As the abundant crops of summer begin to wind down for the year, that doesn’t mean your garden harvests need to come to an end too! Instead, replace your dwindling heat-loving plants with fast-growing crops that are better suited for the cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours that come with fall. In fact, many of our favorite vegetables grow best in the fall!
Read along and discover the fastest growing cool season vegetable crops for your fall garden. Some are ready to harvest in as little as 30 days! Others may take a couple of months, but can also be harvested and enjoyed immaturely if needed. You could grow any and all of these from seed, or get a jump start and purchase started nursery seedlings for some. I also include tips on how to accelerate plant growth, and extend your growing season. Don’t let looming winter weather stop you from gardening this fall!
You’ll notice a theme as you read through the list: to make use of the whole plant! By using the plants to their fullest potential, you’ll have plenty to harvest (perhaps enough to preserve even) in under two months time. Furthermore, many of the fast-growing vegetables on this list are incredibly cold-hardy and can survive freezing conditions.
Best Time to Start Fall Garden Crops
While timing varies slightly with each crop and climate, mid to late summer is generally the ideal time to get your fall garden started – especially if you are growing from seed. Check your planting calendars to cross-reference each veggie’s timing. The earlier your first winter frost comes, the sooner you need to get started. Some classic cool season vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts require many months to mature. Therefore, they need a good long head start in order to get a worthy harvest before freezing weather hits.
However, if time crept up on you (holy moly, is it fall already?!) or if your climate brings frosty winter weather sooner than most places, don’t get discouraged. Even if you miss the window for certain crops, there are plenty of cool season vegetables that don’t need much time to grow at all! That’s kinda the point of this article…. right? There is hope.
If you don’t have one yet, snag a free garden planning toolkit below. It includes planting calendars for every USDA hardiness zone! Also, be sure to check out our more extensive Fall Gardening 101 article for other tips.
5 Ways to Accelerate Plant Growth
Feeling pressed for time? There are a number of natural ways to help encourage plants to grow quickly, leading to an earlier harvest.
1) Choose the Right Varieties
Pay attention to plant descriptions! They should describe the ideal growing conditions, planting instructions, and ‘days to maturity’ for that variety. The days to maturity is the average time it should take from when the seed is planted until it is ready for harvest.
This can vary significantly between different varieties of the same type of vegetable! For example, many radish varieties may be ready to harvest within 30 days while others take 2 months or longer. Gardeners in northern climates with shorter growing seasons should heed those maturation dates more closely, and select quicker-developing types.
2) Starting Seeds Indoors
Sowing select seeds indoors can give you a jump start over planting them directly outside. The temperature swings, varying moisture levels, and other environmental conditions often makes seeds germinate more slowly or unevenly outdoors. On the other hand, seeds that are provided steady ideal conditions indoors will readily sprout – sometimes a week or more earlier than outside! Then, you can transplant them outdoors as small seedlings thereafter.
However, not all of the fast-growing vegetables on our list like to be started inside. Namely, root vegetables (e.g. radishes, carrots or turnips) do not like to be started in containers and transplanted later. That can easily stunt their growth. Rather, plant their seeds directly outside when the time is right.
Also note that some quick-growing crops prefer cooler soil to sprout than others. For instance, spinach, lettuce and onions like soil right around 60-70°F for the fastest germination, and may not sprout at all in the warmer conditions that other crops prefer. If it is still hot outside, the ability to control temperature is an added advantage to starting seeds indoors – but avoid using your seedling heat mat on those ones!
3) Thin Early
This just might be the top tip for the most explosive fast-growing vegetables of them all; an effective but often overlooked one at that! Whether you start seeds indoors or plant them directly outside, be sure to thin your seedlings early.
Once their first set (or two) of true leaves appear, remove or separate extra seedlings so that each single sprout has its own bubble of space to happily grow. Follow the guidelines provided on the seed package or description for adequate spacing between plants. To thin seedlings, we personally prefer to cut out unwanted seedlings at the soil line with pruning snips rather than pull them apart (to reduce risk of uprooting, disturbing, or otherwise stunting the “keeper”). Then, eat the thinned seedlings as microgreens!
When left un-thinned, seedlings compete for nutrients, water, air, and space. Trust me, I have done many side-by-side comparisons of thinned versus unthinned plants! While crowded plants will grow, they do so much slower. Once the extras are removed, a baby bok choy seedling or radish root can quadruple in size in just a week’s time! When you’re up against the clock, proper thinning can make or break your harvest.
Learn even more about thinning seedlings here, including a video demonstration on two thinning methods.
4) Start with Seedlings
Too late to start from seed? There is no shame in picking up some baby plants from your local nursery instead! Buying and planting started seedlings can give you weeks head start. Months even! It also eliminates the fuss over seed starting, if that isn’t your thing. If you’re using the Homestead and Chill planting calendars, the “transplant” time equates to when to plant nursery seedlings outside.
Check out this article for tips about choosing the healthiest and best seedlings at the nursery. For instance, bigger isn’t always better! Large seedlings in tiny containers are often root-bound, and will grow more slowly once transplanted compared to those that are still more small and tender. Also remember that not all types of fast-growing vegetable crops like to be transplanted as seedlings, like root veggies.
5) Feed Your Seedlings & Garden Soil
To give your fast-growing vegetable crops an expeditious oomph, be sure to feed them! When seeds first germinate, they do not need or want any fertilizer. In fact, fertilizing seedlings too early can shock or harm them. Yet after their first set or two of true leaves appear (the ones that come after the very first pair of spouts), seedlings benefit from a light feeding with a mild fertilizer.
For rapid growth, try watering seedlings with dilute seaweed extract, a fresh aloe vera solution, and/or homemade compost tea. Those are our go-to gentle organic fertilizers! When used correctly, they pose no risk of harming tender young plants. On the contrary, the plants will be perkier than ever. Just say No to Miracle Grow.
In addition, we always amend our garden bed soil between crops and seasons. About twice per year, we top our raised beds with fresh aged compost and various mild, slow-release organic fertilizers such as kelp meal, neem seed meal, and alfalfa meal (following a no-till garden philosophy). See our full seasonal fertilizing routine here!
Now that you’re armed with organic ways to make your quick-growing vegetables crops grow faster than ever, here is the list you came here for.
Fast-Growing Fall Vegetable Crops
At a glance
- Fava Beans
- Green Onions & Scallions
- Bok Choy
- Mustard Greens
- Other Leafy Greens
Keep reading for more insight on how to grow, use, and make the most out of each one!
(Start these fast-growing crops from seed)
Days to harvest: 28 to 60+ days
Smaller radishes such as French Breakfast or classic red round varieties will grow most quickly. Early thinning is especially important to promote speedy and healthy radish growth. Check out the video below to see what I mean! Pink Beauty, Crimson Giant, and Easter Egg radishes are some of our go-to favorite fast-growing crops. Ready in 30 days, you may have time to grow two rounds before the ground freezes!
In contrast, larger daikon-type radishes can take a couple months or longer – though they’re totally awesome to grow if you have the time. Daikon greens are incredibly nutrient-dense and tasty too, so don’t let those go to waste! Get creative with your radishes; they’re good for much more than just salads. Try them roasted, in soup or veggie sandwiches, sautéed, fermented into dilly radish pickles…
Learn more: How to Grow Radishes, from Seed to Table
Days to harvest: 25-30 days for turnip greens, 30-75 days for mature roots.
Like radishes, turnip maturation time will vary depending on the variety. Smaller tender “salad turnips” will be ready to harvest much sooner than larger varieties. Market Express is an awesome fast-growing, small, tender white salad turnip. Plant slightly larger types too, like Golden Globe. Even if they don’t reach their maximum root size potential, the delicious and mildly spicy turnip greens (similar to mustard greens) make them worthy of growing regardless. We love to eat turnip greens sautéed with other seasonal veggies, in soups or frittata, and more!
Once they have at least a handful of leaves, harvest one or two of the oldest, outermost leaves per turnip to enjoy each week (a “cut and come again” harvest style) – or take the whole bunch when it comes time to pull up the turnip root!
Turnips grow much like radishes – so feel free to follow the same tips in the radish article linked above.
3) Baby Carrots
Days to harvest: 40-50 days for baby carrots, 65-90 days for mature carrots.
Full-grown carrots do need more time than radishes or turnips do. However, if you space or thin them well to promote quick growth, you can totally harvest baby carrots in under two months time. Folks with short growing seasons should consider smaller, early-maturing varieties, though carrots can survive temperatures down to 15°F! For example, consider “Little Finger” baby carrots.
You may have seen this coming by now, but yes – carrot greens are edible too! Not just edible, but dang good. Make the most of your harvest and stock the freezer with carrot top pesto! Follow our Besto Pesto recipe, and simply replace the called-for basil with carrot greens. Carrot greens are also quite popular to use in fresh green juice or chimichurri recipes.
Days to harvest: 25-30 days for beet greens and 55-65 days for mature roots.
Similar to carrots, the beetroot itself may take a few months to reach its fullest potential. Look for early-maturing varieties such as Early Wonder. Baby beets can still provide a worthy harvest, but fast-growing beet greens are where it is AT! As a matter of fact, I know some folks who grow beets primarily for their greens! Certain beet varieties are even marketed for their extra-tall tasty tops.
Beet greens taste reminiscent to swiss chard, are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and can be ready to harvest within 30 days. Use the cut-and-come-again method to remove a few leaves at a time, or harvest the whole lot when frost is near. We love beet greens in soup, or simply sauteed with olive oil or butter, salt, pepper, and garlic. A little squeeze of lemon is always welcome too. The youngest tender beet greens are also wonderful fresh in green salads.
Of all root veggies, we’ve found that beets are the one that tolerate being started indoors. BUT only if they’re transplanted early and very gently, before the roots have a chance to become root-bound in the slightest.
5) Fava Beans/Greens (aka Broad Beans)
Days to harvest: 30-40 days for greens, 50 days for small beans, and 75-80 days for large mature beans.
If you haven’t grown fava beans before, you’re missing out! They’re all-around fantastic. Due to these legumes’ ability to fix nitrogen, fava beans are traditionally grown as cover crop to improve soil fertility, reduce erosion, and are also utilized as mulch. Yet they’re an incredibly versatile, delicious and nutritious edible crop as well. Not to mention the entire fava bean plant is edible! You can eat the leaves (similar to spinach), flowers, the outer bean pods or shell, and of course the individual inner beans. The main stalks are a bit tough, so save those for the compost pile.
All this combined makes fava beans low-risk, high-reward fast-growing crops for your fall garden. Even if freezing weather comes before the beans become massive, you’ll have something to harvest from these plants. Not to mention fava beans can withstand temperatures down to 10°F!
Small fava beans have super tender outer pods that can be eaten whole. Much of the flavor and nutrients are in the pods anyways! Also harvest leaves and the tender top portion of the beanstalk (topping the plants will simply make them branch) to use fresh in salads, soups, and sautees. Or, try our fava bean greens pesto recipe.
The simple act of growing fava beans will enrich your soil for next season. Be sure to leave the roots in place in the ground though! At the end of the season, cut the stalks out at the soil line and either let them decompose on top of the soil or in your compost pile.
(Grow the fast-growing crops below from seed or started seedlings)
Days to harvest: 25 days (baby leaf), 60 days (full heads)
Days to maturity can vary greatly depending on the lettuce variety. Those marketed as baby-leaf lettuces can give you the fastest harvest of all! Keep in mind that lettuce seeds prefer cooler soil temperatures to germinate, and may not sprout at all over 80°F.
Personally, we like to grow open-headed varieties of lettuce over tight-forming heads like iceberg lettuce. For example, oak leaf, red leaf, and loosely-bunching romaine varieties. That way, you can continually harvest a few outermost leaves from every plant each week instead of waiting for them to ‘head up’ all at once. Besides, darker leafy greens are more nutrient-dense than iceberg anyways!
Days to harvest: 25 days (baby leaves), 35-45 days (mature leaves)
Spinach does exceedingly well in the cooler, less sunny days of fall. Most types of spinach are fast growers, though you’ll get exceedingly early harvests with baby spinach, picking the leaves when they’re 2 to 4 inches long. Large or giant-leaf varieties are also known to grow quickly. Another one of our favorites is Flamingo spinach. Like lettuce, spinach will sprout most readily in soil temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees. Spinach is also known to become increasingly sweet in flavor after a light frost!
8) Green Onions & Bunching Onions (Scallions)
Days to harvest: 50-65 days for mature green onions or scallions
While full-blown onion bulbs need some time to grow, their green tops can be ready to enjoy in under two months time. ‘Green onions’ are simply the aboveground portion of young onions, harvested before the onion has a chance to form a bulb. Scallions (also known as bunching onions) are a slightly different type of allium. Those form little-to-no bulb at all, but the greens are used just the same. We particularly enjoy Red Florence and White Lisbon bunching onions.
Once green onions are at least 6 inches tall, you can either harvest just a few green shoots at a time, or wait and pull the entire young onion or scallion. For repeated harvests, green onions will re-grow if their greens are cut an inch or two above the soil line. Or, when the bulbous base and roots are placed in a glass of fresh water.
9) Bok Choy
Days to harvest: 21-30 days (baby greens) 45-50 (mature leaves, or full baby bok choy heads)
Baby bok choy (such as ‘Toy Choy‘) is the fastest growing type, but there are dozens of varieties of bok choy – sometimes also called pac choi. With its tight little head, baby bok choy is best to harvest all at once. Other more loose or open-headed bok choy are perfectly suited for cut-and-come again harvests, so you can get started on picking leaves even sooner. Our favorite type of bok choy is Joi Choi. Truth be told, it is one of our favorite crops to grow and eat… period! Joi Choi has large, thick juicy stalks – and is consistently the fastest vegetable seed to sprout out of all of our fall seedlings.
Learn more about cut-and-come-again here, with a video demonstration of me harvesting kale, bok boy, and plenty of other greens this way.
Days to harvest: 21-35 days (baby leaves), 38-50 days (mature leaves)
Arugula is perfectly suited for fall. When grown in spring, a sudden warm day can make it easily bolt. Yet the increasingly cool days of fall not only prevent bolting, but also bring out the best flavor of these fast-growing crops! Like other leafy greens, pinch off individual arugula leaves as you need them – ready for salads, soups, pasta, quiche and more.
Days to harvest: 30 days (baby greens), 50-65 (mature leaves)
Oh kale, you’re kind of the best. Kale is the ultimate cut-and-come again crop. As soon as our baby kale seedlings have at least 5 or 6 small leaves, we start taking a couple of their outermost leaves each week. As long as you leave a few behind to photosynthesize, the more you harvest, the more new leaves will grow from the middle! Never cut from the middle or chop the whole head off, unless you’re done with the plant for good.
Harvest small tender kale leaves to eat raw in salads, or of course any other way you’d normally use kale. As time goes on and winter nears, cold-hardy kale can easily outlast your other fast-growing fall crops. Kale not only tolerates light frost and snow, but gets even sweeter in flavor! However, do protect kale from hard frosts to keep it alive as long as possible. Different varieties of kale have varying levels of frost tolerance.
12) Mustard Greens
Days to harvest: 21 days (baby greens), 40-45 days ( mature leaves)
Mustard greens are another cool season favorite in our garden! They come in an array of colors, sizes, and varying degrees of spice. Our absolute favorite is Japanese Red Giant, with huge burgundy-streaked leaves with bright green stems. Green Wave is another popular one that has frilly green leaves. Both are fairly sharp, peppery, or some say “bitter” flavored. Other types of mustard greens are much more mild, such as Tendergreen (komatsuna). We love them either way! Like the other greens on this list, they’re perfect for perpetual harvests of baby greens or large mature leaves.
13) Other Leafy Greens
Days to harvest: 21 days (baby greens), 40-60 days (mature leaves)
Honestly, I could have called this article the “Top 20 Fastest Growing Vegetable Crops” instead of 13, and kept this on going! There are dozens of other leafy greens that grow quickly and happily in fall. Consider Swiss chard, collard greens, mizuna, sorrel, tat soi, or other asian greens – to name just a few! While all of these have the potential to feed you over many months (especially if you protect them from frost), greens are especially popular to harvest and enjoy young too. After all, microgreens and “baby leaf” salad mix are often a combination of Swiss chard, kale, and other asian greens.
How to Protect Plants from Frost
Most of the fast-growing cool season crops included on this list can handle a light frost, especially mature plants and varieties described as particularly cold-hardy. Even better, many of them become even more flavorful and sweet after a kiss of cold! However, young seedlings are susceptible to damage from frost, and even established plants can be killed from a hard freeze.
Keep an eye on your weather forecast, and be prepared to protect your plants as needed. One popular option is to cover the plants with frost cloth, either lightly laid right on top of the plants or supported over them with hoops. We use hoops and row covers extensively in our garden – for pest control and shade when needed too! Check out this article to learn all about setting up and using hoops and row covers. It includes options for both pre-made and DIY hoops, and goes over the different temperature ratings of various frost blanket weights.
Ready to grow some quick veggie crops?
What do you say? Are you feeling more confident and excited about your fall garden now? I sure hope so! If you follow the tips and suggested fast-growing crops we explored here today, you should be harvesting some homegrown goodies in no time.
Please let me know if you have any questions or additional suggestions in the comments below. Also, please spread the love by sharing or pinning this article. Thank you for tuning in, and best of luck with your fall garden!
You may also enjoy:
- A Beginners’s Guide to Using a Hobby Greenhouse
- Seed Starting 101: How to Sow Seeds Indoors
- Starting a Fall Garden 101: Cool Season Vegetable Varieties to Grow
- Cut and Come Again Harvesting: Extending the Life of Leafy Greens
- What is No-Till Gardening or Farming (aka No-Dig): Benefits Explained
- How to Amend (Fertilize) Raised Garden Bed Soil Between Seasons, or Before Planting
- Composting 101: What, Why & How to Compost at Home