The first veggies that I think most important in any garden, kitchen or otherwise are the hardy perennial type that produces, once established, year after year. The first that come to mind are asparagus and rhubarb. Both take about three years to really establish themselves, but then they seem to last forever and ever.
I usually pop a couple of clumps of each in prominent positions in the perennial flower border as their varied leaf texture, both mammoth and needle, adds beauty, which doubles their purpose for so being.
Rhubarb, once known as the prairie pie plant, is of Russian origin and came east to us through Alaska across the prairies. It is a heavy producer and as such is a heavy feeder with two spring and one summer harvest if heavily organically mulched and watered often. We use it as a fruit; it makes beautiful pies and also makes a great salsa-like pickle. No spring has really arrived until you’ve had your first fruit dish full of rhubarb spring tonic.
Asparagus is originally a seashore plant thriving well in moist, salty soils. We compensate this by sweeping up a shovelful or two of the salty street sand in the spring and spread it liberally over the area where they grow, but don’t overdo this. Asparagus is harvested intensively only in the spring. We usually stopped cutting it on Father’s Day, as this seemed to give their tall, fern-like foliage ample regrowth time to feed the roots in preparation for next year. There is nothing more soothing than a handful of freshly cut, steamed asparagus shoots smothered in rich-coloured jersey butter on toast in the morning. For optimized taste, get out there and cut it before the sun gets high, while the dew is still on the roses.
The next on my list would be raspberries, which are basically bi-annuals that replace themselves with young shoots each year. They bear fruit the second year after planting and are now available in ever-bearing varieties of both red and white. Ever-bearing in the language of raspberries means that they set two crops of fruit, one during August and the second on new canes in late October.
The August-bearing canes should be removed from the patch after cropping. The late-bearing canes are the ones that bear again next August. Raspberries I usually plant in clusters in and about the perennial border as they, too, have an interesting texture to their five-lobbed leaves with a silvery underside.
My next choice would be the ever- bearing strawberry. These are interesting, low-growing plants that replace themselves each year by runners. They have a triple-lobbed leaf with fruit and flowers both at the same time. These linger through most of the summer, often into early fall. For that reason, they make an interesting alternate border plant. So placed, it is easy to pick them, but remember to turn their runners in as they root quite quickly and are your next year’s producers.
Strawberries smothered in thick Jersey cream skimmed from the top of a milk bottle are memories that have not tantalized my taste buds since childhood. They are best picked when sun-ripened and dry late in the day, or the robins will beat you to them in the morning. Just a point of interest before I move on. All fruits, when stored for short periods in the refrigerator, are best set out and allowed to regain room temperature before serving. They have a far better flavour when so curtly treated. Well folks, I am out of space once again, but tune in next week, ’cause I’ll have a long list of easy-to-grow favourites that will leave you, as I, with no space left in your garden.
In the meantime, in between time, let me remind you about our coming birdhouse workshop. It’s being held March 17, 18 and 19, from 10am to 4pm each day, at Greenway Blooming Centre, just off Highway 7 on Shantz Station Road, Breslau.
Come one, come all, come early, have fun. We have a couple of educational videos for you to view while you wait. No appointment necessary. For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity of purchasing my four books, I’ll have a few copies of each there with me also.
Take care, ‘cause we care.