Save time and money by growing fruits and vegetables that come back every year
In this day and age we all want to save money on our food bills. The easiest way to do so, is by growing some of the food ourselves. Most of us are familiar with the standard vegetable garden containing tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and cucumbers, but maybe you haven't thought about perennial vegetables, fruits and herbs. No matter what area of the country you live in, there is something that everyone can grow.
Growing perennials can save you time and money, not to mention that you will know exactly where your food is coming from. One planting can produce for many years with proper soil preparation. No matter what size yard you have, there is sure to be a perennial edible right for your location. Let us explore a few of the possibilities.
- Blueberries - Though blueberries require acidic soil, different than most other edibles, they are fairly easy to grow and a beautiful plant as well. Whether you live in a cold climate or a warm climate, there is a variety for everyone. Blueberries come in high-bush, low-bush, half-high and rabbit-eye varieties. Generally, blueberries like full sun with moist, well draining soils that are acidic and contain lots of organic matter. This can be accomplished by adding compost and sulfur to the soil as needed, based on the results of a soil test. For more information about growing blueberries, check out this article.
- Wild Leeks (Ramps) - Growing wild in forest areas, this onion relative can be grown as far north as zone 4. Since leeks like shady, moist, cool areas, it's good to plant them among trees, shrubs and other perennials. And you don't have to restrict them to the vegetable beds either. Planting a patch of ramps among your flowers can help deter pests like rabbits since they are not fond of the onion/garlic smell of the allium family. Ramps can be started from seeds in late summer or bulbs in late winter/early spring, in moist soil that is full of decomposed hardwood chips and leaves. Your first harvest can take 3-5 years, but it will be worth the wait. Harvest in spring, but dig out no more than 20% of your plants each year. This will ensure that they grow and multiply for years to come. Young leaks are great raw in salads and cooked in soups and stews.
- Asparagus - Asparagus is hardy to zone 3 and produce lovely green or purple shoots that are ready to harvest in spring. Many people who don't think they like asparagus really enjoy it when it's so fresh it can be eaten in the same day that it was picked. To me, the difference in taste from homegrown asparagus and store bought asparagus is like night and day. You'll never want store bought again. Asparagus is another plant that likes full sun and can be started from seeds easily in well prepared soil. To find out more information on growing asparagus, check out this article.
- Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) - Originally grown by Native Americans, these plants look similar to sunflowers and grow anywhere from 6'-12' tall. They like full sun and well-drained soils and produce a sweet crisp tuber that can be used like a potato. The best part is that they are hardy to zone 2 and are ready to harvest in autumn and winter.
- Fruit Trees - Though it's true that some yards may be too small to grow fruit trees, there are a lot of dwarf varieties that can fit into almost any space. You can even grow them using the french espalier technique of training the trees against a flat surface along wire supports. If you are willing to prune your trees regularly to keep their size in check, you can be rewarded with many years of beautiful flowers in spring and delicious fruit in late summer and fall.
- Woodland Strawberries - Woodland Strawberries only need about 6 hours of full sun, so they are ideal to plant at the base of other fruit trees and can make a good ground cover. Though the fruits are small, the flavor is intense and they would be lovely served as a garnish on salads and deserts. Woodland Strawberries do not suffer from many disease problems but they should be protected from slugs as well as white flies and aphids. Strawberries should be divided often to encourage growth and vigor.
- Herbs - Many herbs such as sage, french tarragon, sorrel, fennel, mint, chives and lemon balm are perennial and can over winter well to zone 4. And many others can self sow, giving the illusion that they are perennial. I like to keep my herb garden separate from other edibles as it's easier for me to keep track of them and they can usually handle dry, poor soil. Consider growing some of your own herbs and spice up those dishes. You will never want to use dried store bought herbs again.
Those are my perennial picks for today. You may have noticed that Rhubarb is not on my list. Frankly, I don't like the taste of rhubarb and don't make a lot of pies or jams where rhubarb can be added. I do think the plant is nice looking and the large leaves are great for casting. It's very easy to grow and doesn't require a lot of care or dividing. So give it a try if you are so inclined.