Sometimes you just don’t have time to wait for spring, or you’ve waited too long to get the spring garden started. Other times, you’re stuck at home with illness or pregnancy but still need to feed your family. Ah, quarantines! Here are six ideas for foods you can quickly produce – grow food fast on your counter and in the garden (including pots)!
The shortest wait time for these foods is 12 hours for the kefir and one to two months for the garden veggies. These suggestions may require that you learn new skills but we hope to make that easier with the details in this article. You may also need equipment or ingredients you’ve never used before. Again, we hope that the explanations provided here will easily instruct and alleviate any stress you may be feeling as you figure out how to grow food fast.
Kid Friendly Fast Food
Just as a little side note, all these ideas are kid-friendly! There is so much that children can help with around the home and homestead. It takes some patience and a little extra time to teach them these skills but it’s worth it down the road.
You may be stressed because of circumstances but put your game face on and show the kids that now’s the time for learning useful things! I promise that keeping them involved and actively helping will make them and you feel so much better.
Growing more food is just an added bonus!
Grow Food Fast – in the Garden
You most likely landed on this article because you were looking for crops you could grow in the garden to get a quick harvest. That tells me that you are already a savvy DIY individual who is capable of doing hard things – go you!
We’ll start our “grow foods fast” discussion with three crops you can plant right now in order to harvest from them in one or two months. Then, we’ll move on to growing foods fast in the kitchen.
The benefits of leafy greens have long been understood by nutritionists and moms alike. While head lettuce (like the kind you often see in the grocery store) can take some time to form up in the garden, leaf lettuce usually takes about a month. Leaf lettuce benefits include:
- It’s easy to grow from seed yourself – here’s how to grow lettuce from seed.
- You can use the thinnings (the extra baby plants you remove) in salads at any point in their growth.
- It is a cut-and-come-again crop – meaning that one plant can be harvested from until it goes to seed (usually summer).
- If grown in containers indoors, you can grow lettuce any time of year – including during the summer when it really doesn’t like to be in the heat of outside. Lettuce does, however, enjoy the cool of spring and fall!
- Lettuce is versatile in the kitchen and can be used in salads and sandwiches. It can also stand in the place of tortillas and bread as a gluten free wrap.
- For a variety of leaf lettuces, you can visit this family-run seed house – Seeds for Generations.
If you end up with more than you can use, dehydrating lettuce will allow you to use it later in soups and smoothies.
- To learn how, please visit this post on How to Dehydrate Lettuce.
Any time you read an article about using a dehydrator to dry fruits and veggies, know that you can also use your oven, if you don’t have a dehydrator. It’s a little trickier because you have to watch the produce more carefully so it doesn’t burn since most ovens will only go so low in temperature.
You can also use a solar oven to dehydrate produce for later use. As an example:
>>>>—Click to learn how to Make Apple Chips in the Solar Oven—<<<<
Radishes are great crop that can be eaten raw, sauteed, baked or mashed. Here’s an excerpt from our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead, from the Homestead Garden chapter where we explain how to grow radishes in containers:
“Radishes (Raphanus sativus) – I don’t like raw radishes and I can’t make myself like them no matter how many varieties I try. So why do we grow them? Because they grow so easily and quickly, neighbors and livestock love them, and because they can be direct sown into the garden or pot. And because they’re absolutely gorgeous. So many colors, kinds and shapes.
“The French breakfast radishes have been the most palatable at our house. However, taste is such a relative thing that I suggest you try whatever variety sounds good to you and your family. Radishes are great crops for inter-sowing. Inter-sowing is the practice of planting quickly maturing plants alongside slower producing plants so that by the time the slower paced veggies are ready for more space, the quicker ones have already been harvested. When you’re growing in pots, you want to be sure to use all the available space as best you can.
“Because radishes are so small, they are particularly well suited to container growing if there’s space to develop the bulbous radish beneath the surface of the soil. Radishes don’t much care for high temperatures so plant them in the spring and fall, missing the intense heat of summer unless you’re growing them in the shade of another plant. Make sure your containers don’t over-heat or dry out because the radishes won’t thank you for that.
“If you have crops that you discover you really don’t care for, feed them to the goats and chickens. Or give them as gifts to neighbors. Or try a new dish (like roasted radishes) to see if you like to eat them that way.”
To grow radishes in containers, The Do It Yourself Homestead recommends the following:
- Pot Size: Really anything will work if it’s deep enough to accommodate the length of the variety you’re growing. Radishes can be inter- and under-planted with many veggies. You can plant them alongside slower growing veggies like beets and they’ll be ready to harvest before the beets get big enough to be annoyed by the closeness of the radishes.
- Sun: 6-8 hours but can take partial shade.
- Special Notes: Radishes are cool season vegetables that produce smaller, sweeter globes in the spring and larger, stronger flavored globes in the fall. There are early and late season varieties so feel free to try several. Since radishes develop so quickly, it’s important to harvest them right when they’re ready to avoid them becoming pithy and losing flavor.
The growing specifications are exactly the same for regular garden growing, FYI.
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Beets take a little longer than lettuces and radishes, coming in at about 55-65 days to harvest from seed – around two-ish months. However, unlike lettuce and radishes, beets can be canned for future use. You can preserve them in jars plain or pickled, and eat them all year round.
Planting a garden to grow food fast is a very worthwhile goal. However, it doesn’t hurt to think about ways to extend the harvest beyond the next month or two. Beets can only be harvested once (unlike lettuce), so make the most of them! For further education, please visit these fine beet resources:
- How to Grow Beets From Seed to Harvest – this includes information on varieties.
- Canning Beets Plain (without pickling) – this will require a pressure canner.
- If you only have a water bath canner, you can pickle beets, as described in this article – Five Ways to Preserve Beets.
Grow Foods Fast in the Kitchen
There are several ways to grow foods fast in the kitchen. The first is reminiscent of growing foods fast in the garden, so it should feel familiar.
#1 Microgreens and Sprouts
Many people actually grow microgreens and sprouts inside throughout the year simply because they enjoy the added boost of nutrition year round. Both sprouts and microgreens allow you access to healthy greens year round regardless of whether or not you have a garden.
Not all seeds can be used for sprouts and microgreens, FYI. Some common choices are:
- mung beans
If you have garden seeds that have gotten a little older, sprouting is a good way to use up the leftovers. Not every seed will sprout if it’s gotten older, but often you’ll get enough to make it worth your while.
Here’s a little excerpt from The Do It Yourself Homestead again:
“BASIC SPROUTING STEPS:
- Cover a handful or two of seeds with water and soak them overnight.
- Rinse them and lay them out on some kind of tray with good air circulation and drainage and rinse them twice a day.
- The seeds or grains will swell and sprout until you see small, green leaves or grass.
You can separate the sprouts from their seed hulls with a good rinse and some shaking, or you can just eat them, too.
- Store leftover sprouts in your fridge, for up to a week.
“You can also perform that same sprouting process with a mason jar.
“MASON JAR SPROUTING IN BRIEF:
- After soaking the seeds and nuts overnight, rinse and drain as before.
- Place the rinse seeds and nuts in a mason jar, about half full.
- Rinse and drain twice a day and watch for sprouting.”
You MUST remember to rinse your sprouts, no exceptions. However, with some care, sprouting is a very simple way to produce greens with no garden, no fancy equipment – you don’t even need soil!
I do better with microgreens, when all is said and done. Here’s a little more from The Do It Yourself Homestead:
“Microgreens are seeds taken fully to the next phase of growth, the true leaf stage, and are grown in a tray of soil. Similar in appearance to sprouts, they are only slightly different overall.
“PERKS OF MICROGREENS:
- Microgreens offer a bit more nutrition than sprouts because they grow in soil and can absorb minerals from it.
- They also have time to photosynthesize which produces even more nutrients.
- Microgreens reduce your risk of food poisoning compared to sprouting. Why? Because microgreens are grown in a tray of soil, are kept only damp and use sunshine to grow.
- If you’ve ever grown anything from seed, you can grow microgreens. Or, if you’ve ever tucked a child into bed after a bath, you can grow microgreens.”
Remember, you can get your own copy of The Do It Yourself Homestead for as little as $1 (or $0, if you need!).
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To learn more about Sprouts and Microgreens, please visit the following articles:
- How to Grow Bean Sprouts – the one sprout that’s might be the most familiar to us
- A tutorial on Growing Microgreens – very detailed and will walk you through it
- Growing Pea Shoot Microgreens – this includes more growing information
- Growing Popcorn Shoots – she had me at popcorn
#2 Milk and Water Kefir
While technically these could both be considered beverages, I usually use my kefir in foods – like baking, smoothies and cheeses. Milk kefir, which can be grown and cultured with milk, is a collection of healthy probiotic bacteria similar to yogurt. Water kefir is similar but is made from water and fed with sugar.
Kefir, according to Mayo Clinic dietitian, Anya Guy,
“It is rich in protein, calcium, B vitamins and probiotics. Probiotics have live organisms that help add to the population of microbes in your gut. This drinkable supplement’s been associated with improved digestion and decreased inflammation.”
Milk kefir is rich and tangy and can be included in smoothies to increase nutritional content.
>>>—Click to learn to how to grow and use Milk Kefir. —<<<<
Kefir grains can be purchased online or from your local health food store. Also, ask around your local contacts for someone who can share grains with you.
The thing we use milk kefir for the most often in our house is for our no-commercial-yeast bread. This is a soaked, fermented bread that will rise without yeast from the grocery store.
>>—Click to get the recipe for Kefir Fermented Bread Dough with No Yeast—<<<<
Using Water Kefir
Like I said, water kefir is lighter and more watery than milk kefir. It can be used to ferment dough, as well, but we usually use it in smoothies and to make natural sodas.
- Make a smoothie with water kefir – this one is Cherry Mango Water Kefir Smoothie – but you can use any fruit.
- Learn how to Make Herbal Water Soda with this detailed tutorial.
- Strawberry Chia Water Kefir can be made as described, or you can switch up flavors and additives.
- You can use any store bought juice to make this or a similar soda – Cranberry Orange Kefir Soda.
Water kefir may not fill your belly with food, but it will make your smoothies even healthier. It will also provide the familiar and comforting flavor of soda for your kids but without all the sugars and harmful ingredients.
#3 Sourdough Starter
Like water kefir, sourdough starter (aka natural leaven) is a collection of healthy yeasts and bacteria. Sourdough makes everything you bake healthier and usually easier to digest. It takes some practice to get used to using it but you can start with easy things like pancakes.
The best part about sourdough starter is that you will no longer be dependent on store bought leavening agents like yeast, baking soda or baking powder.
To use sourdough starter you will need:
- sourdough starter
- grain flour
- distilled water
- something to stir with
- canning jar, or other non-reactive container
You can buy sourdough starter online or from your local health food store. Better yet, ask a friend for some extra starter for free.
Here are some of the Benefits of Baking with Sourdough.
You Can Learn Sourdough!
A little more from The Do It Yourself Homestead:
“Learning to use a sourdough starter is NOT too hard for you, I promise.
- I often end up with extra starter and the most common thing to do with it is to make pancakes or waffles.
- You can also whip up some bagels, pretzels and English muffins using your favorite recipe. We need to stop thinking of using sourdough starter only for bread. Bread is still intimidating to some of us and there are plenty of other tasty treats to bake up.
- Starter can be added to any regular batter you have going from cookies to breakfast cake to banana bread. You can let your batter sit on your counter to ferment with the starter in it, or you can mix the leaven right in and bake immediately. If it sits, the starter will start to break down the grains in your batter (which makes them healthier), but it will change the texture of your finished product.
- Likewise, starter can be added to any yeast bread recipe you have in the works—compensate by adding a little less wet to your batter. You can make, what I call, random bread by using your extra starter, tossing in whatever flours (wheat with oat or rye) and fillers you have on hand (raisins, seeds, nuts). You can use any sourdough bread recipe as a guide for amounts and make these random loaves sweet or savory or plain. If you’re still a newbie sourdough baker, go ahead and add commercial yeast to your sourdough bread if it’s called for in your recipe. It’s OK to still be learning and experimenting, especially with breads.”
I always recommend Melissa Richardson’s book, Beyond Basics with Natural Yeast:
Ways to Use Sourdough Starter That Aren’t Bread
- You can set up pancakes at night to be ready by morning – here are our favorite Sourdough Pancakes – aka Flap Jacks.
- Soft and Chewy Sourdough Tortillas – these are just like the tortillas you’re familiar with but they’re healthier.
- Use sourdough starter to make a simple Flat Bread Pitas – great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Grow Food Fast Resources
Here is a list of further reading for learning how to grow food fast. Each article should take you one more step down the road to self sufficiency!