The length of the growing season is a major contributing factor to determine which vegetables grow successfully in your area. Extending the season with row covers or plant protectors provides a few weeks of growing time to either end of the season, but choosing short-season vegetables is necessary for optimum growth and production in many areas.
Salad greens such as lettuce, spinach, endive and Swiss chard and beets for greens prefer cool weather and mature in 45 to 50 days, making them ideal for short season gardens. Plant in early spring, two weeks before the last expected frost, for a crop of fresh greens for salads and side dishes in early summer; plant again in the summer for autumn harvests.
Beans and Peas
Green or wax beans grow quickly, maturing in 55 to 65 days. These tender plants require planting after the danger of frost, but grow rapidly once warm weather arrives. Many bush and pole varieties are available that do well in short seasons.
Peas grow well in cool areas and reach maturity in 55 to 60 days. Plant in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked for a harvest of peas in early summer; plant again in summer for another harvest in the fall.
Summer squash matures in 40 to 55 days and produces an abundance of fruit in a small space. Yellow and green summer squash are available in straight neck, crookneck and round or scalloped varieties. Consider the many varieties to choose from and grow summer squash to add variety to your diet and to reap fresh vegetables early in the season.
Tomatoes and Peppers
Although considered long-season vegetables, tomatoes and peppers can be grown successfully in short-season gardens when started early indoors or started from nursery plants. Look for short-season varieties designed for cold climates. Some varieties reach maturity in 68 to 75 days from the date of transplant. Keep in mind that this is often calculated for optimum growth in warm climates; cooler areas may require an extra two weeks or more.
Protect young tomato and pepper plants from spring chills using cloches, row covers, or other methods. When fall frost is imminent, harvest green tomatoes by cutting the vines and hanging them in the dark indoors until the fruits ripen.
Cucumbers mature quickly but must be planted after all danger of frost has passed. Direct seeding produces young cucumbers in 50 to 75 days, depending on the variety. Pickling cucumbers tend to mature earlier than slicers and provide crisp, young fruit that are fine for fresh salads as well as for pickling.
Radishes are one of the fastest-growing garden vegetables, ready for harvest in 21 to 28 days. Beets and carrots are other root crops that are ready to harvest within two months of planting.
Plant potatoes and onion sets in early spring as soon as the soil can be turned. These cool-season crops tolerate frost and begin growing before many other vegetables can be planted. Use onion tops for green onions or allow to grow to maturity and harvest before the ground freezes in the fall. Harvest small "new potatoes" when they reach two inches in diameter, or allow the plants to grow to maturity and harvest in summer or late fall (depending on the variety).
Plant early maturing cabbage and broccoli by setting out seedlings started indoors. Cabbages mature in 65 to 85 days, depending on the variety. Early maturing broccoli, like Green Magic, matures in less than 60 days.
Plant Brussels sprouts in early spring for fall harvest. Although technically not a short season crop (they mature in 90 days or more), brussels sprouts develop savory sweetness after getting nipped by fall frost.