeds near the date of your last average frost.

Kale - harvest baby greens in about 25 days. Set out kale plants 3-5 weeks before the last frost date; you can start seeds indoors up to five weeks before transplanting to the garden. Kale requires a lot of water while growing or it will taste bitter.

Other vegetables that grow quickly

The ready-to-eat estimate I'm giving is just that, an estimate. The variety you're growing may take longer - or be ready sooner. Your weather, your soil and your location might also make a difference.

When buying seeds, look for names such as "Early Scarlet Globe Radish." That word "early" is a good indication that it's a short season variety.

Grow fast food in a spring garden

Radishes - ready in as little as 21 days. Sow radish seeds directly in the ground, 4-6 weeks before the last frost date. Thin seedlings to 3-4" apart so they'll have space to develop. Water well to prevent them from tasting hot and peppery.

Snow peas - ready in about 60 days. Can be planted early (as soon as the ground thaws, about 4-6 weeks before the average last frost date) and take about ten days to germinate.

Green onions - ready in about 20-30 days. Plant onion sets or plants when the outdoor temperature is supposed to remain 28°F or higher. Leave some in the garden to mature for summer onions.

Turnips - greens are ready to eat in 40 days; turnip roots in about 60 days. Harvest the roots when they are about 2-3" in circumference. The roots can be cooked in stew instead of potatoes.

Beets - greens are ready to harvest at 30 days; the beets at about 40-70 days depending on variety. Plant beets 2-3 weeks before the last average frost date.

Green beans - ready in about 40-65 days. Beans are frost-sensitive, so you must wait until the danger of frost has passed before planting them. Bush beans produce earlier than pole beans.

Summer squash and zucchini - you might be surprised to see this on the list of "fast food." While squash and zucchini must be planted later than the others - after all threat of frost - they can be harvested after about 35 days. Pick and eat squash when they are small for the best flavor. They grow super-fast so check the plants daily.

Add a fast-growing fruit

Strawberries are one of the fastest-growing fruits. Ever-bearing varieties will often produce berries the first year; June-bearing strawberries will bear the year after they are planted. You'll need to purchase plants rather than seeds. Once they begin to flower, you'll have ripe berries in about 4-6 weeks.

If you're short on garden space

You can grow vegetables even if you don't have much room for a garden. Some vegetable plants are space hogs, but others are more considerate.

Spring's cool-season greens and vegetables are nature's fast food.

Here are some suggestions for vegetables to grow in a tiny garden, and vegetables that are well-suited to growing in containers.

Wrong season? You can also plant these fast-growing foods in the fall. Read here to learn when to start a fall garden.

Check out Mary's Heirloom Seeds when placing your seed orders. Mary carries over 700 varieties of open-pollinated, heirloom, non-GMO seeds. You can read more about Mary's Heirloom Seeds in this guest post.

For more self-sufficient posts like this, subscribe to my weekly-ish newsletter "The Acorn", become a member of our Homesteading Community Facebook group, and join me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I'd love to see you there!

You can grow food in as little as 3-4 weeks, and sprouts in even less time! This list tells you what to plant and when, and approximate harvest dates too. Start gardening and grow your own food!

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  1. SO much great information here! I have tried gardening a few times.. but have always failed. Sadly I do not have a green thumb but I keep at it hoping something will eventual bear fruit.

    1. Mother of 3, I hope that you'll try again and will be successful! It really doesn't take a green thumb, just some knowledge and persistence and patience. You already have the 2 "p's" so I hope you will stayed tuned and find the knowledge to help you succeed. Start with something quick and easy on this list, like lettuce and radishes.


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