Winters are long here and we Alaska gardeners want our gardens to produce quickly. It doesn’t matter if you put your garden in on time — this weekend — or if you somehow have to wait for a couple of weeks to do the deed, because of a fishing trip or the need to shuttle Aunt Sally and Uncle Bob around some of the tourist sites. Fresh food beckons all winter and now is the time to grow it.
One way gardeners try to accomplish this feat is to plant without hardening things off. This is, of course, a big mistake and ends up slowing the harvest. Making sure your plants are properly acclimated to the wind and sun is crucial to getting any crop at all, much less an early one.
The real trick to quick crops is to plant seeds. This seems counterintuitive, as a transplant in a four-inch pot would seemingly produce quicker. Most of the time, however, they won’t. There are seeds, however, that will start to produce almost immediately after germination.
Radishes, of course, are most gardeners’ primary example of a quick crop. You can get a decent harvest in about three weeks. I always point out that most people eat about three radish all year so don’t plant too many, but hey, what do I know? Go for it if you want. There are some really pretty varieties for sale and some spice-hot radishes, too, that may be of interest. My advice is to only plant a dozen or so at a time, and stagger future plantings so you have a continuous crop, if you want it.
Another fast-growing root crop, often ignored, are turnips. Gardeners tend to leave them in the ground too long and they get pulpy. However, they actually grow quickly and you can have a harvest in about 40 days that will actually taste great with just the right texture.
Next, no matter when you plant them, loose leaf lettuces are sure to provide some harvestable food quickly, in about two weeks after germination, in fact. These leafy lettuces can be eaten as soon as they germinate. And, there are a seemingly infinite number of varieties from which to choose. My wife is crazy about arugula — we have three different kinds growing. I prefer the less bitter varieties of lettuce. Again, stagger plantings every five days or so, but also harvest properly: use scissors and cut the leaves rather than pull the plant. New leaves will continue to appear.
Spinach is a quick grower. You can harvest it in a month, though the leaves will be small. Here is one crop that likes cooler weather and will bolt — go to seed — if the temperatures are too high. It is the one plant on this list that may not satisfy if you do have to get it into the ground after mid-June because it will probably bolt.
Kale, if you choose the right ones, will produce harvestable leaves in a four weeks as well. There are lots of varieties, some ornamental and others edible. Make sure to read the back of the packet so you get one — or two — that produces quickly.
Next, beans and snap peas are quick crops, producing in under 50 days. They germinate quickly and have a fairly long harvest season, meaning you can eat them young or let them mature. If you continuously harvest, they will produce for most of the season. Still, we like to plant a second crop in June just to keep them coming. Most of our snap peas never make it inside to the wok as they are eaten in the garden instead.
An oft-overlooked Asian variety, Tatsoi is a green that is increasing in popularity. It grows like lettuce and you harvest the leaves while leaving the plant to continue to produce. Here is another 30-day wonder.
Finally, beets can be harvested young, after only about a month or so. However, you can eat all parts of the plant. You are planting a pod when you plant beets and the pod contains several seeds. These should be thinned out and transplanted, though some can be consumed in salads or stir-fry dishes.
So, if you have not planted your gardens, rely just on transplant starts or have extra room for more, consider planting some seeds.
Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar
Alaska Botanical Garden: The nursery is open as is the garden. Check out the weekly art blog and art in the garden displays. Join today, too. www.alaskabg.org.
Harden off: You must acclimate your plants to sun and wind — it takes a week. Or buy plants that are kept and sold outdoors.
No rototilling: Gardeners don’t rototill except when building a garden. Once your garden is there, the least amount of soil disturbance necessary is the rule. Make a small row, drill holes, but do not rototill.
Water: Water gardens before planting.