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The 20 Fastest-Growing Foods To Get Self-Reliant Now

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If you’re feeling the stress of current events, you’ve probably spared a thought to the security of your food supply. What would happen if there was nothing on the shelves at the grocery store next week? Though that is unlikely to happen, it is still important to be prepared.

The best solution is to start growing your own food for your family. A homegrown food supply is a great way to ensure your basic needs are met, and reduce the stress of dealing with the current economic or political climate. 

But what if you don’t have a big backyard? Many people make the mistake of thinking they need a lot of land to grow enough food, but you would be surprised how much you can grow with a few pots or a vertical planting system in a small space. In fact, there are reports of people growing dozens of plants and harvesting 150-175 pounds of fresh produce in a year just from containers on an apartment balcony.

Here is a rough timeline to help you get growing, harvesting and eating your own crops as fast as possible. 

Ready in 7 Days

Sprouts

You may not be able to grow a full vegetable ready to eat in 7 days, but you can certainly harvest and enjoy some delicious sprouts. Research shows that sprouts are among the most nutritious foods you can eat, with amino acids and proteins becoming more digestible as the seeds or legumes sprout. Common choices for sprouting are broccoli seeds, alfalfa or mung beans. Many other types of beans and legumes are also used. Simply choose your seeds, place in a bowl or jar, and soak overnight. Drain them well, then rinse and drain daily for 5-6 days, at which point they are ready to eat!

Wheat Grass

Though wheatgrass isn’t usually eaten, juicing it is an excellent way to get some fresh, homegrown nourishment into your tummy in a short period. If you have a juicer, wheatgrass is undoubtedly worth growing, since a 2018 study noted that the proteins and antioxidants in wheatgrass might help prevent disease, reduce oxidative stress, and boost the metabolism. 

All it takes to grow wheatgrass is a cup of seeds, a glass jar, a spray bottle, a soil-filled seed tray with drainage holes, and a large plastic bag. Start by soaking the seeds overnight, then drain and rinse every 8 hours until they have sprouted tiny roots. Sprinkle on top of the tray of wet soil and keep wrapped in a plastic bag in a shady spot for the first four days, misting daily. On the fifth day, place the tray in a sunny window for a few more days. Harvest when the grass is seven inches tall.

Ready in 14 Days

Sunflower Shoots

Here is another nutritious form of sprouts, which take a little longer to grow since they are eaten at a slightly more mature stage. Sprouts offer up ample amounts of chlorophyll, the green plant substance which keeps our blood healthy, reduces inflammation, calms the nervous system, revitalizes tissues, and balances pH levels in the body.

Harvest by cutting the stems once they have two leaves, but before they show their “true leaves,” since sunflower shoots become bitter as they age.

Garden Cress

Ready to harvest in as little as two weeks, garden cress can be planted anytime from early spring. This tangy herb saves space in the garden; you only need a 1 or 2-foot square patch to keep up an abundant supply.

Ready in 21 Days

Radishes

These spicy little roots are low-maintenance and fast-growing, making them the perfect pet project for young gardeners. Some types are ready in as little as three weeks from seeding. Harvest radishes as soon as they are large enough to eat since they get spicier as they grow larger, and can even become woody and will crack if left in the ground too long. 

Green Onions

It may take around six months to produce full-size onions, but you can harvest green onion stalks around 3-4 weeks. They taste delicious as a garnish for soups, mixed into scrambled eggs, or added into stir-fries. If you want something nutritious and packed with flavor, then know that you can have all of that fresh from your own garden in less than a month.

Tatsoi 

A low-growing mustard green, tatsoi is a wonderful addition to salads and soups. Tender baby tatsoi leaves can be harvested when they reach 4 inches in length, or you can wait up to 40 days for tatsoi to mature to full size.

Ready in 28 Days

Lettuce

The trick to growing lots of colorful, nutritious salad leaves is to pop in a few ready-grown seedlings from the garden center while you wait for your seeds to germinate. Plan a succession of salads by planting more every two to three weeks. 

The non-hearting varieties such as Cos, Lollo Rosso, and Buttercrunch can be harvested as needed, so you don’t have to wait for the whole plant to mature. Take two or three outside leaves from each plant at any one time. This allows the remaining leaves to grow on and provide another cut in a few days. Cut little and often for best results.

Spinach

Spinach is the classic example of an easy and nutritious plant to grow in your garden, even if you don’t have a natural ‘green thumb’. The nutritious leaves of spinach are loaded with iron, calcium, protein, and vitamin A. You can begin cutting individual baby leaves after 3-4 weeks or harvest whole plants 35 to 50 days after seeding. 

Arugula

A member of the brassica family, this mildly peppery herb and leafy salad green is a rapid grower, so you can start harvesting baby leaves in just a few weeks. Pick leaves when young and small as the flavor is not as spicy. 

Kale

These robust vegetables produce baby leaves in around 25 days and mature ones after about 60 days. The young and tender leaves can be harvested continually throughout the growing season from the time the plant is about two inches tall. Avoid picking the central bud, since this keeps kale growing and productive.

Bok Choy

Bok choy – also known as pak choy – is a cool-weather vegetable that is best planted in spring and fall. It tastes great in soups and stir-fries. If you are looking for something different to grow that will produce a fast harvest, then you should definitely consider Bok Choy. Baby leaves can be harvested in a month, or you may choose to wait a couple more weeks for full-sized bok choy heads.

Ready in 5 Weeks

Turnips

Turnips are a wonderful vegetable to grow because you get two products in one. The large root bulbs are ready to harvest in less than two months, but you can also choose to pluck smaller bulbs from the soil early for a milder flavor. The greens are also delicious and can be cut for use in salads or side dishes.

Beets

Beets tend to be one of those polarizing foods that you either love or hate. But even if you don’t care for the actual beet itself, you may enjoy the greens that come from the plant. Beets produce nutritious greens that are ready to be picked about a month after sowing. Be sure to snip off only one or two leaves from each plant to allow the root to keep growing. Beetroots can be harvested soon after they start to show their ‘shoulders’ above the surface of the soil.

Ready in 6 Weeks

Zucchini

Zucchini is a fast grower, and each plant will produce around 6 to 10 pounds of fruit. The produce of the zucchini plant is edible at three different stages. Zucchini flowers are a gourmet delicacy when stuffed with cream cheese or fried. The zucchini fruit is the stage we are most familiar with; be sure to harvest the fruit young before it becomes woody. When zucchini is over-mature, it becomes a ‘marrow’, which can still be eaten grated, roasted, or made into soup.

Broccoli 

Broccoli is a fast germinator and delicious when picked young. Broccoli microgreens are touted as one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. A full head of broccoli will take several weeks to grow, but you can start harvesting earlier if you’re happy to eat smaller florets. Broccoli is hardy enough to grow in cooler weather, so it’s a good way to maintain your intake of homegrown green vegetables through the colder months.

Green Beans

Another great crop to enjoy with kids, green bean growing doesn’t have to be complicated. Plant a dwarf variety of green beans for low-maintenance growing. Pick pods often and eat when they are small and tender.

Ready in 7 Weeks

Baby Carrots

Add some color to your homegrown produce with a variety of carrots in colors like red, white, orange, yellow, and purple. Choose a small, finger-sized variety to get a quick harvest in just 6-7 weeks. 

Cucumber

Cucumbers are easy to grow, and just one plant will produce armloads of the crunchy, refreshing fruits. Growing cucumbers on trellises and along fences allows for efficient use of space. Dwarf or pickling varieties will get you an edible crop the fastest. Keep cucumbers watered well to avoid moisture stress, and harvest fruits continually so you don’t end up with a bitter-tasting product.

It doesn’t take long to experience the satisfaction of harvesting your own fresh greens, herbs, and vegetables. All you need is a few seeds and a little empty space for a planter, pot, or garden bed. What will you grow first?

-Liivi Hess

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