We grow food plants so we can harvest and eat their produce. What to do with the parts of the plant we don’t eat, such as the roots, is another matter.
Roots support a microcosm of life within the soil. Beneficial bacteria and fungi thrive in a root-filled environment and attract other life forms such as worms and arthropods. These contribute to the biodiversity and nutrient density of the garden bed.
Harvesting the plants at the base allows the roots to die in the soil. They then provide a food source for soil life, add organic matter (carbon) to the soil, and create channels that promote the movement of oxygen and water through the soil. This is a great benefit particularly in garden beds with little biodiversity and where worm activity is low, because the channels that roots leave behind help aerate and support soil hydration.
We are most likely to clear a whole bed of harvested plants where the plants are long-growing, i.e. around 12 to 16 weeks till maturity. But short-growing plants such as leafy greens are also cleared frequently. And usually we’ll leave one or two plants to go to seed in a corner to supply next season’s sowing.
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What to do
1. Identify the beds that are ready to clear.
2. Choose one or two plants of each type that you will allow to go to seed and leave them.
3. Identify the plants with large root systems, such as broccoli.
4. Using the garden fork to loosen the roots if required, gently pull and lift the whole plant out of the soil, roots and all.
5. Shake all the dirt from the roots and leave it behind in the bed.
6. Put the plants in your wheelbarrow.
7. Identify the short-growing vegetables with smaller root systems such as Asian greens, which are harvested and replanted frequently.
8. Clear four out of five plants, roots and all. Cut the fifth plant at the base, leaving the roots in the soil; this will help build the health of the soil. (Of course you can clear all of them if required for the kitchen. If they are planted in rows, you can leave the old plant roots intact and plant new ones in the spaces between the rows.)
9. Put the plants in your wheelbarrow.
10. Separate the edible parts of the plant from the inedible parts.
11. Take the edible parts to the kitchen and the inedible parts to the compost.