Gardening with Robin
~~ Perennial Vegetables ~~
As we stay at home to help reduce the spread of the virus, many of us are taking the opportunity to learn something new or improve our skills. If you are looking for a way to get some fresh air, exercise, and grow some of your own delicious food, why not take this opportunity to develop your gardening skills? You can find a way to garden that fits your particular situation, ranging from growing a few herbs on a sunny window sill or planting a handful of green beans in a pot to train along the railing of your balcony, to larger gardening projects such as constructing raised garden beds for vegetables or converting your lawn into a food forest. There are many books, websites, and videos online to show you gardening techniques and strategies that can help you. As a passionate gardening enthusiast, I want to share some of my gardening experiences here in Lunenburg, and maybe I can inspire you to try a few of these ideas for yourself. Perhaps you have some gardening experiences that you want to share with the Lunenburg community as well.
Early, Reliable Crops: Perennial Vegetables
This spring has been unusually cool, with snow, frosts, and a couple nights below freezing even into May. Often, April is warm enough to grow cool weather crops and I can harvest lettuce and spinach by now. This year, however, all of my optimistically planted peas, broccoli, and lettuce were hit hard by the cold and are either stunted or dead. I have replanted, but what can I eat while I am waiting for my annual vegetables to be harvest ready? One answer is perennials. Because they grow year after year, these plants can store energy in their roots and emerge faster and stronger in the spring before the annual plants have a chance to sprout and grow large enough to harvest. Although perennials take more time to grow initially, once they are established, they require less maintenance than annuals. You plant them once and, if they are planted in a good spot, perennials will come back year after year. Although there are many perennial vegetables to choose from, I am going to introduce you to three easy-to-grow perennial vegetables I enjoy in soup every spring:
French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus): Sorrel is a prolific vegetable that produces all season long, from early spring into fall, as long as I remember to trim off the flowering stalks to keep the young leaves growing. I like to eat sorrel leaves for their bright, tangy lemon flavor. I add the leaves to salads and I sprinkle the chopped leaves on fish and chicken as a garnish right before serving. Sorrel can grow in sun or part shade and they prefer acidic soil. I grew my plants initially from seed and they have returned year after year. I divide them every few years to keep them healthy and abundant. It is also a good way to get more of the plants or to share them with friends. Sorrel contains oxalic acid, like chard, beet greens, and spinach, so remember to either cook it or eat it raw in moderation.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale): Lovage grows quite happily here in Lunenburg. I started mine from seed about ten years ago. I have it growing in full sun, but it will grow in part shade as well. In the early spring, the tender, young leaves and stems taste like celery. I don’t like to eat them raw because the taste is very strong, but they are wonderful in soups, savory pies, and stews. Later in the season, when the flavor becomes more intense, I let them flower and their tall, large, yellow flower heads attract all sorts of beneficial insects and pollinators into my garden.
Multiplier or Walking Onions (Allium cepa proliferum): Walking onions are very easy to grow. Every year they produce small bulbs on the top of their stalks. The weight of the bulbs causes the stalks to fall over, creating new onion plants where they fell. I eat the green stalks like scallions throughout the growing season. When I have run out of regular bulb onions, I have used the largest topset bulbs instead. They taste great, but they require considerable patience because they are time-consuming to peel due to their small size.
Spring Lovage-Sorrel Soup:
Use this recipe as a guideline. My soup changes depending on what is available in my garden and pantry in the spring.
- Six cups rich vegetable broth or butternut squash soup
- Three or four medium potatoes, cubed into bite size pieces
- Three or four cloves garlic, minced
- Four cups sorrel leaves, loosely filled
- One cup lovage shoots leaves and stem (choose young ones, up to about 10 inches tall)
- Six to eight multiplier onion stalks, chopped into small pieces
- Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot chili pepper flakes for a little heat
In a soup pot, bring the broth to a boil. Add cubed potatoes and minced garlic. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes soften. Near the end of the 15 minutes, chop the lovage stems and leaves into bite-size pieces, add them to the pot and cook for five more minutes. During this time, chop up the sorrel into bite-size pieces. Remove the pot from the heat and while it is still hot, stir in the sorrel and spices to taste. If you like a creamy soup, you can use a blender to give the soup a thick, smooth texture or you can eat it just as it is. There are also many sorrel soup recipes available on the internet.
More Information about Perennial Vegetables
There are many perennial vegetables you can grow in Lunenburg. If you want to learn more about them, the Library has a copy of the book, Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to Zuiki”Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to over 100 Delicious Easy-to-Grow Edibles, by Eric Toensmeier. If you are interested in growing native perennial vegetables, check out The Wild Seed Project website for ideas about growing native edible plants.