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Of the produce I grew this year, these are the tireless, enduring champions – the plants that are still in the ground, producing actual edible food for us, on freakin’ November 1 in Minnesota! Anyone who loves to plant and grow knows that it’s never too early to start dreaming about next year, so add these valorous vegetables to your wish list. I have not been disappointed!

 

Chives

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I’m trying to think of a clever way to convince you that chives are not lame, but rather an excellent addition to your garden – actually, it doesn’t even have to be your garden! These guys will make it on their own in nearly whatever square-foot patch of soil you stick them in. They like sun, sure, but the ones pictured here survive on a few hours a day, so I know it’s possible. They also aren’t particularly enticing to rabbits and deer, so no fencing needed! But these aren’t even my favorite things about chives. If I was forced to rank the reasons I love chives, it would be:

1) Chives can serve as a substitute for onions in almost any dish. This works great for me because I am chronically out of onions. But no worries – I just step out the door and pluck a fistful of chives instead. Their flavor isn’t as strong, so use them liberally. The silver lining of this fact is that they don’t burn your eyes when you cut them (a big problem for me!). They are also a fun garnish when you might normally go without – for tacos, soups, dips, etc.

2) Chives are perennial – they come back every year. For those who wish growing your own food was simple, in this case it is. In addition to the fact that they do well with little or no tending, once planted chives will come back every year with no effort on your part. Even if you love the growing process like I do, it’s awesome to have a selection of plants that do their own work (look for a post of my favorite perennial edibles one of these days – can we say asparagus? Yum.)

3) They are the first to come and the last to go. After a long winter (i.e. every winter), the first sign of life in the garden is so magical, so welcomed, so needed!! Chives poke through the soil (and sometimes even through the snow!) in April, give or take. In those early days of the growing season, I am so much more appreciative of anything producing that I enthusiastically use chives whenever I can. My kids feel it too – last spring my three-year-old was always heading out to pick chives, and her little sister would toddle behind, both of them enjoying the reward of picking their own snack out of the ground. And, as the photo shows, although weighed down by the rain, they are still crisp, green and bountiful on November 1. If you have a sunny spot for them, they even transplant well indoors for continued production throughout the winter.

 

Kale

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Kale is another cool-season crop that you can plant early in the spring and enjoy into late fall and even winter. Last year, my kale was still standing in December, right through the snow. It is known primarily as a cooking green, but it can also be enjoyed in salads, baked as chips and added to smoothies, among other things. With the popularity of this vitamin- and mineral-packed green, you will have no problem finding uses and recipes. My most common use is to chop some up and add it to skillet meals – simple ones like the one below (under the broccoli heading) that use pasta, potatoes, rice or quinoa as a base, an added protein if desired, and whatever is available that day in the garden. Although Kale sweetens after frosty weather, we enjoy it cooked throughout the summer. Kale is also beautiful as an ornamental – in planters, flower arrangements, etc.

 

Broccoli

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As shown in the photo at the top of this post, broccoli continues to produce small florets as off-shoots even after the central head is harvested. The plant continues to grow and becomes covered in these  bite-sized offerings. Cool weather only improves the taste, and the continual growth provides a steady supply to your kitchen. Above is a quick lunch I made with leftover pasta, summer squash (this was last month) and broccoli sautéed in a skillet with only salt, pepper and a bit of parmesan cheese (no recipe required, just go with it!) Broccoli is another crop that my kids graze on throughout the summer and fall – the florets are the perfect size and easy to pick. But I swear, I think the main reason they like it is because they can get it themselves. So if your kids are picky eaters, don’t underestimate what a bit of empowerment can do for their eating habits!

 

Celery

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This is the first year I planted celery, and I’m so glad I did! It is so convenient to go out to the garden to grab a couple stalks as needed for recipes. I bought the seedlings from a nursery and planted them in June some time. By August I was able to steal a few stalks here and there as needed, and now the plants are fully developed and ready for picking whenever I desire. Actually (I’m kind of excited about this), I read in my prized Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening that you can keep the plants going indoors for a few months after it gets too cold outside. Fresh celery growing within reach? Yes please! This is the only plant of these four that I have babysat a bit this fall – several nights I covered them with sheets when the temps were dipping toward freezing. Celery is pretty cold-hardy, but can suffer with repeated frosts.

I hope you can tuck this information away in your mental “hope chest” for next spring’s garden. Just think – this time next year you could still be enjoying fresh produce from your own backyard! Don’t be discouraged if you don’t yet have a garden! It’s no lie – with just a few minutes of prep this fall, you can have a plot ready and waiting for you come spring! Learn how in this post: Start Your New Garden in 10 Minutes.