Fast-Growing Vegetables to Direct Sow into Containers

I recently wrote about quick-growing vegetables (a harvest from seed in less than two months) that gardeners could direct-sow into their garden. Which is great if you have space for a garden! But if you have limited garden space, or your only option is containers or window boxes, you can still grow many of those quick-growing crops.

Easiest Option: Greens and Lettuces

You can grow any leaf lettuce or green in a container! Mesclun mixes, spinach, kale, rapini, chard — you can grow them to full-size if you like, but in containers you’ll get the most out of your container garden by harvesting them as baby greens.

Harvesting as baby greens means that you’ll be able to harvest about three to four weeks after you sow your seeds, and, after harvesting, just let the plants start re-growing, and you’ll get successive harvests every month or so. To keep yourself in lettuces and greens throughout the season, sow a few containers, say, one every week or two, and you’ll have continual harvests. When one container starts not regenerating as fully as you’d like, simply sprinkle more seeds over the soil’s surface and scratch them in, then tamp them down. Good as new!

Container size for growing lettuces and greens: any container that is four to six inches deep will work perfectly. Windowboxes, shallow pots, reused clamshell containers from storebought salad mixes — I’ve grown lettuce and greens successfully in all of them.

Tips for growing lettuce and greens in containers:

  • Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Lettuces don’t like drying out, and they’ll get limp and can sometimes be a bit bitter if they spend too much time dried out. They’re also much more likely to bolt because they’re under stress.
  • To keep your lettuce growing happily, fertilize every month or so with a good organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion when I water, or you can use a granular organic fertilizer in your planting mix and then sprinkled occasionally onto the top of the soil.

Root Crops for Containers

Root crops you sow directly into your containers are going to be those that don’t require enormously deep pots (full-size carrots might be a challenge here, but there are several shorter varieties I’ll recommend) and again, we’ll be focusing on those that grow fairly quickly when sown directly from seed.

Container depth for growing root veggies: 6 to 8 inches

Beets

You can grow beets in containers fairly easily, whether for the delicious beet greens, to harvest the roots, or both. You’ll want to keep the soil moisture fairly even to keep them growing quickly and to avoid woodiness, but not soggy. Feed with a balanced organic fertilizer according to the directions for whichever fertilizer you’re using. Your beets should be ready to harvest about 6 to 8 weeks after sowing, but you can harvest beet greens before then. Some of my favorite beets to grow in containers:

  • Golden – 55 days
  • Detroit Dark Red – 55 days
  • Chioggia – 55 days
  • Bull’s Blood – 50 days
  • Subeto – 45 days
  • Babybeat – 40 days

Carrots

Long, tapered roots are difficult to grow unless you have a very large container. Luckily, there are several nice, short carrot varieties that perform well in containers! Keep an eye out for any of these varieties:

  • Minicor – 55 days
  • Thumbelina – 60 days
  • Adelaide – 50 days
  • Paris Market – 58 days
  • Napoli – 55 days
  • Red Cored Chantenay – 60 days
  • Caracas – 57 days
  • Little Finger – 57 days

Radishes

Radishes and container-growing is a match made in heaven. From sowing to harvesting is often right around three weeks. They can take a bit of shade (especially when it starts getting hot — radishes aren’t fans of summer heat) and they’re easy to grow. Keep the moisture consistent to avoid your radishes from becoming too spicy or woody. Nearly any radish seed you can get your hands on will work here, but here are my favorites:

  • Cherry Belle
  • French Breakfast
  • Easter Egg

Turnips

I think we often think of turnips as definitely being a larger garden crop. At least, I did before I started growing them regularly. And while some can get large, certain varieties are perfect for container growing and offer both delicious roots and tasty greens in around four weeks. Here are some of the best ones to grow in containers

  • Hakurei
  • Tokyo Market
  • Tokyo Cross

Cucumbers and Summer Squashes for Containers

Sunburst Pattypan Squash – Johnny’s Seeds

Cucumbers and squashes can both easily be grown from seed, and while they both tend to be large, vining, sometimes sprawling plants, there are several varieties that do very well in containers.

Sow cucumbers and squashes directly into your containers after your soil has warmed — these plants germinate best when the soil temp is right around 70 degrees F. They’ll germinate in less than a week, usually, and you’ll just have to be sure to keep the soil evenly moist. Squashes and cucumbers are fairly heavy feeders, so a regular feeding of a balanced organic fertilizer (according to the package directions) or a weekly foliar feed of compost or manure tea or fish emulsion will keep your plants happy and productive.

Container depth for growing cucumbers and squash: 10 inches.

Cucumbers

In general, you’ll want to look for cucumber plants that have a bushy rather than vining growth habit. Luckily, breeders have been working to adapt cucumbers’ typical vining growth to a more easily-managed bushy form.

  • Lemon – 60 days
  • Salad Bush – 57 days
  • Sweet Success – 50 days

Summer Squash

Again, we’ll be looking for plants that are productive, fairly compact, and will produce from seed in about two months. The good news is, you have several good options for container-grown summer squash:

  • Eight Ball – 42 days
  • Gold Rush – 52 days
  • Pattypan – 50 days
  • Sunburst – 52 days
  • Spacemiser – 45 days
  • Sundance – 50 days
  • Zephyr – 45 days

I hope this post has been helpful. You do not need indoor lighting and heat mat set-ups, cell packs, domed trays or any of those other things. You don’t even really need a garden. Some containers, potting soil, and seeds, a spot that gets a decent amount of sun, and you are well on your way to growing your own veggies!

Seeds to Sow in Michigan in February

It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it? The ground (at least in my neck of the woods) is covered in several inches of snow, and we’re looking at frigid temperatures for the next several days.

Yet, even now, in the depths of winter, it’s time to start giving this year’s garden some serious consideration. If you haven’t planned your garden yet, now is an excellent time to do so. There’s still plenty of time to order any seeds or sets you need, and many garden centers and home stores have their seed racks out now (truly, the most wonderful time of the year!)

There aren’t a ton of things to sow indoors in February for most of us in Michigan, but you can definitely get a start on some things. Below, I have advice for each of the four hardiness zones in Michigan. If you’re unsure which zone you’re in, which roughly coincides with your last frost date, check out this map for frost dates and this one for hardiness zone. Michigan’s frost dates vary widely, with southern lower Michigan frost-free in early May, and parts of the northern lower and upper peninsula often experiencing snow well into May and not frost-free until June. The dates below are average guidelines. Check this chart to get a more exact idea of the last frost date in your specific area.

Michigan Zone 3 (Average Last Frost Date: June 15th)

This area includes a large swath of the western upper peninsula and a few small inland areas of the northern lower peninsula.

Sow in February:

  • Nothing this month.

Michigan Zone 4 (Average Last Frost Date: June 1st)

This includes most of the northern lower peninsula and the eastern side of the upper peninsula.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in February:

  • Onion seeds

Flowers to Sow in February:

  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Pansies/Violas

Michigan Zone 5 (Average Last Frost Date: May 15th)

This area includes almost all of the southern lower peninsula and the west coast of the lower peninsula.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in February:

  • Celery and Celeriac
  • Leeks
  • Mache
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Spinach

Flowers to Sow in February:

  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Foxglove
  • Lisianthus
  • Pansy/Viola
  • Verbena

Michigan Zone 6 (Average Last Frost Date: May 1st)

A very small area of Michigan is Zone 6. If you live near Detroit or the southern west coast of the lower peninsula, this is your zone.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in February:

  • Cabbage
  • Celery and Celeriac
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Mache
  • Mustard greens
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Datura

Flowers to Sow in February:

  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Forget-Me-Not
  • Foxglove
  • Gaillardia
  • Hibiscus
  • Hollyhock
  • Impatiens
  • Lisianthus
  • Lupine
  • Pansies/Violas
  • Petunia
  • Rudbeckia
  • Salvia
  • Snapdragon
  • Stock
  • Verbena
  • Yarrow

So, depending on where you live, you may be fairly busy this month. Even those of us in the coldest areas of the state can either spend time planning or sow a little something. Carry on, Michigan gardeners — we’ll have our hands back in the soil before we know it!