In late winter, rain or cold weather often keeps Northern California gardeners indoors moping about, perusing catalogs, and planning for the year ahead. Outside, in rose gardens and perennial beds, growth appears to slow if not halt completely. Though it’s the ideal time to prune, spray, clean up, and otherwise take care of maintenance, late winter can be a rather uninspiring time for any growth-oriented gardener. In the kitchen garden, however, the edibles enthusiast can happily indulge gardening urges by pulling weeds, fluffing up veggie beds, adding organic compost, and direct-seeding or transplanting winter crops. Onions, radishes, peas, and fava beans can all be planted in most Northern California regions in late winter, but leafy vegetables are the true winners in the winter veggie garden.
Cold-tolerant, colorful, and delicious, greens are also nutritional powerhouses. The following rainbow of leafy greens will also add interest, texture, color, and beauty to your winter veggie patch. They’ll provide a vibrant and flavor-filled boost to late winter and early spring salads, soups, stews, and stir-fries. Here are six great greens for Northern California winter veggie gardens.
‘Bel Fiore’ radicchio
52 days to harvest
Radicchio is a type of leaf chicory. ‘Bel Fiore’ radicchio features beautiful magenta spots on creamy green leaves. ‘Bel Fiore’ means “beautiful flower” in Italian and refers to how the round-to-oval heads are often displayed in Italy, with their centers opened up to resemble a flower. This cultivar is mildly bitter, slightly nutty, and extremely tasty!
‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard
32 days to baby leaves, 60 days to mature leaves
The vivid, candy apple–red stems and crinkled, red-veined leaves of ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard look as stunning in the garden as they do on the plate. Baby leaves taste great in salads, adding loft, texture, and color, while more mature leaves are amazingly delicious sauteed with olive oil and garlic.
50 days to harvest
This species (Plantago coronopus) has a few different names. You will likely hear it called “buck’s-horn plantain” when referred to as a wild herb, and “minutina” when referred to as a garden green. Minutina grows in a low-growing, bunching rosette of slender, tender, and crunchy leaves. They have an almost succulent-like texture and an intriguing taste that mixes the flavors of parsley, spinach, and kale. As a bonus, the flower buds are edible too!
‘Red Russian’ kale
29 days to baby leaves, 50 days to mature leaves
Also sold as ‘Ragged Jack’, ‘Red Russian’ kale is originally from Siberia and is as cold-tolerant as can be. ‘Red Russian’ has beautiful, slightly frilly leaves. They are blue-green and lavender in color and have purple veins. The taste is tender, sweet, and mild.
68 days to harvest
My winter garden is not complete unless I’ve planted a bunch of these adorably petite and pointy cabbages! The uniform, dense, cone-shaped heads are tender, sweet, and crunchy. They are surrounded by an attractive swirl of wrapper leaves, making this cabbage quite the conversation piece in the veggie patch. This cabbage is perfect for winter salads, slaws, and stir-fries.
‘Vit’ corn salad
50 days to harvest
Corn salad (Valerianella locusta) is a unique green that you may encounter through many other names, including lamb’s lettuce, mâche, and fetticus. With its sweet, nutty, grassy flavor, high vitamin content, and velvety, tender texture, this lovely variety is a must-have for any winter garden. The rounded, deep green leaves are best enjoyed lightly braised or dressed with a simple vinaigrette.
Looking to expand your winter garden with even more unusual greens? Check out these articles for more recommendations:
—Fionuala Campion is the owner and manager of Cottage Gardens of Petaluma in Petaluma, California.
Get our latest tips, how-to articles, and instructional videos sent to your inbox.