You needn't turn in your trowel or hand in your hoe. When time is of the essence, avoid the wait by turning your garden into a fast food smorgasbord of fresh-from-the garden flavor. Busy lifestyles and family schedules may have popularized the household term "fast foods." Yet, it's the truly supercharged, high-speed varieties that are taking this term to new locations -- the fast food garden.
Why wait over three months for ripe tomatoes when in less than 55 days you can savor the sunny rich flavor of a speedy variety instead? Sweet corn is even sweeter when you can munch your own homegrown juicy kernels in 60 days instead of the standard 80- to 90-day wait. Even a juicy melon can quench your thirst during the fiery heat of summer with a lightening-quick variety that can ripen in less than 70 days.
You can harvest summer squash while it's still summer, pick your peck of perfect peppers, or toss up a terrific cucumber salad. Culinary treasures are just around the corner when you grow these winning varieties that will make the term "fast food" become a reality in your own garden.
Beans in a snap
For fast green beans, bush beans are the way to go. 'Speedy' (50 days) has rich flavor and is highly productive and virtually stringless. Change the pace with 'Jumbo' (55 days), an Italian-style green bean with extra-long pods and rich bean flavor. How about pretty in purple? 'Velour' (51 days) is extra fine with straight and slender bright-purple pods.
While some full-size slicers can take up to 70 days to mature, 'Rocky' is a knockout, as these seedless baby cucumbers mature in just 46 days. For extra-early cukes that bring flavor and crunch to salads, try pickling cucumbers. (They're not just for pickling.) 'Cool Breeze,' a French cornichon type, is ready with 4-inch fruits in just 45 days. Or, try 'Diamant' (47 days), an early and productive cucumber that's extra smooth (for a pickling cuke), extra crispy, and quite tasty when eaten fresh.
Cash in on corn
When it comes to early corn, 'Earlivee' (60 days) with its deep buttery yellow 6- to 7-inch ears is a sure bet. Is white your passion? Try 'Sugar Pearl" (72 days). This superb hybrid is ever so sweet, with 8-inch ears that mature super early. Bent on a bicolor? 'Quickie' (64 days) is a tasty, sugar-enhanced variety with crisp and creamy kernels.
If you're hooked on roasted eggplant, there's no time to waste. Forget varieties that take more than 80 days. The choice is clear with extra-early 'Orient Express' (58 days), a tender-skinned Japanese variety producing long and slender glossy black fruits. Two other fast favorites include the great-for-the-grill, non-bitter fruits of 'Hansel' (55 days); and 'Millionaire' (54 days), with abundant harvests of deep purple, tender and slender fruits.
Make way for melons
If you're on the fast track for fabulous flavor, these varieties will thrill your tastebuds in no time flat. Both 'Fastbreak' and 'Alvaro' triumph with lusciously sweet 4-pound fruits ready in 65 to 69 days.
In a hurry for a sweet bell-shaped pepper? 'Ace' (aka 'New Ace') will amaze you with plenty of medium-sized green bell peppers in just 50 to 55 days. For a slightly different twist, try 'Gypsy' (58 days), a 6- to 7-inch-long sweet yellow pepper that tapers to a point. Of course, restless daredevils should look to 'Hungarian Hot Wax' (58 days), a yellow hot pepper with medium heat and thick-flesh well-suited to frying.
For best fruits, harvest while still small for truly succulent and tender zucchini. 'Tigress' (49 days) grows on semi-compact plants, making the fruits especially easy to harvest. Two spineless varieties that won't prick when you pick are 'Patio Star' (50 days), bred for growing in small spaces or containers; and 'Goldmine' (50 days), a yellow zucchini with attractive white stripes.
Hustle up tremendous tomato flavor in a hurry with fast varieties that ripen in just 57 days or less. 'Bloody Butcher' (55 days) produces dark red 4-ounce fruits with rich tomato flavor. 'Early Girl' (57 days) has prolific yields of 4- to 6-ounce globe-shaped fruits. "Sun Gold" is a seductively sweet, juicy golden cherry tomato with a tropical twist.
-- Kris Wetherbee
FAST FOOD GROWING TIPS
When the wait for garden fresh vegetables seems almost endless, even speedy varieties can use a jump-start. These growing tips will get you well on your way to the quickest fast food garden ever.
- Whether you call them transplants, starts or seedlings, you can usually start harvesting four to six weeks earlier from transplants than from seeds planted directly in the ground. Track down transplants at garden centers and your local farmers market.
- For the tastiest fruits and vegetables, save your sunniest spot for these sun-loving fast food varieties. The sunnier the spot, the quicker the plants will grow and the sooner their fruits will ripen.
- Perk up your soil with balanced nutrients from extra-rich compost or aged manure and you'll see your plants growing by leaps and bounds.
- While black plastic can boost soil temperatures, heat-seeking vegetables appreciate a mulch of a different color. Green plastic mulch can boost melon and cucumber yields up by 40 percent, whereas tomato production increased up to 20 percent with the use of a reflecting red mulch film.
- Grow your cucumbers, melons and tomatoes upright. Trellising will bring more heat and light to the fruits so they'll ripen even faster.
Territorial Seed Co.: 20 Palmer Ave., Cottage Grove; territorialseed.com; 800-626-0866
Totally Tomatoes: totallytomato.com; 800-345-5977
Johnny's Selected Seeds: johnnyseeds.com; 877-564-6697