Companion Planting: Strawberries, Asparagus, Rhubarb and Horseradish

You can plant an asparagus and strawberry garden bed to last a lifetime, and add in rhubarb and horseradish as a bonus.


| February/March 1995



148-046-01

Horseradish, rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries are good companions.

JOEL POPADICS

It wasn't till one evening in June—a little more than three years after quitting the city rat race and moving onto a little New England hill farm-that I began to feel deep down that I'd really arrived on the land.

I'd collected the eggs, fed and watered stock that morning, put supers on the beehives, worked the gardens, and fed the weeds and thinnings to the rabbits and goats over the afternoon. Then my wife and I and some special guests (the kind who help cook and clean up) sat down to a feast that no restaurant offered and that no grocery could provision—our first 100% fresh, 100% chemical-free (and nearly cost free to boot), 100% home-raised meal. The entree was crisp on the outside, succulent inside haunch of spring chevon (that's kid—young goat) I'd spit-roasted on the hearth. We had roasted White Mountain potatoes from the cold cellar, wheat bread still steaming from the woodstove oven, sugar snap peas and young beets with greens from the gardens, and a half-cultivated/half-wild green salad dressed with home-pressed apple-cider vinegar—all of it washed down with homemade dandelion/citrus wine and pioneer coffee of ground roast white oak acorns and chicory root. Highlights were a sauce for the chevon made with our own honey, cracked turnip (mustard) seed, vinegar, and fresh grated horseradish, crisp but tender asparagus almost two inches thick at the base, and strawberry-rhubarb pie from the asparagus/strawberry-rhubarb/horseradish bed I'd put in during our first spring on the place.

Over the years, goats and other livestock came and went, vegetables were planted every spring, and the home cider pressing and wine making was so labor intensive that it proved to be but a brief experiment. But the asparagus/strawberry etc. bed fed us with little attention till real-estate development pushed us farther into the wilderness. Last I heard it was producing still for new owners more than a generation later.

It is mighty fine to sink your roots and psyche into a piece of land, even if it's no more than an acre or two and you still commute to a paying job in town. A good way to confirm those roots to yourself is to set in plants that may take awhile to bear, but that will continue producing for years, decades, or a lifetime. It affirms that you anticipate a degree of calm and settled, rural, low-tech permanency in this unsettled, urbanized, high-tech age. If you'll be able to stay put for a while (or perhaps, even if you won't) here's how to build an old-time asparagus/strawberry bed, with plantings of horseradish and rhubarb that will feed you and yours for 20 years and more.

Asparagus

Asparagus is a member of the Lily family of long-lived, storage-rooted perennials. It originated in coastal Eurasia and came to North America with early settlers. With few cultural demands other than an absolute need to be chilled well over winter, one variety or another will grow practically anywhere but in the Deep South. Indeed, it naturalizes easily; the red seed berries produced by mature female plants each fall are relished by birds, and they scatter the seeds widely in their droppings. Once you've grown your own asparagus, you'll begin noticing the distinctive fern-like greenery reaching above grasses and low weeds in fields, meadows, and along roadsides everywhere. Fronds grow three to four feet high with a fine, lacy umbrella high up on the thin, woody stalk that allows the sun to filter through. So, you can plant low growing, broad leaved annual vegetables or biennial strawberries between the asparagus rows and they will thrive.

Commercial growers propagate asparagus roots from seed, dig them when dormant in late fall of their first, second, or third year, then wash, sterilize, and store them bare-rooted over winter for sale early the following spring. Most roots sold are two-year-olds that will be ready for harvest after two more years of growth. I've been told that only the larger and more vigorous two-year-old roots are sold; smaller specimens and unsold leftovers are replanted or left in the ground to grow another year. The resulting three-year-old "jumbo roots" are not that much larger and offer no harvest advantage over two year olds, but cost more. One-year-old roots must be left unpicked for an extra year before harvest—hardly worth the dime-a-root advantage in price. In my experience (having tried all sizes as well as growing from seed), you will end up with heartier stock that produces better over the long run with vigorous two year old roots.

kirstie
6/4/2007 1:29:21 PM

This is actually a question: Does anyone know of flowers that either should or should not be grown in the same bed as rhubarb?






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