Permaculture your plot- Perennial Vegetables

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized

Mashua Rice 1

Autumn is here and as the growing season comes to an end we can reflect on our successes and failures and how we might do things next year. Each year in the annual veg garden there is some crop or other that doesn’t do well, perhaps because of the weather, a pest, or just the mysteries of gardening. But when a whole crop does poorly it can be at best disheartening and at worst disastrous.

As permaculturists we know that diversity gives us resilience in many different ways, not least by protecting us from relying upon a small number of crops each season. If we’re only growing 5 main crops, then if one fails we lose 20% of our harvest so it stands to reason that the more varieties we can grow the safer our store cupboard will be. We can expand on this premise by diversifying further and including perennials in our vegetable garden. Many people already grow popular perennials like rhubarb, asparagus and artichokes but there are many more perennial vegetables available and I would suggest that for the following reasons we should give them a little more space.

Ost Fern Side

 

Advantages of growing perennials

  • Less work than annuals – you don’t need to grow from scratch each year.
  • Crops fill the hungry gap – many perennial shoots, stems and leaves can be harvested before annuals are ready.
  • More resilient to pests and diseases – a mature root system makes them stronger and more resistant to attack.
  • Higher nutritional value – larger root systems give them access to parts of the soil annuals can’t reach.
  • Less soil disturbance – good for the soil and good on steeper ground which is hard to cultivate or prone to erosion.
  • Easy to grow in polycultures – once established they can thrive with minimal intervention.
  • Complement an annual garden due to seasonality

Disadvantages

  • Less variety – although you still have plenty to choose from. See Martin Crawford’s How to Grow Perennial Vegetables
  • Harder to get hold of – but increasingly more available. See the Agroforestry Research Trust’s online catalogue.
  • Lower yield to area – the plant gets to it’s mature size which means that it starts to take up more space relative to it’s edible parts.
  • Can be slower to harvest –  edible parts are picked off rather than pulling the whole plant, although some can be cut to the ground and will regrow from the crown, Hostas for example.

So if you feel like branching out, here are a few top tips to get you started.

 

  • Solomons side 1Only grow what you like to eat
  • Grow in combination with annuals as they fill different parts of the season.
  • Grow edible ornamentals in your flower beds, eg. Solomon’s seal, columbine, day lily, hosta, violet, mallow & nasturtium.
  • Use plenty of leafy greens as they are so Purslane salad 2versatile and nutritious, eg. Daubentons Kale, Sea Beet, purslane.
  • Chop and drop throughout season to add organic matter to the soil – comfrey is very good for this.
  • Mulch well with compost in winter and cover any non-hardy herbaceous plants with straw or similar.
  • Skirret can be hard to get established, but is Skirret soup 2well worth it – like sweet creamy parsnip.
  • Oca is a great ground cover which spreads well and is a delicious winter root crop high in vitamin C.
  • Welsh onion and Egyptian onion are very useful and together cover most of the season.
  • Columbine leaves are delicious mild salad leaves which make an amazing gin liqueur made like sloe gin.
  • Ostrich fern shoots are delicious. The ferns get Hosta Soup 2pretty big, about 1m across, but are very shade tolerant.
  • Turkish rocket is a good stand-in for mustard greens in early summer and the flower buds are like peppery purple sprouting broccoli later in the summer.
  • Sweet cicely is a good pollinator plant and the leaves can be used as a herb. In late summer they produce sweet green seed pods which taste like aniseed balls – great snacks for kids and the Alex stems 1grazing gardener.
  • Mashua is related to nasturtiums and looks very similar. You can eat the flowers and leaves but also the tubers which make a great buttery mash in winter.

 

Pictures from top left:

Mashua tubers; Ostrich Fern shoots; Solomons Seal shoots; Siberian Purslane; Skirret roots; Hosta shoots; Alexanders leaves and stems.

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