Edible Perennials

The Mission of the Capital City Organic Gardeners is to collectively share, learn and teach organic vegetable gardening methods to each other. For our May meeting, CCOG gardeners shared their tips for growing perennial edibles. We talked about dandelions, asparagus and rhubarb for this meeting. There are so many edible perennials that gardeners can grow. We only touched on a few and filled the hour!

DANDELIONS

Starting out with some yummy treats, Mary brought in some delicious Dandelion Cheese Squares to share with the group. Thinking about dandelions as a vegetable and not a weed takes a shift in thinking but the truth is that European settlers brought dandelion seeds to America for food and medicine. The health benefits from eating dandelions are astounding. As one of the first greens that appear in the spring, it would benefit all of us to learn more about it’s healthful properties and work to incorporate dandelions into our diet. Caution! When gathering dandelion greens, make sure you harvest young greens from areas that have not been treated with lawn chemicals. Check out The Health Benefits of Dandelions by Aparup Mukherjee. For advice on cooking dandelions along with some other wild greens, download this article, Facts on Edible Wild Greens in Maine.

ASPARAGUS

Karen did some research on asparagus to share with the group. Asparagus needs sandy, slightly acidic, well-drained soil and should be planted around 8″deep. They enjoy 6 to 8 hours of sun a day. Make sure the rows are 2′ apart. Dig a 8″ deep trench and plant the crowns 12-15″ apart. Cover with 2″of soil. As plants begin to grow, keep adding soil 2″ at a time until it is mounded up into a hill.

When choosing asparagus to plant, consider choosing Jersey Male Hybrids. They are the most prolific.

The first and second year that the asparagus comes up, do not harvest. Let the stalks grow into ferns, then cut the ferns back late in the fall after a hard frost. The ferns provide energy to the plant. You can tie up the ferns with stakes and twine so they don’t flop over and stay neat.

The third year you can start to harvest. Cut the asparagus when it is 8″ to 12″ tall. Cut for the first 10 days to 2 weeks, then let the asparagus go to ferns. Each year, you can cut more asparagus for a longer period of time as the plant becomes more robust.

Establishing an asparagus bed takes time and patience. However, once it is established you can harvest this spring vegetable for up to 20 years! What a treat!

RHUBARB

Claudia shared her experiences with growing rhubarb. This tart plant originated in China. Once you establish a patch of rhubarb, you have it for life!

To plant, dig a nice big hole, add in a little manure, then plant it and let it go. Rhubarb can tolerate some shade but not too much. The first year, don’t harvest the stalks. The second year, pull a few for a pie or two. To harvest, pull and twist out the stalks. After that, you can harvest almost as much as you like. Pull stalks that are about the size of your thumb for the best flavor. Be sure to leave at least a third of the plant at the end of the season. Always cut down the flower stalk when it begins to appear.

A final word of caution! Never eat rhubarb leaves. They are poisonous. Just cut off the leaves and throw them in your compost. Use the stalks for cooking.

Check our the article that Claudia wrote for the Concord Insider entitled, “Rhubarb-a neighborly plant perfect for pies” .

We all enjoyed our meeting sharing our knowledge with our fellow gardeners. So many fruits, vegetables and grow as perennials! You can pack an entire garden with edible perennials and enjoy eating from your garden with very little labor. For a complete list, download this handout. Please note: Not all of the plants are appropriate for New England, so do some more research before planting.
Perennial List-Fruits-Veggies

Photo Sources:
Dandelion Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Arcanewizard
Asparagus Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Muffet
Rhubarb Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Mwri
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