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Home Garden 101 - The No Work Food Garden!


The weeding, the digging, the mulching, the fertilizing, the watering, THE SWEATING! No wonder so few people garden.

Have you either avoided starting a food garden or given up because it just seems like too much work? Well it doesn't have to be if you plant perennial food plants - most, sometimes ALL the work comes when you plant and you might want to pay someone to do the hard work just once since you will enjoy the free food for years.

Many people, even those who raise some food either to save money or just to get fresh food (no supermarket tomato can compare to one you grow at home), don't realize there are some plants which grow year after year even in climates with lots of snow.

Some of these are easy to start although many are slow growing and may take quite a bit of work to plant even if they can mostly be ignored after the first year. Wouldn't you consider having someone dig a trench one time to have fresh veggies for the next 20 years?

For example, it seems like only a few weeks ago that we had snow piles 10-feet deep here in central Pennsylvania yet here on Highland Ranch we have been eating fresh greens for 10 days and I picked the first asparagus today.

Even radishes which you normally grow in early spring aren't up yet but without any special care we already have fresh food in the garden because some plants come up even through light snow.

Kale is a plant most people aren't familiar with although even the local Wal-Mart carries bags of it in the greens section at very high prices per pound.

Kale ready to pick just a few weeks after there was snow on the garden.
Highland Ranch Sanctuary

This plant is easy to start in any relatively good ground and the photo shows what we already have in the garden even without any winter protection such as straw mulch - these greens were seeds last spring and will probably keep coming up for several years.

Kale is a kind of non-heading cabbage with a strong flavor and lots of nutrition. Planting is simple, just clear a bit of ground, loosen up the soil and scatter seeds, it grows with little or no further attention.

This is an attractive plant which chokes out many weeds and is even sold as a landscaping plant, although you want a food variety which you can also use for landscaping if you choose.

Not as dependable as kale, we usually see parsley come up again each year.

Parsley which we grow alongside the kale. This often comes up for two or more seasons.
Highland Ranch Sanctuary

With a bit of insulation in the late Fall, either leaves or straw, other greens will come up again in the spring, but kale is about the easiest.

And don't forget that dandelion leaves are edible and a nice addition to a green salad as long as you don't spread poison to kill them - you can still get them out of your lawn and just eat ones which come up in the garden area.

The big leaves on the next plant are actually poisonous (they contain oxalic acid) but in a few days we will start picking the stems which are rhubarb, terrible raw, but very nice cooked with strawberries or just a bit of sugar.

Rhubarb can be started from seed or roots and comes up year after year.
Highland Ranch Sanctuary

You can start them from seed as we did, or buy roots to plant in a shallow trench. The ones in the photo are part of the row which we planted 9 years ago - it will probably take one full season before you can pick any.

Remember that if you put down two landscape timbers and rake the ground between, you have an instant trench if you add fresh soil or old compost.

Asparagus grows into 6-7 foot fern-like plants by mid-summer but for several weeks in early spring we get these edible parts and all with just one planting a decade ago.

Asparagus takes the most work if you want to keep harvesting it for decades but all that work comes at planting.

This plant grows very fast once established, often as much as 3-4 inches in a single day so you can pick from a single plant (root) several times each week after the second year.
Highland Ranch Sanctuary

You probably won't get seeds to grow so you need roots which you spread out in the bottom of a one-foot deep trench where the bottom has been loosened and well fertilized.

I used a backhoe but only because I have one - you can use child labor if you don't need the exercise but remember that the whole trench doesn't have to be dug in one day.

Ten established roots produces all the asparagus most small families will want each spring.

Asparagus can be picked sparingly in the second season but by the third year you will probably have more than you want to eat - it freezes well, just leave the thin stalks which grow into those tall plants and perhaps spread a bit of fertilizer every fall.

Almost no one who visits recognizes the plants by summer and given a sunny south side you might want to plant these roots by a building as part of your landscaping.

As you can see we don't even weed either the asparagus or rhubarb and they do fine.

A small garden with kale, asparagus, rhubarb and perhaps some perennial herbs with landscape cloth to block weeks takes virtually no work after the first year other than picking and eating. Add a few tomato plants each spring and you have a lot of food with little work.

You can weed and sweat and water and perhaps curse a bit which will probably produce a bigger crop even with most perennials but I prefer to just plant more and accept the smaller production per plant.

John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories. Contact John through NewsBlaze.

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