Food Forest – Perennial Vegetables

Perennial Vegetables

Asparagus

This seasonal delicacy provides B and C vitamins, iron, and calcium, and can thrive almost anywhere in the US except Florida and the Gulf Coast where the mild, wet winters prevent its dormancy cycle.  Give some thought to the placement of your asparagus bed, knowing it will produce well for over 20 years!  Soggy soil will rot asparagus roots, so choose a spot with light, well-drained soil.  Asparagus “crowns” are available from garden stores or, if you’re lucky, an experienced grower whose crowns have matured enough to divide (usually after about 3 years).  The first season requires patience as you allow the plants to establish themselves with no harvesting.  The next season, harvest for two weeks, the following for four, and thereafter for six weeks or until the emerging spears are mostly quite thin (less than half inch in diameter).  The remaining spears should be allowed to fern for the remainder of the season, and the dried ferns cut down and chopped up to use as mulch.

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Once the asparagus harvest is complete in late spring, the thinning shoots are left to sprout into ferns. The fine, thick fern display is a visual treat through the summer months, but the ferns may grow 5’ or more, producing a shade effect behind the bed. For this reason, asparagus beds are often located on the north side of garden plots.

Rhubarb

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Though its leaves are toxic, the stalks of this self-sufficient and humble plant provide spring’s first welcome fruit pies.  Rhubarb does best in northern states where the average summer temperature stays around 75F.  It will faithfully return year after year in an out-of-the-way corner of your garden, favoring acidic, well-drained soil and yearly supplementation with a good nitrogen source such as compost or manure.  Don’t harvest any stalks the first year; the second season you may harvest lightly, and thereafter freely.  If you know any local gardeners, one of them is sure to be able to spare a root crown or two to get you started enjoying your own rhubarb.

Herbs

A perennial herb garden is a wonderfully compact asset to any yard or garden; many urban homes with no room for a full vegetable garden can still enjoy the beauty and flavor of fresh herbs in their landscaping or containers.  Oregano, chives, and several varieties of mint can get aggressive with your garden space, so consider confining them in pots or a raised bed.  Thyme, sage, lovage, and lavender are less aggressive with their roots.  Some of the herbs familiar to North Americans, such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, bay laurel, marjoram, dill, and oregano are native to the Mediterranean region. These herbs grow best in soils with excellent drainage, bright sun, and moderate temperatures. Start with weed-free soil and mulch well; dinner preparation often begins with a pleasant stroll to this corner of the garden.