Cool season vegetables like radishes and greens are completely underrated in my book. They grow well from seed, mature quickly, you can often harvest them at different stages and eat multiple parts of the plant. I gathered together a few of my very favorite spring vegetable varieties here, but I'm curious to know what you are planting in your garden right now.
'French Breakfast' radish. I would grow these radishes just for the pleasure of pulling the pretty roots up out of the ground. Unlike most salad radishes, which are globe shaped, this variety features cylindrical red roots with blunt white tips. Harvest them just as their shoulders push through the soil. And don't even think about composting the greens--cook them just like you would spinach. They are delicious! Always direct sow radish seed into the garden. Seed is available from Territorial Seed Company.
'Violetto' Artichoke. This gorgeous artichoke is pretty enough to plant in a flower bed. It produces purple artichokes that are held above a 2 1/12 foot tall mound of deeply serrated dove grey leaves. Artichokes are actually flower buds. It's hard to resist harvesting every single bud, but if you leave a few on the plant, you'll be treated to large, purple, thistle-like flowers that lure in tons of bees. 'Violetto' artichokes survive the winter down to USDA Hardiness Zone 6. In cooler climates they can be grown as annual for a fall crop of artichokes. Grow artichokes from seedlings.
Broccoli Rabe. Sow this super fast growing green now and you'll be harvesting its tender leaves and broccoli-like heads in just under two months. Broccoli rabe leaves taste like a cross between mustard and turnip greens and the heads are sweet with just a bit of heat. Be sure to harvest the plants before the buds open up and reveal their bright yellow flowers. Direct sow broccoli rabe in the garden. Seed is available from Territorial Seed Company.
'Golden India' Snow Pea. This pea grows nearly seven feet tall and has incredible two toned purple blossoms followed by pale yellow snow peas. Harvest the pea shoots (the tips of the vines) for salads and stir fry. Pick the pods when they are just three inches long and tender--any larger and they tend to become quite tough. Either direct sow seed or plant seedlings of peas in the garden. Seed is available from John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds.
'Forellenschluss' lettuce. If I could only grow one lettuce, it would be this heirloom romaine. It has lovely green leaves dappled with red and tastes delicious when harvested as a baby green or as a mature head. Its sweet leaves have a bit of a crunch to them and the lettuce grows well even in hotter weather. Fabulous! Either direct sow seed or plant seedlings of lettuce. Seed is available from Seed Savers Exchange.
'Lacinato' kale. I grow a ton of kale because it can be harvested at the baby stage and used in salads or when mature for cooking. This Italian black kale has heavily textured leaves and a sweet flavor. The architectural plants grow nearly 3 feet tall and look great if underplanted with 'Bulls Blood' beets or red lettuce. Grow kale from seedlings or direct sow seed into the garden. Seed is available from the Seed Savers Exchange.
Willi Galloway writes The Gardener column. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes about her kitchen garden on her blog DigginFood. Her first book Grow. Cook. Eat. A Food-Lovers Guide To Kitchen Gardening will be published in January 2012.
(Images: All images by Willi Galloway)