Perennial fruits and vegetables: Garden crops for the long haul – St. Augustine Record

perennial-fruits-and-vegetables:-garden-crops-for-the-long-haul-–-st.-augustine-record

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By Lynette L. WaltherAs we look toward the approach of fall, many gardeners are warming up to the idea of cool season crops. Most of what we think of when it comes to vegetable gardens are annuals like tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, basil, etc. Annuals are short-lived, growing in one season from seed, producing foliage, “fruit” and then seeds. After that one season, annuals die. However, there are a number of crops we can grow, either from seed or on bushes or trees, that can provide more than one season of food. Kale and parsley are just two of those crops I like to call “long haul.” They are biennials. Other biennials we like to grow include carrots — though most everyone harvests them for their tender roots the first season — and some more biennials include beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, collards, kohlrabi, leek, onion, parsnip, rutabaga, salsify and turnip. These plants are normally consumed their first season, but need to grow a second to produce seed. Forget the old wives' tales: Spanish moss is a versatile, convenient addition to any gardenMore gardening tips: Upgrade your outdoor oasis with these cool plants for hot gardensThe third category of garden plants is perennials. Many folks are familiar with the term as it applies to ornamentals or flowering plants such as daylilies or roses and so on. However, there are few perennial vegetables and fruits that deserve our attention. These are food-bearing plants that grow season after season and produce edibles.This category of plants gets planted once, is maintained and crops are harvested each year. Often, these plants grow larger each year as well, increasing food production as the years pass. Plant these once and enjoy them for years. However perennial food plants do require some work, maintenance and feeding to keep producing. Following are a few edible choices in the perennial category that are hardy here: FennelFennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is considered a spice, an herb and a vegetable, all in one. The seeds of fennel are sweet and spicy, similar to anise seeds. All parts of fennel are used. The feathery foliage looks like dill. It can be used as an herb to flavor dishes. The stalks can be cut off to use like celery. Bulbous leaf bases are used as a vegetable, either raw or sautéed or stir fried. For best flavor, grow in poor soil. Grow it from seeds as a perennial in USDA zones 5-10.LovageSimilar in taste and appearance to celery, lovage leaves are used in soups, stocks, flavored vinegars, pickles, stews and salads. The anise, celery flavor of the lovage works really well in a variety of dishes and it can be eaten raw or cooked. Lovage is in the carrot family and plants can grow to 6 feet tall. Grow from seed or roots, in full sun and well-drained sandy, loamy soil. StrawberriesStrawberries should be mulched and thinned yearly to prevent overcrowding. Choose seasonal varieties for heavy yield or everbearing ones for staggered production. Plant starter plants in rich, slightly acidic soil in full sun. Woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) can be grown in partial shade. A crop cover may be necessary to keep birds and other animals from stealing or damaging berries. RaspberriesRaspberries are available as summer bearers and everbearing varieties that continue to produce fruit from spring to fall. Varieties include purple raspberries, red raspberries and the albino versions, known as golden raspberries. Various cultivars do well in USDA Zones 3 to 10. Plant rooted cuttings in spring, at least 6 to 8 feet apart. Plants will put up an increasing number of long canes every year, and everbearing varieties are pruned in the late summer to remove brown canes. Rich soil, regular feeding and irrigation produce the best crops. BlueberryBlueberries are North American natives, and are well suited to this growing zone. Once established, a blueberry plant can provide berries for several decades. Many cultivars are self-sterile and require more than one plant to ensure fruit production. Choose among lowbush Vaccinium angustifolium and highbush Vaccinium corymbosum and hybrid varieties. Blueberries should be planted in soils with pH 5, be evenly moist and well-drained. Occasional pruning keeps the bushes healthy. As with strawberries, it can help to use a crop cover to prevent birds from harvesting your crop. Bananas Bananas are herbaceous plants that require a full 12 months without freezing weather to produce a crop. Once the stem produces a stalk of fruit, that stem will die. However new shoots quickly replace spent stems. Grow in full sun to partial shade in rich soil with ample moisture. Citrus Oranges and other citrus were first grown in Florida by early Spanish settlers. This varied family of fruit trees is currently under siege in Florida (and around the globe as well) by an Asian citrus psyllid which spreads a disease, Huanglongbing (HLB), which slowly kills the tree by limiting its ability to utilize nutrients. While there currently is no cure for the disease, there have been varieties developed which display some resistance to it, such as the variety Sugar Bell. Grow citrus in well-drained areas in full sun. Avocados Avocados have a limited tolerance for freezing temperatures, but many report success growing these tropical trees. My own tree, which was a “compost pile volunteer,” is currently in its second year of production. Grow this tender tree in well-drained rich soil in full sun. Avocados bloom in the very early spring and produce fruit (the technical term for an avocado) in the winter. Loquats Japanese plums, also called loquats, grow on attractive small trees and produce small peach-like fruits with large seeds. Often heavy crops are produced in alternate years. Grow loquats in full sun to partial shade in rich, well-drained soils. Apples, peaches, pears and plums can be grown in this area and can produce good crops of delicious fruits. But they often require a regular series of spraying to deter insects and diseases. Many are not long-lived, so the decision to grow these varieties must be based upon that assumption. Planting perennial vegetables or berries requires a bit of planning because they will occupy one spot forever. Select varieties suitable to this zone. Some can be grown alongside annual vegetables, even in established ornamental beds as long as you maintain organic practices because they will produce food for you and your family to consume. Once established, perennial vegetables and berries require very little work except topdressing and occasional weeding and pruning. They will be there for the long haul.Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award and she is the author of “Florida Gardening on the Go.” She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Her gardens are on the banks of the St. Johns River.
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