A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Autumn Planting

by Maria Reidelbach   

Hardy kiwis (Actinidia arguta) are commonly called “baby kiwis”
or “kiwi berries.” Originally from northeast Asia, the hardy kiwi 
can tolerate temperatures as low as -25ºF.
With all kinds of fruit and vegetables to harvest, eat, and preserve right now, it’s counter-intuitive to think of planting. However, all our local gardening gurus say that autumn is the perfect time of the year to plant perennial food-bearing plants that will produce year after year. These are some of my favorite garden plants—especially easy-to-grow fruit like blackberries and raspberries, currants and gooseberries,  elderberries and blueberries.

There are plenty of good reasons to plant now. First and foremost—it’s good for the plant itself. Lee Reich, a nationally known gardener and author based in New Paltz, explained to me that when you plant in the spring you disrupt a plant just as it’s focusing its energy on pushing out spring leaves and blossoms while the days are the longest. Francis Groeters of Catskill Native Nursery in Kerhonkson explains that planting in the spring is partly a relic of the days when woody plants would be shipped “bare root,” which is exactly what it sounds like, and you would have to get to get them in the ground fast. With most plants now available in pots of soil, seasonality and speed are not an issue.

In the fall, as the days grow short and cool, the leafy part of plants gradually becomes dormant but the roots continue to grow. This is a great situation for a transplant—it literally gives a plant time to put down roots before the exuberance of spring growth. Nikki Seelbach of the Phantom Gardener in Rhinebeck said that planting in the autumn results in a noticeable head start in the spring. Francis points out that fall days are usually cooler and wetter than late spring and summer—great for roots. Victoria Coyne of Victoria Gardens in Rosendale told me that that you can plant right up into November—roots will grow until the ground temperature dips below 40 degrees.

Additionally, in the spring we are always so busy with cleaning up the mess of winter, with pruning and planting annual plants and seeds that we give little attention to planting new perennials. In the fall, when we are not mowing and weeding, there is a little more time.

Yet another great reason to plant in the autumn is the sales! Almost all nurseries have sales starting on Labor Day and you can often get 20 percent and more off the spring price of a plant. Local nurseries have plenty of stock, and interesting choices, too. Catskill Native Nursery specializes in plants that are indigenous to our area, and so they are especially easy to grow. Francis recommends the berries; my new personal favorite is elderberry. It grows like a weed in moist areas, it has an amazingly flavorful berry, and you can make a fragrant, dreamy syrup from its blossoms.

Francis also suggests the Jerusalem artichoke, which makes a great edible landscape addition. It’s got yellow flowers on tall, delicate stems. Francis also touted the groundnut. There are several unrelated plants called groundnuts—including peanuts—but these are not to be confused with our local native groundnut, Apios americana. It’s got an edible bean that nobody says much about, but it also has a tuber that has become beloved in parts of Japan, where it was adopted. Photos show the groundnut to be a gorgeous plant when trellised, with beautiful, sweet-pea-like flowers of pink and burgundy—definitely worth trying.

Fruit trees can also be planted in the fall. However, be sure to do your homework when planting a fruit tree—they can be challenging to grow and some require lots of pruning, fertilizing, and pest management. Easiest, once again, are natives like pawpaw, quince and crabapple, as well as sassafras and hazelnut, and also hardy kiwi (really a woody vine) and Asian pear.

Don’t forget oddballs like rhubarb, a beautiful, early spring veggie-fruit, that can star in your front yard plantings, and hops, which is a vigorous and beautiful vine.

This season, I’m doing my own experiment in fall planting. I want to use low-bush blueberries as a ground cover for part of Homegrown Mini-Golf course I designed at Kelder’s Farm. Even though they grow wild all over this area, lowbush blueberries, even bare-root, are quite expensive. I asked Lee Reich if I could transplant them from the woods and he suggested a two-step process. Since blueberry roots trail from one plant to the next, he said to use a shovel blade to encircle each plant, cutting the extending roots, but leaving the plant in place for several weeks. During this time, new roots will grow and the plants will have a much better chance of survival after being moved. A friendly neighbor has given me permission to transplant some from his woods. I’ll report back if this technique is successful.

Fast Pasta With Greens

Fast, one pot and so good! Most all cultivated and wild greens are delicious in this dish: spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, turnip greens, kale, lambs quarters, stinging nettles, amaranth or purslane.

Ingredients:
• 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
• 1/2 teaspoon or so of crushed red pepper flakes
• 1/2 cup black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
• 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1 pound of any shape pasta *
• 1 to 2 pounds of greens, washed, tough stems removed, roughly chopped
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Grated Parmasan or Romano cheese, if desired.

What to Do:
• Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a tablespoon of salt. Meanwhile combine garlic in the bottom of a warm bowl with the red pepper flakes, olives, and olive oil.
• Place the pasta in the pot and cook until it is nearly done.
• Plunge the greens into the pasta water, and cook until they wilt. This will usually take less than a minute (sturdier greens will take a little longer).
• Drain, allowing some water to cling to the pasta, and toss pasta and greens in the bowl with the garlic and olive mixture.
• Season with salt and pepper, and serve, passing a bowl of cheese at the table, if desired.

This makes four servings.

*If you’d like to use whole wheat flour, Bionaturae is a pretty good brand and it’s widely available.

Sources:
• Lee Reich has a number of great books and a blog: leereich.com
• Victoria Gardens, 1 Cottekill Rd., Rosendale: victoriagardens.biz
• Catskill Native Nursery, 607 Samsonville Rd, catskillnativenursery.com
• Phantom Gardener, US 9, Rhinebeck, phantomgardener.com
• The Edible Front Yard, by Ivette Soler
Maria Reidelbach is an author and applied artist living and eating in Accord, NY.