3 Pacific Northwest Native Plants for Easy Winter Harvests
In this episode, we’re going to look at nodding onions, miner’s lettuce, and checkermallow plus some tips on expanding your winter garden beyond these 3 great native plants. These 3 Pacific Northwest native plants are great options for easy winter harvests.
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Nodding onions, miner’s lettuce, and checkermallows are some of my favorite Pacific Northwest native plants.
I’ve got them growing all over my property in our food forests, gardens, and hedgerows. And beyond providing great harvests these plants also support native pollinators and other wildlife.
And these 3 native plants aren’t just native to the Pacific Northwest.
Though if you live in colder parts of their native range they might get buried in snow. Though with simple row covers to keep the snow off you should still be able to get easy winter harvests.
Let’s dive into each of these great Pacific Northwest native vegetables and look at how you can build your winter garden beyond these 3 plants.
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Further Listening and Reading: Growing with Nature episodes and blog posts with more information about the topics covered in this episode.
Books and Other Resources
- Ethnobotany of Western Washington: The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants by Native Americans – by Erna Gunther. A great resource for edible plants in western Washington.
Plant List: More information about some of the plants covered in this episode.
Grow Miner’s Lettuce for Easy Winter Harvests
Miner’s lettuce is one of my favorite native vegetables. In shady areas, miner’s lettuce is always my go-to plant.
Fairly low growing, miner’s lettuce makes a nice groundcover and spreads easily by seed. And if your summers don’t get too hot miner’s lettuce is a perennial. Though hot summers and extreme heatwaves like the one we faced here in the Pacific Northwest can kill it.
But since it blooms and goes to seed fairly early in summer even if it dies from summer heat it will still come back.
This makes it a great easy to grow native vegetable. And it tastes really great too with a nice mild flavor and a crunchy texture. Miner’s lettuce can easily be the foundation of a great salad or used in wraps.
But where miner’s lettuce really shines is that it can provide easy winter harvests.
Right now in early October, I’ve got tons of little miner’s lettuce seedlings popping up. These seedlings will grow and soon they will have their first true leaves.
Soon after those leaves grow they will be ready to harvest.
And since they’re popping up all over despite being small they’re still easy to harvest. I just use a pair of scissors to cut a bunch at once. And as long as you rotate through your patches so you don’t over harvest they will regrow and be ready to harvest again.
I just love the look of the young miner’s lettuce plants in winter. They make a lovely green carpet that adds some nice color to the winter landscape. And since they also provide great winter harvests I can’t recommend this plant enough.
So give it a try and make sure to check out the show notes where I’ve included more information about miner’s lettuce and links to sites that sell miner’s lettuce seeds.
Info on Miner's Lettuce - Claytonia perfoliata
Nodding Onions are Great Native Vegetables
While miner’s lettuce is a great foundation for salads and wraps our next Pacific Northwest native vegetable is a bit different.
Nodding onions have a strong onion flavor with small bulbs and lots of green leaves that are very similar to chives.
I often use them as a replacement for chives or green onions.
And my family and I like them added to salads—they really add a nice flavor.
Nodding onions are one of several types of wild onions that you can find in North America. Several are native to the Pacific Northwest including nodding and Hooker’s onions.
Nodding onions are much smaller than the onions you buy in the store. But they also spread easily by seed and grow in clumps.
You can divide these clumps—using some of the small bulbs for cooking and replant the rest.
Just remember that nodding onions are a fair bit stronger than regular onions and not as sweet. But I really like them and they’re a great easy-to-grow native vegetable.
Plus, just like miner’s lettuce, they provide easy winter harvests.
Nodding onions stay green throughout the winter here in western Washington. And of course, you can dig up the bulbs too. Winter is a great time to harvest them.
These onions are perennial, so as long as you replant some of the bulbs you dig up or leave some in the ground you should have a never-ending supply of nodding onions.
Plus, they get beautiful pink flowers in the summer that native pollinators just love.
So if you’re looking for a native alternative to chives and green onions then make sure to give nodding onions a try. And make sure to check out the show notes where I’ve included more information about nodding onions.
Info on Nodding Onion – Allium cernuum
Checkermallows Are a Great Winter Crop
The last type of native vegetable that you can grow for easy winter harvests is checkermallows. These beautiful native flowers provide abundant greens for cooking and eating raw in salads or on sandwiches.
There are over 24 types of checkermallows growing in western North America.
The 2 that we grow here in western Washington are rose and Henderson checkermallows. Rose checkermallows provide the best winter greens but are a bit fuzzy. While Henderson checkermallows aren’t fuzzy but they don’t provide as good of a harvest.
I prefer Henderson checkermallows in the spring and summer but rose checkermallows are great to have around in the winter.
But there are lots of other types of checkermallows to try.
Another one native to western Washington is the meadow checkermallow. It looks similar to Henderson checkermallows but I haven’t had a chance to try it out it.
Though I do have seeds for it so hopefully I will be able to talk more about it next year.
With so many types of checkermallows in western North America, I’m sure some of them would be great for easy winter harvests.
I’ve found checkermallow leaves to be a great alternative to spinach. They’ve got a similar texture and a very nice mild flavor. They’re good raw or cooked. Though fuzzy ones like rose are a bit better cooked. But I still use them in salads.
And in the spring checkermallows get beautiful pink flowers that are very similar in appearance to hollyhocks. Native pollinators like bumblebees just love them.
So give them a try and make sure to check out the show notes where I’ve included more information about checkermallows.
Info on Henderson's Checkermallow – Sidalcea hendersonii
Info on Rose Checkermallow – Sidalcea malviflora
Next Steps for Easy Winter Harvests
These 3 Pacific Northwest native vegetables all provide easy winter harvests. But these aren’t the only ones you can grow for winter harvests.
Early blue violet and Wapato are 2 other great native plants you could try. I’ve got them both growing at my place and I love adding violet leaves to my salads and Wapato is a great staple crop.
There’s also springbank clover which has edible roots that make a great staple crop and Pacific silverweed that also has edible roots.
Along with the 3, this episode focuses on that’s 7 native vegetables that you can harvest in the winter. And here in western Washington, they don’t even need protection from the cold.
But you can also add non-native vegetables to the mix depending on where you live and how warm your winters are.
We like to add Kosmic kale and purple tree collard leaves along with mâché which is also known as corn salad to our winter harvests. And other vegetables like Swish chard can handle frosts.
If you live in a cold area you will need to give these plants some protection—but far less than the more sensitive plants.
And if you stick to the perennial ones then you won’t have to worry about timing your planting in late summer to get a fall harvest. Your plants will already be there making it easy to harvest them throughout the fall and winter.
With this mix of frost-hardy vegetables, you can easily get fresh greens all fall and winter without worrying about protecting them from cold frosty nights.
This is one reason I love growing native and non-native perennial vegetables. Once established they make harvests so easy. And that includes easy winter harvests.
The native vegetables covered in this episode have fairly large native ranges and wherever you live there are plenty of native vegetables you can try. You just got to learn about them and start planting.
I hope this episode will leave you inspired to give these vegetables a try so you too can have easy winter harvests.
And stay tuned for our next episode where we will look at snags and their role on your property. And don’t forget to check out the show notes for more links and resources related to this episode.
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