Free Food That Lasts a Lifetime: Plant a Perennial Vegetable Garden

Here\’s a way to save money on food your whole lifetime without any backbreaking planting at all after the first year. You can have a perennial vegetable and herb garden with a wholesome delicious harvest every year from just one planting. How much space do you need\” If you want to grow four or five different crops, you\’ll need at least a 25 by 25-foot plot. For easy cultivation, plan a series of straight rows running north-south, if possible, so plants don\’t shade each other. Herbs fit easily into small spaces and you can even border a flower bed with them.
Since the following perennials don\’t like to be moved and will occupy their site permanently, a little advance planning on your part will ensure success. Choose a sunny, fertile area that drains well, and try to situate your plot away from trees and large shrubs. Wait until danger of frost is past.
Before planting, clear the area of weeds; then work the soil thoroughly to a depth of 12 to 16 inches. Spade in generous amounts of compost or manure and add about ten pounds of complete fertilizer (5 10 5 or 5 10 10) for every 50-foot row. Because they are heavy feeders, perennial vegetables like soil that is rich and high in organic matter.
It\’s quicker and more reliable to buy crowns, parts of crowns, roots, or seedlings, rather than try to grow your perennial plants from seeds. Once they\’re established, you need only watch for weeds. The amount of cultivation needed to keep the planting area weed free works the soil sufficiently and discourages insect pests as well. Prompt removal of plant refuse also helps control bugs.
In a normal season, watering isn\’t necessary. In a dry spell, however, give your plants one or two thorough waterings per week, applying the water gently to the soil to avoid runoff.
Asparagus is probably the all time favorite perennial vegetable. Buy year old crowns with a root spread of 15 inches or more. The Mary Washington and Paradise varieties are reliably delicious. In early spring, prepare a trench by removing six to ten inches of top-soil. Put your crowns in the trench so that, with roots spread out, they are 18 inches apart. A 50 foot row provides more than enough \”grass\” for the average family\’s once a week serving. Cover the crowns and roots firmly with an inch or two of soil at first, and add the remaining soil to fill in the trench as the shoots grow during the spring and summer, always taking care that the shoots are never completely covered.
Asparagus is sensitive to soil acidity and grows best at a PH range of 6.0 to 6.8. If you\’re not sure what the acidity of your soil is, purchase an inexpensive soil test kit and run a simple test. If the soil reaction is below 6.0, apply about 20 pounds of ground limestone per 100 foot row along with your fertilizer.
Don\’t cut any spears the first year, and do only moderate cutting, if you must, the second season. This long waiting period ensures big, fleshy stalks for many years afterward. When the roots are three years old and, the shoots are seven to ten inches tall, cut the stalks just at ground level so that still buried shoots are not injured. Never make any cuttings once the fernlike growth of the plant appears (about July first). This top growth, essential for root nourishment, shouldn\’t be cut down until the first frost, after it has produced bright red berries. Fertilize liberally every fall, and cultivate carefully. The bed shouldn\’t need renewing for 20 years.
Rhubarb, another early spring crop, grows well near asparagus. Try the Valentine, McDonald, or Victoria varieties. A family size plot of ten roots set three feet apart makes an excellent border. The culture of rhubarb is the same as for asparagus, except that rhubarb clumps must be divided every seven or eight years so that they will not produce too many slender stems. Remember, rhubarb leaves are poisonous – don\’t eat the leaves cooked or raw!
Tender globe artichokes may require extra care, in your perennial garden, but they are well worth the effort. This plant is not related to the Jerusalem artichoke, which is raised as a perennial for its edible tubers. Globe artichokes are cultivated for their immature flower buds. They are a cool weather crop, best suited for mild climates. The roots may survive in the north, however, with winter protection. Cut them back to a foot above the ground in late autumn and cover with bushel baskets. Pile a heavy mulch of straw or corn stalks over the baskets.
Globe artichokes need lots of room, so set your plants five feet apart in very rich, moist soil. They want plenty of fertilizer, and a slightly alkaline soil. Like asparagus, artichokes don\’t bear until the second year.
A number of annual vegetables raised from seed can be treated as perennials. Chard, for example, takes up little room and has pleasantly flavored outer leaves and stalks. Kale, collards, corn salad, broccoli and even celery are also in this category. These marginal plants for the perennial garden must have winter protection in cold states. All are worth a try, depending on your region, especially if protected.
Aromatic herbs will perk up your cooking and are often helpful insect repellents when planted with vegetables or other plants. One good example is the Egyptian or tree onion, which keeps bugs away from rose bushes. If planted early, this little known herb produces small, succulent onions on top of its stem by July. They\’re mild and great for salads. Plant four inches apart in a row.
Horseradish, propagated by crowns or root cuttings, needs rich soil and should be planted in early spring. Place the roots, with their tops or thick ends near the surface, about four to five inches apart. You can dig up the large, fleshy roots for grating any time in the fall, a mild winter days, or early the following spring. Leave small side roots to start a new crop without replanting.

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