Fall Plants

20131021_115424Here in northern Illinois, we had a long period of warm days in the fall. Leaves turned later than expected. While readying our plots for winter, I was noting what was still alive.

These marigolds were an experiment in permaculture principles. Of all the marigolds throughout the garden, they were the largest and most vibrant ones left in late October. They survived nights with frost while others wilted dramatically. So, how were these different? The experiment was, don’t plant them in soil.

Wait, how can they grow that way? I pushed back the mulch and exposed the clay soil. Plopped the roots right on top of the soil, then covered them with mulch only. This way, the roots could breathe. It took them a bit longer to take hold (meaning, they only grew slower, but did not die) than the other marigolds. But what I discovered is, their roots found their own way. They found the best spots to get their moisture and nutrition. It is really something to marvel at the intelligence of plants.

20131021_115520My next experiment was radishes in fall. I planted these in the first week of September. I thinned them only once. Never watered them. And here they are growing. Fall cottonwood leaves cuddled round them. During all the fall frosts, they never so much as wilted.

20131021_115551This was the first harvested radish in mid-October. A little too small, but still tasty. But a week later, they were a decent size and quite delicious. Here now on November 11, we still have more than half these in the ground and will harvest as we go.

20131021_115624There is volunteer asparagus growing throughout our garden, which we’ll allow to stay. These curly leaf kale were planted in late July. I’ve already gotten several rounds of harvest out of them. This day, we’d put ramial wood chips round them to keep them warm on frosty nights. They also have not wilted at all. Their taste has developed and growth has slowed, but they’re still vibrant and green even here in November.

20131021_115643If you see a previous post of mine, we harvested a lot of garlic for a fellow gardener and got to keep it. We’ve since given most of it away and kept what we’ll be using until Spring. In mid-September, with those same (free) bulbs we harvested, we pushed hard neck garlic cloves into the soil. Every one of them has sprouted. But in winter, they will die off and come up again in Spring. Just next to them, we planted Egyptian Walking Onions (perennial onions) in late September. They have also sprouted.

20131029_162946If you’ve seen previous posts, you’ll note that we grew sunchokes in a container on the deck of our house. We didn’t want them taking over the garden (they can be invasive). Here I harvested the first few bulbs from them. Delicious, nutty, salty, sweet, juicy and crispy all in one bite. We’ve harvested another pound since then.

My husband needed help carrying the planter into the garage to over-winter there. There are so many chokes that there is very little soil left. The plants are root bound. But an abundance of delectable roots await our pleasure all winter. While we’ve eaten them raw only, cooking them like potatoes is my next experiment.

20131104_154158Here is what may appear to be a tangle of things on our garage floor. There are cured butternut squash, sunflower seeds waiting to be separated from the plant, bags of apples, and the largest display here of tangled roots are canna lily rhizomes (which aren’t lilies at all). Below is how they looked while in bloom.

20131004_120757The tall row of orange flowers (left to right) are the cannas. This picture was taken in summer when they were still growing. The fellow gardener, who planted them, offered anyone who wanted some rhizomes to come get them.

So I started researching them. Were they only ornamental? Or did they have multiple uses? Turns out they’re great for attracting Japanese beetles (first line of defense), and also beneficial insects – hummingbirds and butterflies too. Their seeds can be used for shot (they’re that hard! and people do use them for this) and also for dyes (purple I believe). Their leaves are outstanding mulch. And finally the rhizomes.

Canna rhizomes are edible. They are considered a survival food. One variety is grown exclusively to produce arrowroot powder. You can roast or boil them like potatoes, but they take longer to soften.

Canna rhizomes will die in winter in colder zones like Illinois. So they must be stored for winter and planted in Spring. I’ll be cooking some of these, but also planting some in Spring.

And now, as I left the garden recently, here were a couple scenes I caught on camera, on Fermilab property.

20131104_143228 20131104_143711


  1. Hello from Western illinois…I noticed you are in Illinois…we are in the Western part of the state and it is getting cold here ,too. Good to read about someone growing in similiar growing area!:-) I grow canna and NEVER knew they were edible! Please post about them later, that is something new I learned reading your blog. I always like to find new things you can grow in our climate to eat year round. Your harvest looks abundent!:-)


    • Hi Robbie! Yes, we’re about 40 minutes from Chicago city limits. We have 2 plots at the Fermilab garden club (on Fermilab grounds), which total 1600 square feet. We only started last April with 1 plot. I knew pretty much nothing about gardening. I jumped straight into permaculture, after starting a standard way last April & making lots of mistakes. I asked the person who planted the canna if they were purely ornamental & they said they didn’t know if they had other uses, but I could take some of the rhizomes. So before taking the rhizomes (I’m not into strictly ornamental plants), I researched them. I want to make an article on them, after I cook some. Keep posted. =) We’re zone 5b here, so you’re probably a or b.


    • I’ve been taking some permaculture classes. It’s stressed how soil compaction is one of the big hurdles to proper plant growth. Someone said they planted a 4 year old fruit tree last fall, only halfway in the soil, with the other half the root ball covered in only mulch. This spring, they had a full fruit crop from that tree. I had all these marigolds to plant still, it was late in the day and I was tired. I didn’t feel like digging more to plant roots. So I thought, hey, it’s an experiment. Let’s see how they do. I’ve since done that with pepper plants too, and will do it somewhat with other plants. Lazy is the way to go. haha


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