From the Desk of Ed Hume: Early Perennial Vegetables

March 14, 2011 at 12:00 AM Leave a comment

Asparagus, Rhubarb, and Artichokes head the list of the three most popular vegetables that come back year after year.  Give them a little space and they will provide you with tasty, nutritious, fresh crops for years to come.  Root stock or plants of all three are most readily available in late winter and earliest spring.

Since these are permanent vegetables, it is best to plant them along the edge of the vegetable garden.  Then they are not in the way when you cultivate the rest of the garden.  Also, both rhubarb and artichokes are quite large plants, so to have them outside the center of the garden often provides more space for other crops.

Asparagus can be started from seed or rootstock.  From seed, it takes three years before you can harvest your first crop.  The rootstock that you buy is generally two years old, so it takes about a year before you can begin harvesting.  Only plant asparagus about 2 inches deep.  You’ll need to prepare the soil another six inches deeper because of the long roots.  Plant asparagus in a sunny spot, in soil that is well drained.

I think it’s best to bend and snap off the spears as you harvest them.  If you cut them you are apt to cut a portion of the tough part of the spear.  Also, harvest when the top portion of the spear is still in tight bud, because if it begins to open a bit it often begins to get stringy.

Artichokes have beautiful bluish-green, divided leaves.  The combination of attractive leaves and buds make them nice landscape plants in addition to their food benefit.  They need a bright, sunny spot where the soil is well drained.  At planting time, be certain to add compost with your existing soil.  Then in late autumn, the plants will need to be mulched for added winter protection.

Rhubarb is another attractive landscape plant. The large, bold leaf texture blends nicely in the landscape with other garden plants.  Like asparagus and artichokes, rhubarb needs to be planted in a bright, sunny spot.  Rhubarb needs rich soil, so mix compost and other organic matter into the planting soil at planting time.  When harvesting the stalks, lift the stem and give it a slight twist and the stalk will easily separate from the plant.

Old rhubarb plants can be dug and divided either in the fall or late winter.  Separate the clump by cutting and replanting the side shoots and discarding the old center portion.

These are three outstanding perennial vegetables that merit a spot in most vegetable gardens.

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