Living on the Earth, May 19 2000: Perennial Favorites
Asparagus and rhubarb are now bursting out of the ground full of flavor.
These perennial favorites remind us of the importance of planning and
patience in the garden. They take a few years to become established, but
once they do, asparagus and rhubarb reward your patience abundantly.
Both vegetables are well-adapted to home gardens in this region, are easy
to grow and provide delicious eating for over a month each spring. One
planting produces food for a decade or more.
Asparagus is native to Europe and Asia and has been cultivated since
ancient times. Because it has been widely-grown and is so suited to this
region, asparagus is found growing wild in many places from bird-dispersed
Asparagus can be planted now from crowns available at garden centers or
from seed catalogs. The crowns are generally placed about two feet apart in
a one-foot wide trench about eight-to-twelve-inches deep. Spread the long,
rope-like roots out over a mound of compost at the bottom of the trench.
Cover the crowns with soil and/or compost, but don't fill the trench all
the way until the plants have grown well above it. Keep weeds away by hand
pulling or by mulching the plants with hay or straw. Cover the bed with
compost in the fall to nourish the soil.
For the first year or two, just let the asparagus grow without harvesting.
The plants need to build up a large reserve in their roots to be able to
keep sending up shoots, even after repeated cuttings. By the fourth year,
asparagus can be harvested for a month or two until the new spears are
reduced to the thickness of a pencil. Once harvesting stops, the spears
grow into the beautiful five-to-ten-foot-tall, feathery foliage which
creates the nutrients for the following spring harvest. A well-cared for
asparagus bed will produce for decades.
Although we sometimes eat the spears freshly picked from the garden, we
really like asparagus lightly steamed, with just a bit of lemon juice,
olive oil and black pepper.
Rhubarb, another perennial plant worth waiting for, is native to southern
Siberia. A relatively recent addition to western cuisine, it was growing
in America by 1800, and is even easier to care for than asparagus. Pieces
of rhubarb root available at garden stores can be planted this time of
year. Dig a large hole, about the size of a bushel basket, and fill it
with plenty of rich compost around the root. Space rhubarb three-to-four
feet apart. Rhubarb also appreciates an annual application of decomposed
manure or good compost.
Plant this spring and you should be able to harvest a few stalks next year.
After that, expect each plant to produce 10 to 20 stalks per year for the
next ten years minimum! Combined with June's strawberries, rhubarb makes a
exceptionally tasty pie.
This spring, set out a few of these two delicious perennials for many years
of good eating.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)2000, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
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