As we all are being forced to stay at home and keep our social distance when out and about, it has become apparent to me that a heck of a lot of us are taking advantage of this time and working in our yards! I have never seen so many lawns neatly mowed and flower beds weeded so early in the season.
I have also noticed a renewed interest in planting edibles, such as fruit trees, berries and, of course, vegetables. Maybe it’s because we simply have more time on our hands or perhaps it’s some insecurity surrounding our food supply.
Either way, I’m delighted that homeowners are engaged in making their yards more beautiful and learning more about the joys of growing their own food. And, as a small business owner, I’m also extremely grateful to those who continue to support local garden centers.
For the most part, when we talk about growing vegetables, we are looking at annual crops that we will grow for the season, harvest and consume, and then pull out in the fall. Some edible crops are what we refer to as perennial, which simply means they are permanent and, after going dormant in the fall, return the following spring bigger and better.
Here are four such crops that are fun and easy to grow for Northwest gardeners — and are only available this time of year. Plant them this spring and, by next year, you will be harvesting their bounty in perpetuity.
Asparagus: There is absolutely nothing sweeter than a fresh-cut spear of asparagus directly from the garden this time of year. Trust me, unless you have a large swath of this planted, you will probably eat most of it before you ever make it back to the kitchen. Asparagus is packed with vitamins and minerals and is even touted to be a mood enhancer. Male selections like “Jersey Giant” produce the largest spears. Considering it takes two to three years before you can start harvesting it, the sooner you plant it, the sooner you get to eat it.
Rhubarb: This is a bold-textured plant that makes an attractive ornamental as well as a tasty edible. It is grown for the stalks, which are often combined with strawberries to make delicious pies. The leaves are poisonous when consumed, but the stems, when combined with copious amounts of sugar, are very tasty. Don’t panic when this plant goes dormant in the summer — it’s not dead.
Horseradish: A specialty vegetable for sure, fresh-grated horseradish is a delicacy. The plant itself is rather weedy-looking, so plant it out of sight, if possible. It is the root that is harvested, and like most perennial veggies, it is best to wait two to three years before cutting any to eat.
Artichokes: As our weather has continued to moderate, artichokes have become more and more successful to grow in our climate. The plant makes a dramatic addition to the garden and, over the years, you should be able to harvest a half dozen chokes per plant. Aphids can be a problem, but soapy water or lady bugs will usually get rid of them.
All of these crops require rich soils and good drainage. Remember, they are permanent plants and will benefit from annual applications of food and compost. Work them into an edible landscape or add them to your vegetable garden for years of culinary enjoyment.
Lastly, they are a seasonal item in the garden center and, once sold out, they are gone for the year. If you snooze, you lose. Stay safe and keep gardening!
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.