Harvest more, work less in next year’s garden

posted Sept. 25, 2017 9:13 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Bev Carney | Gardening Columnist

As the garden season winds to a close, some gardeners look back at the past season and vow to make things easier next year. Here are a few ideas to simplify next year’s garden tasks.

Plant perennial or self-sowing food crops. Few plants are more rewarding than asparagus. Low in calories and rich in nutrients, asparagus will produce a bountiful harvest for 10 to 20 years, all from an initial planting. Spring is the time to set out new crowns and you can start harvesting lightly in the second year. Asparagus requires very little maintenance.

Sorrel is another spring delight. Offering tart, lemon-flavored leaves, sorrel is usually labeled as an herb, but it can also be used as a green in soups, stews, salads and sauces. Sorrel has been described as hardy to only zone 5, but other sources list it as hardy in zone 4. If in doubt, toss a protective cover over it for the winter. Sorrel should start producing in very early spring.

Also an early spring producer, Egyptian walking onions (also called bunching onions) will produce a fresh crop year after year. Left on their own, they will produce a small but decent-sized bulb underground, but my favorite use for them is for fresh green onions, often ready for picking even with a late spring snow. Small bulblets form at the top of the plant and when these top-heavy leaves fall over, new plants are started from those bulblets.

Chives are another tasty treat that will return year after year. Best harvested before they blossom, both garlic chives and the more common onion chives will enhance your recipes before they flower and afterwards their blooms attract a variety of bees.

Sunchokes, a.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes, are a reliable substitute for potatoes and will come back year after year. A word of caution: These gorgeous plants will spread wantonly so choose an out-of-the-way location for them.

Fruit is also a perpetual producer. Grapes, raspberries and blackberries are among the easiest fruits to grow and they come back year after year with minimal maintenance. Although not all that popular, mulberries require no maintenance at all and produce a bountiful crop of juicy berries year after year. Maintaining a bed of strawberries or an orchard of apples, pears, cherries or plums can require a bit more work, but you certainly get a tasty yield for the work involved. Remember rhubarb. Whether treated like a fruit or a vegetable, rhubarb is a profoundly dependable plant and its stalks are rich in minerals.

Another way to get food with less work is to plant a few seeds in the fall. Spinach and lettuce seeds scattered on a fresh garden bed in late fall will germinate early and produce a lovely spring harvest. I like to cover my seeds with a low-tunnel or hoop frame which can speed up your harvest even more. But even without such winter protection, with luck and a bit of snow, you too should have greens in March or early April. Red Russian kale, if left to overwinter under a hoop, may grow tasty shoots in the spring which rapidly develop seeds and produce a lush spring crop of kale that will mature into large plants as summer progresses.

Scarlet runner beans may produce again for you the following season if some beans are allowed to dry on the vine and drop to the ground. Likewise, leaving a few potatoes buried in the ground may result in a few labor-free spuds next year. Onions may also sprout for fresh greens.

Garden more, work less and enjoy every minute.

Beverly Carney can be reached at cultivatingcountry@gmail.com.

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