Fast salad growing in a sunny window: spinach, arugula, bok choy, and cress. These sprouted in a mere three days in this warm sunny spot.

Weeks-long delays, everything out of stock, bizarre substitutions – supermarket deliveries are not meeting this moment. Time to plant a garden. But growing your own takes time: 85 days for a tomato from seed, 66 days for green beans, 60 days for zucchini. Who has that kind of time? 

You need a Fast Garden. That’s: 

Fast crops: The fastest crops are those that just have to produce leaves. Radishes, mustard greens, several of the Asian greens like mizuna, and some salad greens like arugula are the real sprinters. Even more speedy are sprouts and microgreens, which you eat long before they are mature. 

Speedy varieties: You want the fastest of the fast crops, look at days to harvest on packets or descriptions. I’ve got arugula that’s 40 days to harvest and arugula that’s 20 days to harvest. That’s salad in half the time.

No limits: Don’t check your plants’ growth, meaning make sure they have enough of everything they need to grow as fast as possible. Water, light, soil nutrients (aka fertilizer). Don’t forget heat: seeds sprout faster in warm spots (like the top of the fridge) and plants grow faster in the greenhouse-like shelter of a milk jug cloche or other mini-greenhouse-like shelter. Containers get things going earlier in the season because the soil in them warms up much faster than the soil in the ground does. You can also position containers for maximum sun or for warm spots, like next to a south or west facing wall.
But: not too much water – don’t drown those plants! Overwatering and underwatering both kill plants. The soil surface should feel like a wrung-out sponge, more or less all the time. Very important aid in this: any containers need drainage holes. 

Mini shelters over early tomato seedlings. These are heavy row cover fabric wrapped around hayrack-style hanging pots.

Stay inside: Unlike you, your plants are happy to shelter at home, as long as there’s enough light. Your sunniest windowsill might work, if artificial lights aren’t an option. Starting plants indoors, then moving them outdoors as soon as it’s warm enough is a classic fast garden technique. 

Materials Right Now: Since you’re self-isolating at home, a big garden shopping trip  is not on the agenda. The bare essentials you need are soil, containers, and seeds, and they all just need to be good enough for the pandemic moment. Whatever soil you have in your yard is probably fine. Plants that will only be inside for six weeks or so don’t need specialty grow lights – regular fluorescent or LED fixtures are fine for a while. Temporary containers don’t have to be ideal. Even household plastics from the recycling bin will work, as long as you add a hole or two for drainage. 

“But wait,” you say, “Something-something plastics something toxins!” My take on this: if you’re not living on what you grow in that plastic as your main food source for an extended time, don’t worry about it. Whatever might come from that plastic in that short time in the limited quantity that you eat will be very small, as long as it’s food-grade plastic to start with. Also worth considering is the enormous amount of plastic used in the production of the supermarket produce you usually eat, especially if it’s organic, and the various pesticides and herbicides used on it, especially if it’s not.

Some pithy statement about gardening as an intrinsically hopeful and forward-looking activity would be a great way to wrap this up, but who has time for philosophy? There’s a fast garden to plant. 

Also on Medium.