More info: Perennial veggies & overwintering

Why Perennials?

Figure 1d Annual Perennial Roots

Photo source: http://tiee.ecoed.net/

Planting perennial vegetables offers an extended supply of vegetables to your home while reducing the labor associated with gardening.  These plants will produce food earlier in the spring and later into the fall season.  With these vegetables, planting from year to year is no longer required as these vegetables will live for successive growing seasons if given the right conditions.  That means reduced tilling and soil erosion too.  Because perennial plants grow over a longer duration of time, the roots are able to reach deeper into the soil.  This allows them to utilize nutrients and water unavailable to their annual cousins while making them more drought and stress resistant.  The photo on the right is an example of this.  The healthy grass species on the left is a perennial that is more resistant to harsh conditions as compared to the annual species on the right.

Perennial vegetables are often used in gardens, but not as often as their ease of care and benefit might suggest.  Among the most common perennial crops are asparagus, rhubarb, garlic and kale.  Many other perennial vegetable plants do exist which could add a lot of value to home gardens.  A long list of perennial vegetables is available on buzzle.com thanks to Amruta Deshpande.  Be sure to look at site requirements of vegetables in question and whether or not they are able to grow in the Hardiness Zone 6 of Southeast Michigan.  For more information on perennial vegetables and how to best incorporate them into your garden, check out Eric Toensmeier’s book appropriately called Perennial Vegetables.  His book is available through the Ann Arbor District Library.

Extend Your Growing Season By Overwintering

Kale under snow

Photo source: Tiny Farm Blog at www.tinyfarmblog.com

By using specific varieties of vegetables that are cold-tolerant, one can harvest vegetables later into the fall and winter months.  Yes, winter.  Repeated plantings of warm-season annuals such as corn, peppers and  beans will die well before the first frost, but overwintering with cold-tolerant varieties allows for an extension of the growing season.  Often times, flavor is even enhanced after the frost comes!  Below is a table from an Organic Gardening website which contains more information about winter vegetable gardening.  Though some plant varieties are able to survive the winter and continue growing again in the spring, most will only be able to tolerate a portion of the winter months and may die back once the ground becomes entirely frozen.  However, an extension of the growing season is still made possible with cold-tolerant crops.

CROP COLD-TOLERANT VARIETIES
Beets ‘Red Ace’, ‘Winterkeeper’
Broccoli ‘Saga’
Brussels sprouts ‘Long Early Dwarf Danish’
Carrots ‘Nandor’
Cauliflower ‘Purple Cape’
Lettuce ‘Winter Density’, ‘Green Wave’
Mustard ‘Mizuna’
Parsnips ‘Hollow Crown’
Radicchio ‘Augusto’
Radish ‘China Rose’,'Tama’
Spinach ‘Winter Bloomsdale’
Swiss Chard ‘Ruby Red’
Turnips ‘Market Express’
Cauliflower in snow

Photo source: Tiny Farm Blog at www.tinyfarmblog.com

To be successful at winter gardening, it is important to make sure the timing of planting is correct.  Knowing the average date of first frost for the region is important because you need to plant your winter crops early enough to let them reach full maturity before the frost restricts growth.  For this, plan ahead to ensureyour vegetables will be ready for harvest when the frost hits home.  A great webpage to look at for information on overwintering is the Tiny Farm Blog.  On this site, farmers and gardeners share their knowledge and experiences on the art and science of growing vegetables amidst the snow.  Also of interest is Eliot Coleman’s Book called the “Winter Harvest Handbook.”  Not only is this great for lengthening the amount of time you get to enjoy your garden’s harvest, but it also helps combat the lull of the colder months.  Still interested? Do more reading here.  Happy gardening!