GOOD KING HENRY
PERENNIAL is one of my very favorite words. You gotta
love not only the flexibility of this word, but also the definition...
LASTING AN INDEFINITELY LONG TIME.
Our perennial flowers and vegetables have become old friends. Seriously. Show them kindness and consideration, and perennials will arrive early in spring for a long, welcome visit year after year. Not only are they old friends, but they come bearing delicious, nutritious gifts!
Some perennial flowers are edible, but let's concentrate on vegetables for now. According to the article PERENNIAL VEGETABLES: GROW MORE FOOD WITH LESS WORK in the April 2012 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, there are more than 100 species of perennial vegetables growing in North America. This does not mean that all 100 will do well in Sitka. However, you can be assured that the perennial vegetables described below have, in fact, done well in Sitka.
ASPARAGUS (Asparagus officinalis)
I have a lot of experience eating asparagus. Asparagus enhances so many meals. And, it is so delicious eaten fresh and raw. Just snap off the new shoot at ground level and munch away.
We were prepared with a spacious, fertile, warm, sandy, well-drained garden bed in our sunniest location for our first asparagus crowns. Asparagus like a soil pH of around 7. The crown is the root system of the asparagus plant. It was many years ago when we bought one year old asparagus crowns from the seed company SEEDS OF CHANGE. Around mid-April, we spread each of the crowns' roots in a circle in a wide, shallow hole, 6 to 8 inches deep, about one foot apart. We then refilled the holes housing the new occupants with fertile soil. We covered the entire bed with a floating row cover to promote more warmth. Skinny asparagus grew the first year. The instructions, to my dismay, were to let the asparagus continue to grow into feathery fern-like greens that first year. No harvesting the first year! These long lived perennials (15 years or more) are so worth the wait. The paperwork said we would be harvesting 1/2 lb. of spears per crown each year thereafter. It was true! Very few asparagus spears made it to the table though. We all would snap them off and eat them whenever we got the chance. Especially me.
If memory serves me well, we planted JERSEY GIANT, JERSEY KNIGHT, and SWEET PURPLE asparagus crowns. Male hybrids are the best producers. They live long and have strong yields.
BUCKSHORN PLANTAIN (Plantago coronopus)
Buckshorn plantain is also known as minutina or herba stella. The young leaves are shaped a little like antlers. They make a yummy addition to any salad with a taste sweeter and nuttier in flavor than spinach or kale. It is very tasty on its own lightly steamed. Buckshorn plantain leaves make a soothing soup. Later on in the season, the flowers are a delicious addition to salads as well.
Buckshorn plantain thrives in cool rainy weather and does not mind saline soil! It is so suited to Sitka! Cut the plant back, and it will re-grow several times throughout the season. Even after it flowers, the leaves are still tender for eating. It will overwinter, but I start more plants each year from the abundance of seeds produced by these plants. They often reseed themselves, too. Plant 10 inches apart.
|BUCKSHORN PLANTAIN, YOUNG AND TENDER|
|BUCKSHORN PLANTAIN STARTING TO SEND UP FLOWER STALK IN CENTER|
|BUCKSHORN PLANTAIN BED PREPARING TO FLOWER|
In 1976 I was presented with my very first perennial vegetable by my delightful neighbor, Stevie Thielke. We were outside visiting when Stevie dug up a huge clump of chives and sliced it right down the middle with a shovel. "I would like to share this with you, Florence." Yes, it is a vivid and fond memory. Since that spring of 1976, that clump of chives has been divided and shared countless times. Now, in spring of 2015, Stevie's chives are peeking out of the ground in gardens all over Sitka!
|CHIVES EMERGING IN SPRING|
|A CLUMP OF CHIVES CUT BACK TO ONE INCH|
Chives freeze well! When I have an abundance, I chop the chives.
Then I sprinkle them onto a cookie sheet and freeze them for a few hours. The frozen pieces are transferred into a ziplock and stored in a freezer. They stay green, bright and as good as fresh for months!
I simply shake out what I need and then replace the ziplock with the remaining chopped chives into the freezer... until I need some again.
|IF NOT TRIMMED, CHIVES BLOOM IN SHADES OF LAVENDER.|
EGYPTIAN ONIONS (Allium cepa)
How to eat? The bulbs in the ground can be dug up at any time and used as you would any onion. Bulbs are mild in flavor like a shallot. The stems and leaves have a very strong onion flavor. Hot! The bulbils are tasty. They don't need peeling until they mature.
GOOD KING HENRY (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)
Good King Henry is a popular perennial vegetable in Europe. It is the asparagus-like shoots that are prized. The leaves, flower buds and seeds are also eaten. Also considered an herb, it is rich in vitamin C and iron. Well established Good King Henry plants can be divided for sharing in early spring. However, we started the plants in our yard from seed three years ago. Plants should be spaced about 2 feet apart. The seed info suggested waiting three years before doing any harvesting. This is our first harvest year! Early shoots and greens are tender and delicious. Briefly steam Good King Henry on its own or with other early greens like dandelions, nettles and sorrel. Even after flowering has begun, steamed leaves and flowers are tasty.
Good news: this perennial likes moist, well drained soil in partial shade!
|TENDER LEAVES AND SHOOTS OF GOOD KING HENRY |
APPEAR IN EARLY SPRING.
|LATER IN THE SEASON, GOOD KING HENRY ABOUT TO FLOWER|
HORSERADISH Armoracia rusticana
|HORSERADISH ROOTS ARE PRETTY MUCH INDESTRUCTIBLE. BY BRUSHING ASIDE THE MULCH, THE TOP OF THE HORSERADISH ROOTS ARE EXPOSED.|
LET'S COVER THE ROOTS AGAIN WITH FERTILE SOIL.
Horseradish grows well in moist soils in sun or partial shade.
It may come as a surprise, but young horseradish leaves are edible, mild and flavorful when lightly steamed.
LEMON BALM (Melissa Officinalis)
Pick a large handful of lemon balm leaves. The leaves will add a delightful burst of lemon to any salad. And, without question, lemon balm leaves make the best of teas. Fresh leaves crushed in your drinking water adds a refreshing touch and taste.
Although lemon balm starts readily from seed, it makes more sense to dig up a start from someone with a mature clump in their garden. Plant your lemon balm in well-drained, fertile soil. It does not mind partial shade.
LOVAGE (Levisticum officinale)
When I told a friend, Jeanne Longstreth, how much I love celery, she suggested I grow lovage. I am so grateful for her suggestion! Lovage is an early season perennial vegetable that tastes a lot like celery. Harvest the early shoots of lovage along with sorrel. Together they cook into a delicious, mild flavored soup.
|NEW SHOOTS OF LOVAGE IN MARCH|
If you wait until lovage is mature, it tastes like celery times a thousand! Way too strong to eat!
|LOVAGE ON ITS WAY TO MATURITY|
RHUBARB (Rheum x cultorum)
In fact, rhubarb is a perennial vegetable.
When you see lots of rhubarb shoots emerging in spring, divide and share. This is necessary at least every five years... or the plant will be crowded with smaller and smaller stalks.
|RHUBARB EMERGING IN MARCH. IT'S TIME FOR THIS PARTICULAR PLANT TO BE DIVIDED AND SHARED.|
This giant variety of rhubarb has been grown and shared by many Sitkans for decades.
You would think such large rhubarb stalks would be tough with an unpleasant taste. In fact, this rhubarb is tender and flavorful. One stalk is more than enough for a pie!
|RHUBARB PICKED FOR A PIE!|
We discovered that mixing strawberries together with rhubarb and cooking it up into a sauce is also an unusually delicious treat. What you get is an incomparable sweet and sour sauce!
In some countries, rhubarb stalks are chopped and cooked into stews and soups adding a tangy flavor and lovely color.
*It is important to keep in mind that only the stalks of rhubarb are edible. The leaves, roots and flowers of rhubarb cause sickness and even death.
SEDUM (Sedum spectabile)
Who would have thought that the common ornamental, sedum, is a delicious edible vegetable! Sedum is a perennial vegetable happily growing in many a Sitka garden. This plant has attractive little pink or white flower heads often buzzing with bees. Any of the ornamental varieties of sedum are edible.
Grow sedum in well-drained fertile soil in sun to part shade. They easily grow from seed and readily spread. Divide and share from a healthy sedum clump in early spring.
At any time in the growing season, use the leaves whole or chopped into a salad. Sedum is surprisingly juicy and flavorful!
SEA KALE (Crambe maratima)
|BEAUTIFUL EARLY SUMMER SEA KALE|
This early perennial vegetable provides food throughout the year! New shoots in spring have an asparagus flavor.
|NEW SEA KALE SHOOTS IN MARCH|
|YOUNG SEA KALE LEAVES READY FOR STEAM OR SAUTE|
|TENDER AND TASTY SEA KALE FLOWER BUDS|
What looks like a a large seed pod is actually the tiny fruit of sea kale. It is a cork like ball that floats! Inside each small ball is a seed.
|If started from seed, it takes 3 years for sea kale to grow to full size. |
Dividing a mature plant in early spring is a speedier way to propagate.
SORREL (Rumex scutatus)
Sorrel, an early spring perennial vegetable, has deep roots happily growing in acid soil. We have a large, healthy plant growing in gravel from a stray seed in our yard! A carefree plant! There are many varieties of sorrel to choose from. We chose a french sorrel noted for low oxalic acid. Literature discourages excessive consumption of oxalic acid because of its effect on calcium. It sounds like you would need to eat an enormous amount for it to be a problem. Just in case, our sorrel was started with these seeds:
Once established, the large, healthy clumps of sorrel are easily divided for sharing. In fact, dividing sorrel regularly is good for its health!
In early spring, the tender, bright green sorrel leaves are so welcome and so delicious. They are a treat for breakfast in omelets or hot egg and cheese sandwiches. Sorrel soup is really special. Sorrel sauces can easily be made for fish or meat. The tart, lemon flavored leaves can be harvested and enjoyed throughout the season. Sorrel is a welcome addition in salad. Layer the leaves in baked dishes. Enjoy!
STINGING NETTLES (Urtica dioica)
Often regarded as a weed, nettles spread by means of shallow rhizomes. The more fertile the soil, the happier the nettles... except in shady spots.
Nettles are a spring tradition! In early spring, harvest the nutritious shoots and leaves. Be sure to wear gloves! Steam, make into soup, quiche or stir fry. Once cooked, the sting is gone.
Propagation is simple. Dig up and relocate a clump from your nettle patch. Wear gloves! Lots of gardeners like to keep their nettles in containers.
Because there were no nettles around when my interest was peaked, our nettles were started from seed... a gift from my friend, Hope Merritt.
MULCHING PERENNIAL VEGETABLES
To nourish and protect perennials, lay a thick blanket of organic matter, a mulch, all around the plants in late fall. Protection from freezing weather and erosion prevention are among the benefits of mulching.
My first few years of gardening in Sitka, I collected massive amounts of fallen leaves for mulch. It did not take long to notice that our beaches hold a wealth of mulch and fertilizer at the high tide line.
A wide array of seaweeds break loose from the sea floor in rough weather and wash up to mix with such things as evergreen needles, alder leaves, fish bones and broken shells.
Early in April, herring eggs are often added to the high tide line mix after the annual spring herring spawn. In fall, dead salmon carcasses wash out from streams. It all piles up at the high tide lines. Grab it and haul it away when you see it! Otherwise, the next higher incoming tide just might grab it all and pull it back into the depths of the sea!