Some people don't have room for an expansive garden. Others don't have time. Lia Leendertz and Mark Diacono have solved both problems with The Speedy Vegetable Garden.
Their 208-page book (Timber Press, $18.95) offers step-by-step instructions on how to grow and harvest fresh vegetables in the blink of an eye. Well, OK, in days or weeks. In some cases, you can call yourself a success in just hours.
"Lots of people think that growing your own food takes lots of time," Diacono wrote via email from England, where both authors live. "We realized that some of the tastiest things to eat are also some of the quickest to grow, and wanted to spread the word. We felt sure we could produce a book that would give quick results and a boost of confidence to beginners, but also give old hands a few new ideas."
The quickest return is from their pumpkin soak. Take a handful of seeds and soak them one to four hours. Just that short time will soften them and kick-start the germination process. Rinse and add to salads or a sandwich.
"Protein, vitamin and digestible energy levels all surge, and metabolic activity increases as it becomes primed for life," Leendertz wrote, also via email. "But more importantly it turns from nutty and hard to juicy and fresh."
Also quick, easy and tasty are sprouts. Healthy, too. The authors devote more than 60 pages to soaks, sprouts and micro-greens, crops that don't need a lot of time to become table-ready. Mustard or red cabbage microgreens take seven to 10 days; pea sprouts only three. And these young versions often have more flavor.
"Essentially these are strong-tasting herbs and salad leaves but sown thickly and harvested young," Diacono said. "Most are ready after about 10 days. You are eating the seedling of the basil or coriander or rocket plant, and each one is like a little flavor bomb. The taste is stronger than a leaf of a grown plant, but also cleaner and fresher. They are absolutely magic sprinkled on salads."
Leendertz and Diacono also offer recipes and ideas for how to best use what you grow. And, Leendertz pointed out, although you get more flavor with the sprouts and microgreens, you will be sacrificing yield somewhat.
"The techniques in the book are not for you if you like to keep your entire street supplied with lettuces and zucchini through the summer months. But if you want just enough of the very tastiest, freshest produce, little and often, you will find a great many ideas here."
The book goes beyond tiny greens and salad fixins'. Relatively quick-to-mature vegetables such as kale (42 days), lettuces (21 to 42 days) and spinach (50 days) are represented. But so are some items that might surprise.
In 70 to 90 days, you can grow a small crop of early potatoes. Leendertz and Diacono show how to take a large pot and three seed potatoes — they suggest more than a half-dozen varieties that work well under these conditions — and come up with a meal or two's worth of spuds. The key, Diacono said, is growing them in a container.
"In the U.K., where we both garden, potatoes are commonly grown out in the open, but they suffer from terrible blight problems and are often riddled with slug damage by the time they are harvested," he said. "In the book we advocate growing early potatoes in containers instead. The yield is nothing like as large, but the result is flawless, sweet, tender little potatoes early in the year. For the full effect, put the water on to boil before you start to dig them up. Wash, boil and eat. They will be the best potatoes you've ever eaten."
Also doable, and with recipes to help make the most of them: carrots, green beans, beets and turnips.
"We've covered the whole spectrum of the quickest edibles, from ultraquick sprouts through to the quickest varieties and techniques with more traditional vegetables," Leendertz said. "Lots of these — potatoes, courgettes/ zucchini and carrots, for instance — are actually better when grown quick and harvested young, so you get the benefit of a fast turnover but also a far better vegetable than if you left them long and ate them big. By growing small, quick vegetables you get sweeter and more tender crops than you could ever find in the shops."