Friday, April 19, 2024
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Endless harvest

AP – Most vegetables grown in home gardens are annuals. They wither and die at the end of the season and need to be replanted every year to reap more crops.

But if you’re short on time or money, don’t want to be bothered with yearly planting or want to try something new, I’ve got just the plants for you: perennial vegetables.

PREPARING THE SOIL

If you ever were to prioritise improving your soil, it should be before planting perennials. Since the bed will contain plants for years to come, it’s the only chance you’ll get to truly mix in compost or manure, till in amendments to adjust the soil’s pH and properly dig weeds up by their roots without the risk of disturbing nearby plants.

It’s also an excellent time to incorporate an organic fertiliser. Just as a house needs a good foundation, healthy plants begin with healthy soil. Seize the opportunity while you have it.

One benefit of growing perennial crops is that they’re generally low maintenance. Once you’ve planted a crop, there will be no need to plant it again, so you won’t find yourself tilling, turning or digging the soil again for as long as they are in your garden.

Going forward, sprinkle an inch or two of compost and, in most cases, a dose of fertiliser granules over the soil every spring.

Just as when growing ornamental perennials, be sure to confirm that your growing conditions match your chosen plants’ individual requirements, such as cold hardiness, pH range, sunlight exposure and water needs.

This image provided by Ball Horticultural Company shows stalks of ‘Jersey Knight’ asparagus. PHOTO: AP
ABOVE & BELOW: Jerusalem artichokes growing in a garden in Long Island, New York; and a ‘Canada Red’ rhubarb plant. PHOTO: AP
PHOTO: AP

GIVING THEM TIME

Some perennial vegetables should be allowed to become fully established in the garden before harvesting. Asparagus, for instance, is an exercise in patience. Plants should be allowed to grow undisturbed for two full years before harvesting. Plant in spring, and when third-year stalks are six to 10 inches tall, use a sharp knife to cut each slightly below the soil line. Stop harvesting in early July to allow plants to store up the energy required for next year’s crop.

Rhubarb also shouldn’t be harvested immediately. You can, however, sample up to four stalks per plant in their second year. Plant bare-root crowns, with their buds, or “eyes”, facing upward, two inches below the soil surface in either spring or fall, allowing three to four feet between plants.

Starting in their third year, harvest stalks when they are between 12 and 18 inches long, but never remove more than two-thirds of each plant.

QUICKER GRATIFICATION

Jerusalem artichokes – also called sunchokes – are quick-spreading plants that can take over a garden bed, so consider growing them in their own space.

Plant three to five inches deep and 12 to 18 inches apart in early spring.

The easy-to-grow plants aren’t particular about soil type and don’t need annual fertilisation, but they cannot tolerate soggy soils. Harvest tubers in autumn, preferably after a couple of light frosts, which will improve their flavour. But allow some to remain in the ground to produce next year’s crop.

Egyptian walking onions are unusual, fun-to-grow onions that spread as they “walk” across the garden bed. Not considered invasive because they can be easily controlled (unwanted plants pull up easily), these onions grow clusters of small bulbils (secondary bulbs that grow at the top of the plan) at the top of their stalks. When they become too heavy for the plant to bear, the stalks bend over, resting the bulbils on the soil surface. Before long, the bulbils root and grow into new plants. Harvest bulbils anytime and use as you would onions, or dig up full-size onions in late summer, allowing some to remain in the ground for next year. – Jessica Damiano

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