Serious vegetable gardeners look for and plant early-maturing varieties so they can harvest their own fresh vegetables as soon as possible. There are some techniques and aids to speed vegetable growth which will help even more.
The most important vegetables to baby in order to speed growth are the long season ones like tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, and melons.
I like to plant my corn seed as soon as the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees. That is often 2 weeks before the average last frost date (early April in most of the Pacific Northwest). Not only does it take corn several days to germinate, but it is somewhat frost tolerant. Since it grows from the bottom up, it will continue to grow even if the tops of the leaves are singed by frost. I normally plant 3 varieties, one with a 60 to 65 day maturity, one with a 70 to 75 day maturity, and one with an 80 to 85 day maturity.
Squash, melons, cucumbers, and beans require a soil temperature of 60 degrees for the seed to sprout. I usually wait until May to plant, but I can fudge a few days. With cucumbers, squash and melons a couple of plants is usually enough. I plant about 3 seeds together and cover them with a gallon milk jug from which I have cut off the bottom. The radiant heat warms the soil inside and seeds germinate quickly. The milk jug will also protect from a couple of degrees of frost.
I also use red, green, brown or black plastic mulch for all my long season vegetables. Red plastic is best for tomatoes and melons. Green or brown works well for everything else and is also okay for tomatoes and melons. If you can’t find red, brown or green plastic, black plastic is the third choice. Black plastic laid flat on the ground absorbs the sun’s heat and transfers it to the soil which it touches. Red and green plastic allow some of the sun’s heat rays through the plastic, so they warm the soil even more. In addition, red plastic reflects some light up into the plant leaves. All four shade out the light which stimulates weed growth. The only place where you will have to remove weeds is right near the holes which you make for your plants.
Get your soil completely ready for planting including adding fertilizer. I like to make a furrow to catch water. Lay the plastic on the soil over the furrow and place soil around the edges to hold it in place. Make holes at intervals for transplanting plants or placing seeds. Plastic can also be placed over transplanted plants, and X holes made to pull plants through.
If plastic strips are no more than 4 feet wide, sprinkler irrigation on top will provide adequate water. Water runs on top of the plastic above the furrow until it finds a hole and then runs in.
Floating row covers (woven, translucent plastic cloth) can also be used to speed growth. They work like a mini-greenhouse over plants. Warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers and squash can be planted outside up to a month early. The row covers not only protect from light frost but raise the temperature inside by 10 degrees or more, so they grow faster. Red, brown and green plastic mulch and floating row covers can be ordered from Johnny’s Seeds (johnnyseeds.com) and Territorial Seed Co. (territorialseed.com).
Wall-O-Water plant protectors work well for individual tomato or pepper plants. They have a series of tubes which are filled with water. The water gives off heat on frosty nights. They also heat the air inside the circle which makes heat loving vegetables grow faster.