It is a good thing I ordered the bulk of my seeds months ago and saved many from last year because I have noticed that many of the seed companies are on delayed shipping and some have even shut down ordering for the time being due to demand. It seems seeds are going the way of toilet paper in this pandemic. I understand the urgency. But I also remember my first garden and it wasn’t great. So I thought I’d do a post about choosing seeds for speed to give people an edge up on what I had.
There are several things to consider when creating a survival garden. In a crisis, you are looking for a short term fix and you will approach it differently than if you are looking to secure yourself a long term food supply. Also, your current weather conditions will restrict what you can plant right away. In this post, I am going to focus on the quick fix. We’ll talk about the long term food supply later.
Quick and Easy, Short Term Food Supply
I am sure you are aware that gardens don’t happen overnight. When I say “quick” talking about gardens I’m talking about 1-2 months to your first bite. We determine that by looking at the “Days to Maturity” rating listed on the seed packet somewhere. If it’s not on your seed packet, you can usually find that information on the seed seller’s website. If you can’t, you have to wonder if your seller really cares about the people they’re selling to.
Days to Maturity doesn’t tell you the whole story. It is an estimate based on perfect conditions. If you are looking at greens you can usually harvest baby greens in about half the time (If you only harvest about 1/3 of the leaves at the baby stage, they will usually keep growing for you to harvest more as they mature.) If you are looking at fruiting plants, the days to maturity is often counted from the time of transplant, which is often when the plant is already 6-8 weeks old. Look for the words transplant or direct sow to give you a clue what sort of math is being used there.
I know there are 100s of seed packets at your local grocery store or feed store and 1000s at the garden center. You could be there all day checking the days to maturity on seed packets. Don’t worry, I will give you a starting point based on your current weather conditions. Remember to look at your days to maturity and don’t just grab any seed packet. Some varieties take longer to grow. Note that I am only including plants that I consider easy for a beginner to grow with minimal preparation. There are others that grow quickly but are more complicated. I will also create individual grow guides for each item.
It’s pretty chilly, or it will be soon
I start planting my cool weather garden when I start seeing my crocuses. Like crocuses, many early spring crops are short-lived, so I plant a few more each week until about two weeks before my last frost date. They won’t all survive if a hard frost sneaks up on me, but that’s okay. I start planting them again about two months before my first frost date in the fall and stop again about two weeks before my first frost date. To find out where your frost dates fall, visit this link.
Radish- Radishes are the fastest crops you can grow. They take about a month. I am referring to small salad radishes, not the big daikon types, they take a bit longer. Some people love radishes, some hate them but I’ll tell you two things that might make them more palatable if you are in the latter camp- 1. radishes grown in the cold are sweeter and less spicy and 2. roasted radishes are mellow and delicious. Young leaves can be added to salads for a bit of a bite, but they get fuzzy as they get older. Still edible, but not pleasant. Radishes are rich in Potassium, Vitamin C, Folate. Try Cherry Belle Radish, 24 days!
Turnips- Turnips are another vegetable that many Americans haven’t got a taste for, but they are really nice roasted, especially if you harvest them golf ball-sized instead of waiting for them to get huge. As a bonus, they produce edible greens that are lovely in a salad when they are young and wonderful cooked when they are mature. Turnips take nearly 2 months to get fat roots, but you can pick off a few leaves a few weeks in without doing too much damage to the plant. Turnip roots are calorically dense and rich in vitamin C, Potassium and folate and turnip greens are loaded with vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, Calcium, Folate, Riboflavin, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper, and Manganese. Try Market Express turnips: 40 days
Fava beans- if you live in the US you may have trouble finding fava bean seeds but they’re worth looking for. They love the cold weather (and will become weak and miserable as soon as it warms up) and grow quite quickly. You can plant Favas in September for a late autumn harvest or in February-March for a late spring harvest. The seed packet says 65-85 days, but you will have tender baby beans within two months and when it gets hot out, you can use the spot you grew fava beans to grow something that likes heat. Fava beans may need some protection from the wind and a bit of frost will slow them down, but it won’t kill them. I am told that the entire plant is edible, but I haven’t tried the greens. (NOTE: There is a condition called favism that renders the fava bean toxic to those who gentically lack a certain enzyme. ) Fava beans provide protein, phosphorous, copper, manganese and folate. Try Sweet Lorane 60 days
Peas- Peas like to grow up things, so if you have a fence that gets a good deal of sun, plant some peas along it. Peas love the cold and aren’t too fond of heat. Snap peas are my favorite as you can harvest them and toss them right into a salad without worrying about getting the little peas out of the inedible pods, but they do take a little longer to grow (I like Sugar Daddy, 70 days). Snow peas have edible pods too and are harvested when the seeds are still tiny, so they take less time (Try Oregon Sugar Pod II, 60 days). Shelling peas have an inedible pod with fat tasty peas inside. (Try Green Arrow, 65 days). Plant extra and thin them for pea shoots for your salads. You can also let them mature for dried peas, but that takes quite a bit longer. Peas are calorically dense for their size due to their high sugar content and rich in Vitamins A, K, C, Thiamin, Folate, Iron and Manganese and have a decent amount of protein.
Kale- Kale is unstoppable. It enjoys cold weather and if you don’t uproot it this year, it may overwinter for you and produce broccoli-like flowers and reseed the second year. Endless kale. But for right now you just need to know that it will mature in about two months, producing strong-tasting greens that I prefer cooked or dried with a bit of salt and olive oil into kale chips. In about half that time, you’ll have tender baby greens for salads. Kale is rich Vitamins A, C, E, B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper, and Manganese. My absolute favorite kale is Red Russian, 50 days.
Beets- Beets take about two months to form fat roots, and again you want to harvest them pretty small for best flavor and texture. You can also harvest the baby leaves for salad greens (just one or two, don’t kill your roots) and chop up the mature leaves when you pull up the roots for use in casseroles. I love beets roasted and roasting roots are so easy. Just cut them up, toss them with oil and a bit of salt and spread them on a cookie sheet, roast at 375 for 10 minutes, give em a stir, 10 minutes more until they are fork-tender. Beet greens are rich in vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. Beetroots are more calorically dense and rich in Folate and Manganese. Try Early Wonder beets 48 days and if you are really put off by the red staining properties of beets, try Avalanche, 50 days.
Lettuce – There are a variety of lettuces available to the gardener. Leaf lettuce grows quickest while icebergs and romaines take longer, though I rather prefer baby greens from the romaines. There are lots of lettuce mixes out there, but salad mixes often contain things like beets and kale as well. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but if you are already planting beets and kale you’ll just be duplicating your efforts. Most lettuce mixes will have you harvesting a respectable salad in a little over a month. You can also choose individual varieties based on days to maturity; choose a variety of textures and colors for the most pleasing salad. Lettuce tends to turn bitter as the weather grows warmer. Lettuce is rich in Vitamins A, C, K, B6, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Potassium, and Manganese. Try Chef’s Choice Mesclun Lettuce Mix Seeds (Also includes mustard, endive and arugula), 21-45 days or Gourmet Baby Greens Mesclun Lettuce Mix (Various lettuces only), 21-58 days
Pak Choi and similar Asian greens will give you delicious stir fry greens in about a month. Pak choi is rich in Vitamins A, C, K, B6, folate, calcium, iron, potassium and manganese. Try Toy Choi, 30-35 days.
Broccoli Raab aka Rapini- like broccoli, only with little florets instead of a big head. This will be ready for you in about two months. Broccoli takes longer and is pickier about conditions. Broccoli raab is rich in protein, vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese. Try Rapini 45 days
Arugula- Arugula is a peppery/radishy salad green that grows quickly (its other name is “rocket”) and can be added to salads for a bit of a bite. It is ready to go in just a month and when it warms up it will soon become so strongly flavored it will be pretty much inedible. I like it, but nobody else in my family does so I’ve stopped growing it. Arugula is rich in folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and vitamins A, C and K. Try Arugula/Rocket 45 days.
Corn Salad aka Mache – is an underused green with fresh, nutty leaves. It grows well in cool weather and will have you picking its tasty leaves in just over a month. Corn salad is rich in vitamins A, C, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. Try Big Seeded Mache, 60 days.
Cilantro loves the cool weather and bolts to seed (Coriander) as soon as it gets hot. You’ll be clipping cilantro in just over a month if you plant it with your peas and greens and it is quite nice with peas. Not everybody likes cilantro, I know. Don’t plant it if you don’t like it. The flavor and fragrance is much stronger fresh out of a cool garden. If you love it you’ll be delighted and if you don’t you’ll be even more disgusted. Cilantro is rich in vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese. Try Long-Standing Coriander
Potatoes – If you’ve got seed potatoes, or organic potatoes from the grocery store, stick them in the ground. (I grow mine in straw and toss grass clippings on them all year) They will grow. Red Gold and Yukon Gold are quick varieties. Watch for them to bloom and the flowers to die back. Now you can start harvesting baby potatoes. These will go bad if you don’t eat them right away, so harvest them when you’re ready for them. Let them sit a bit longer for more and bigger taters. Whenever you harvest, leave some behind to keep making potatoes! Finally, when all the plants have died back, wait about 3 weeks then dig up the whole bed. Let your taters dry in the shade for 2-3 days and then put them in a cool, dark place for long term storage. Do not wash them until you are ready to eat them. Potatoes are important for the calories they provide.
Consider also – Endive, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Collards
It’s Hot Outside
When the soil is warm and you’re venturing forth without your layers, a different set of plants becomes viable to you. You want to make sure you plant about two weeks after your last frost date and at least three months before your first frost date for these. If you don’t know this information, click here to look at a map so you can sort that out.
Green beans – Green beans come in pole and bush varieties. Generally, the bush varieties produce more quickly, in just under two months, while the pole varieties take an extra two to three weeks. Pole beans are ideal where space is limited because they can grow along fences and I am told that pole beans are more prolific and better tasting. I find bush beans to be incredibly prolific and perfectly tasty. Anyway, my birds go after the pole beans more. They will continue producing beans all summer as long as you visit them and pick them daily. Green beans can be eaten right out of the garden, pickled, boiled or baked in casseroles. They are rich in vitamins C, A, K, Folate and Manganese. Try Contender Bush Beans, or Provider Bush Beans, 50 days or Seychelles Pole Beans, 60 days.
Cucumbers – Can take up quite a bit of space but produce tasty fruit in just about two months. Growing them up a trellis can save space or look for smaller varieties ideal for growing in containers if space is an issue for you. Cucumbers will continue producing all summer as long as you keep picking. I like them with just a bit of salt. If you want to make pickles though, make sure you choose a pickling variety. Cucumbers are rich in vitamins C and K. Try Homemade Pickles, 55 days. Or if you prefer the thin-skinned English type cucumbers for fresh salads try Telegraph, 60 days (You will need a trellis for this one).
Okra is an acquired taste, I know, but it’s one of my favorites. In just two months from direct sowing, an okra seed turns into a gorgeous plant with hibiscus-like flowers that turn into tasty pods and it keeps producing as long as you keep picking right up till your first cold snap. It also does this with a relatively small footprint, though the plants themselves tend to be quite tall. (There are dwarf varieties suitable for containers as well.) It is wonderful stewed, fried or pickled, used for magick and the dried pods make fun craft supplies. Okra is rich in vitamins A, C, K, thiamin, folate, calcium, magnesium, and manganese. Try Clemson Spineless; 55 days.
Summer squash, including yellow, crookneck and zucchini takes about two months after direct sowing into warm soil to produce fruit and they will continue fruiting all summer as long as they are healthy. These are well known for being prolific and are wonderful fried, roasted, baked into casseroles, stir-fried or even pickled. (Winter squash is wonderful for long term survival as it stores marvelously all winter, but it also takes several months to mature.) Summer squash is rich in vitamins A, C, K, folate, magnesium, copper, and manganese. My husband likes yellow squash better (says they’re sweeter) and we like Cube of Butter, 50 days, but there are many summer squashes to choose from.
Cherry Tomatoes – I hesitate to include these because tomatoes are generally neither quick or easy. Most tomatoes are going to take several months to mature and many are very tricky to keep healthy in the meantime. They crack, they get blossom end rot, they flop over, they get blight and worms and birds like them and they take forever. Yes, there are some “early season” tomatoes, but I haven’t found one yet that tastes very good. Tomatoes are fraught with peril. Cherry tomatoes are different. Some cherry tomatoes tend to grow pretty quickly and produce dozens if not hundreds of perfect little fruits all year long. They aren’t all quick, so check those maturity dates! As with all tomatoes, you will do best if you get a head start on growing indoors, but even if you can’t, direct sowing into warm soil and a bit of tender care will yield you cherry tomatoes eventually. Toss them with a simple vinegar and oil dressing and some cubed cucumbers for a refreshing summer salad. Tomatoes are rich in Vitamins A, C, K, potassium, manganese. Try Cherry Falls Bush Cherry, 55-65 days or Sun Gold Pole Cherry 57 days.
Basil is a wonderful warm weather herb that grows quickly from seed in the garden. I always sprinkle a few basil seeds around my tomato plants when I put them in and basil is also a good companion for beans. You’ll have basil sooner if you start them indoors, but I never do, I just sprinkle them on the ground when the weather is consistently warm. In about two months, I have basil to clip to add to my sauces and salads. Basil likes to be trimmed, so clip off some leaves often to keep it healthy. It will flower and go to seed late in the season. The pollinators love it and you can save the seeds for next year. Try Genovese Basil
Having a garden is a great comfort in uncertain times. It is my hope that this quick and dirty guide will give you a smart start to your garden so that you can avoid the pitfalls that caused me, and many other gardeners, to waste time and money in our early gardening endeavors (though we learned something, so maybe it wasn’t such a waste after all).
If you’ve got any questions, go ahead and ask in the comments and I’ll do my best.
Note: Nutritional information came from https://nutritiondata.self.com/