Even though most of the East Coast experienced a very warm Christmas this year and I’m still enjoying my fall crops, I’m already thinking about my early spring plantings. The following are a few of my favorite spring cultivars that should do well in most gardens, particularly here in South Carolina, and provide an early burst of fresh flavor on your dinner table.
1. Sugar Sprint Snap Peas
This nearly stringless variety of snap pea is noted for its very early production, which makes it a great choice for the spring growing season. The plants are vining, but the 2-foot-long vines don’t require support or trellising. Sugar sprint peas yield a heavy harvest of super-sweet peas with edible pods that are perfect snacks right out of the garden, in stir-fries or for a tasty crunch to any salad.
2. Lacinato Kale
An old Italian heirloom that dates back to the 18th century, lacinato kale is prized for its delicate taste and beautiful blue-green leaves that have a unique wavy texture. Lacinato kale has many common names including Tuscan kale or dinosaur kale after the bumpy texture of the leaves that resembles rough reptile skin. The stunning, long, narrow leaves can reach nearly 2 feet long, making it perfectly suited as an ornamental, as well. It grows quickly: Young leaves can be harvested in around 30 days and mature foliage by 60 days. A staple in Italian cuisine from soups to salads, the kale leaves are nutritious and delicious.
3. Monstrueux de Viroflay Spinach
This spinach, also known simply as Viroflay, is a French heirloom that was introduced in the mid-19th century and is known for its large, very fast-growing plants. This heirloom features massive dark-green leaves that approach 10 inches in length. The flavor is rich and meaty with low bitterness and a crisp bite. The plants do well in cool weather but bolt quickly once temperatures regularly reach the 70s, making it a perfect early-season crop.
4. Ruby Red Swiss Chard
Also known as rhubarb red chard, this amazing green features bright, crimson stalks with deep-green foliage interspersed by dark-red veins. While its namesake, rhubarb, shares a similar coloring, this chard doesn’t have the divisive, sour rhubarb flavor. It’s a great choice for early-spring gardens.