A new gardening season is finally here


We made it through another PEI winter and it’s just wonderful to see spring. In addition to annual vegetables, there are many other perennial plants that grow well in PEI and would make a good addition to your backyard garden.

If you are relatively new to gardening, it would be a good use of your time to make some notes on where the snow accumulates, and where the low spots where ice or melting snow water collects. Most plants prefer well-drained areas and benefit from a little snow cover to moderate the soil temperature. You may find it helpful to make some notes in your gardening journal.

Commonly grown perennials on many PEI homesteads in past generations were asparagus and rhubarb. These two crops are very hardy, highly nutritious, and once established can supply you with fresh produce for many years with minimal effort.

Rhubarb produces very large leaves on large thick stems and these stems (technically called petioles) are the part that is edible. Rhubarb can be started from seed, however, the most common method of propagation is to dig up and split portions of existing crowns. If you are fortunate to have access to established rhubarb from some of your gardening friends, that is the easiest and fastest way to start. Early in the spring, once the frost is out of the ground, but before things start to grow, use a round shovel and carefully dig out some of the crowns. These can be planted in a sunny part of your garden and should be big enough to harvest after two years.

Once the rhubarb is established, it can be continually harvested for about four weeks in early summer. There are two types of rhubarb: red and green. The red type is not as sour and can be eaten raw if desired by dipping into a bit of sugar. Green rhubarb is much more sour so its primary use is for cooking into pies or jams. In my experience the green type produces much larger yields. Discard the leaves, as they contain harmful substances like oxalic acid (it’s ok to toss them in your compost).

If a seed stalk is produced, which can happen when rhubarb isn’t harvested quickly enough, it is beneficial to remove it to allow the plant’s reserves to be directed to the root system.

Applying well-rotted manure or compost after harvest is completed will help maintain this vegetable.

Asparagus can be started from seed but takes about four years to reach the size where the crowns produce large enough stems. Six-inch-long stems can be harvested every few days once your asparagus has grown enough. This will be the first vegetable you harvest in the spring and you can often harvest for up to six weeks. After, in mid-June, the stems should be allowed to grow to maturity. They will reach the height of five to six feet. It’s during the summer growth that the plant restores the energy to its roots that was depleted during the spring harvest. It is worth noting that heirloom varieties of asparagus produce seeds. These should not be allowed to germinate below the already-established crowns because if the crowns are spaced too closely, the size of the asparagus will be reduced.

Rhubarb and asparagus can survive for many years, the patch of asparagus I have was planted by my great grandparents over a century ago.

Stay safe. Happy Gardening!

About Christopher Dunbar

Christopher lives in western PEI along with his spouse and 4 kids, on a property that was once owned by his great grandparents. He grew up in a large farming family and has deep island roots. This rural background and exposure to outdoor living has given him a keen interest in our maritime culture and the many plant types that grow here. He furthered his interest in growing things by obtaining a master’s degree in in plant biology. Not surprisingly, all of his 25-year career has been involved in agriculture and food. He spends some of his spare time growing berries, flowers, vegetables and tree fruits of all kinds in his gardens. He and his family really enjoy the unique lifestyle that PEI has to offer.
Writing creatively about adventures in rural living is also one of his passions. Feel free to contact him if you want to share any of your interests.

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