In for the long haul

There has been a bit of a discussion in the work kitchen lately about “what can I plant at this time of the year?” That’s the nice thing about gardening there is always something you can be planting or getting on with. Winter is a great time for putting in some classic perennial plants, that is, plants that grow from year to year without you having to do much with them. Perennial plants will form the backbone of your veggie garden for years to come

In July, that ever reliable saint of Australian gardening, the blessed Peter Cundall recommends suggests planting asparagus, rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes (and yes the latter, are neither from Jerusalem nor are indeed artichokes). These plants are grown from crowns (asparagus and rhubarb) and tubers (Jerusalem artichokes). They are currently available from good nurseries and have even been spotted in a certain large hardware chain store. If you are lucky, you may get some from friends as now is the time for over-large rhubarb and asparagus crowns to be divided and the JA’s to be lifted.

Please think about where you are going to put these plants because they really need to be left undisturbed to get on with growing. I previously stuck my perennial vegs in a back corner of the yard, but I’m now not so sure that this is such a good plan. Its easy to forget these plants while tending to your annual crops. I’ve lost several rhubarb crowns over the years through lack of water and the possums might just get to your asparagus before you do.

We have just re-made our perennial bed, having decided to move it much closer to the front of the garden so we can keep a better eye on it. In addition to housing our asparagus and rhubarb, we have also transplanted our saffron bulbs there. At present I’m also growiing two teepees of purple podded peas at either end as they should be able to grow away before they interfere with the other plants – plus they will add some nitrogen to the soil.

Here are some of my thoughts about growing these plants:

aspraragus: get them into your garden as soon as you can because you really need to leave them to grow for 3 years before you can start regularly harvesting them. The plants need to develop a strong system of roots to produce a good supply of fat spears. I know this is very hard to do as TB has sprung me several times trying out the odd spear in the early years of growing. Thankfully we passed the 3 year stage last spring so we can now eat as much as we can grow.

rhubarb: not to everyone’s taste so don’t grow it if you don’t like it – it is truly scary the number of people who grow veggies they don’t actually eat because they are easy to grow! Biggest hint to new players –  rhubarb stems do not change colour as they grow up! they come in red or green versions that taste the same but are definitely not equal in the looks department. Look carefully at the plant label and check the stem colour of the crowns you are buying. These are not hydrangeas and you do not want to embarasse yourself by asking how do I get my green rhubarb stems to go red? Rhubarb plants are also gross feeders, (how I love that term!), in other words give them lots of manure during the growing season and keep up the water to them in hot weather.

Jerusalem artichokes: a very tasty tuber with a legendary capacity to produce ‘wind’ in the human digestive tract. I love them anyway. Also a bit of a garden thug, prone to taking over large areas of garden if they aren’t contained. We are growing ours in a tub this year, other options are to put them in a bed with very good edging – the tubers will multiply! The extra bonus is that the JA is a member of the sunfower family so  you can expect some lovely flowers in your garden later on in the season.


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