5 Fast-Growing Food Plants
I wonder how many people have ever thought of how we would survive if the zombie apocalypse arrived and we had to grow our own food. Or is it just me? Without getting into too much detail about how long we can survive without food and how many veggie seeds we would manage to pack before fleeing, we decided to explore the fastest-growing veggies that every survivalist should pack in their seed-stash.
Radishes– 21 days
Radishes are well known for their rapid growth, going from sowing seed to eating in 20 – 25 days. Seed will germinate in just 5 – 10 days, depending on the variety. Plant radishes in spring and autumn for the best results. Although they can be grown at any time of the year, the heat of summer may cause them to bolt and not taste very good. Plant in a sunny spot in rich, well-draining, loose soil for well-formed roots. Avoid too much shade or there will be excessive leaf growth and not enough root growth. Sow directly into beds to avoid disturbing the roots and thin out after about a week to 5cm apart to avoid overcrowding. Keep well-watered but not waterlogged and add a layer of mulch to retain moisture. Keep the beds weeded and harvest as soon as they reach maturity or they will become bitter.
Johan’s tips on growing Radishes
Any vegetable with a tang, like radishes, makes such a delicious, colourful and crunchy addition to leafy- green salads.
• Sow radishes in a mixture of palm peat and potting soil – they don’t transplant well.
• Radish is a very quick crop – you can fertilise them with Nutrifeed every 2 weeks
• If growing in containers, use good-quality, fast- draining potting soil and palm peat.
• Keep the soil moist during germination, which should take place within 5 – 7 days.
• Sow thickly and use the thinned-out small leaves in salad. They are as tasty as the radish root but not as peppery.
• Water regularly as radishes need to grow quickly if they are to be plump and crunchy. Uneven or irregular watering can cause radishes to split.
Start sowing now, and repeat sowing every 2 – 3 weeks for a continued supply of this crunchy vegetable. The flavour should improve as the temperatures drop.
Harvesting and storage
Pull out the radishes when you see the top of the radish starting to push out of the soil. If they are left too long, they become woody and unpleasantly pungent. If you plan to store radishes, remove the tops before refrigerating. This keeps them crisp and fresh.
What if radishes develop leaves without roots?
In summer, the cause is usually hot weather, which encourages the plant to bolt and try to set seed. In winter, the cause could be too little sunlight. They need several hours of direct sunlight for the roots to develop. It could also be that plants have not been thinned out, which can also stunt root development. www.starkeayres.co.za
Lettuce– 30 days
The loose-leaf lettuce varieties are also called ‘perpetual lettuce’, and they can be harvested for a longer time than the head-forming varieties, which need the time to form tight, crisp heads. Seeds will germinate in around 7 – 14 days, and as soon as the leaves are big enough for a salad, they can be harvested from the outside. The plant will continue to grow and form new leaves. You would think that since lettuce is one of the main ingredients of most salads, it would be grown mostly in summer. But this is not the case, as lettuce grows best in cooler climates. Sow directly into garden beds or in trays and transplant into beds or containers when they have 4 – 6 mature leaves.
Plant in a position with at least 6 hours of sun a day, into fertile, loose soil with plenty of added compost and organic fertiliser, and make sure there is good drainage. Plant chives or garlic between the rows of lettuce to control aphids. Lettuce like lots of water, wilting when they need some, and should be fed 3 – 4 weeks after planting with a fertiliser high in nitrogen. A layer of mulch will help to keep the soil cool. In warm weather, lettuce will bolt and the leaves will become bitter. Try to avoid this by sheltering them with shade cloth in the warmest weather, or by planting them in the shade of taller-growing vegetables like tomatoes.
Spinach– 30 days
The baby spinach varieties in particular are very fast growers, germinating in 7 – 14 days and fully mature in 35 – 45 days. Pick the outer leaves when they are a good enough size, and don’t leave too long or the leaves may become bitter. Included in this section should also be Amaranthus (amaranth or marog) and Swiss chard, also grown for their nutritious leaves and ready to be picked in under 40 days. Like lettuce, spinach does better as a cool-season crop as it also tends to bolt in hot weather. It’s a versatile leafy green for salads and as a hot side veg, so if you like the taste it’s a good one to plant lots of. They have long tap roots so need friable, fertile, nitrogen-rich soil at least 30cm deep for planting in garden beds. Sow directly or in trays, and succession sow every 10 days for a long-lasting season. Thin out to 10 – 15cm apart and feed after a few weeks with a fertiliser high in nitrogen. Water often – up to twice a day – which will also keep the soil cool in warmer weather. Add a layer of mulch and cover with shade cloth if the temperatures get too warm (above 26°C). Harvest the entire crop at the first sign of bolting and preserve by blanching and freezing in batches.
Spring Onions – 45 days
Regular onions are a long-season crop coming to maturity in around 150 – 220 days, but spring nions are a different story. The seeds germinate in around 10 days and are fully mature and ready to eat in 45 days or less. Sow directly into garden beds in full sun or in trays and transplant when big enough. The soil should be fertile with plenty of added compost and very good drainage. Spring onions don’t like to be waterlogged at all, so keep an eye on watering and don’t overdo it. Avoid sowing in the heat of mid- summer and the cold of mid-winter, but any other time is good. Harvest when ready to use.
Turnips– 30 days
Like many of the root vegetables, you can pick them early for baby veg, and the leaves are also great in salads. From germinating in 7 – 10 days to fully mature in 50 – 60 days, turnips are one of the fastest-growing root veggies. Turnips prefer growing in the cooler seasons, but can be grown all year round. Plant in a sunny position with soil enhanced with plenty of compost, and with good drainage. Add a few handfuls of organic fertiliser high in phosphorous for good root development – the P in NPK. Sow seeds directly in drills in garden beds (they don’t like to be transplanted) and thin out to 10 – 15cm apart when the stems are about 10cm high, so the roots are able to form well and not be crowded. Keep weeding, but try as much as possible not to disturb the roots. Add mulch and water regularly to make sure they don’t bolt. Harvest when young and use both the greens and the roots in salads.
A note on sprouts and shoots
While waiting for your first crop of radishes to be ready to harvest, there is always the option of eating veggies as sprouts, as they can provide enough minerals and vitamins to keep going. Take, for example, sunflower seeds, which will only take 12 days to sprout to eating size and are crunchy, delicious nibbles packed with nutrition. There are many others to explore, and some that will sprout within a day and be edible in a few days.