Many gardeners are familiar with the yearly pattern of creating and mending garden beds, starting seedlings, transplanting, watering plants, and then finally harvesting their favorite vegetables. It’s a lot of work to go through each year.
But unfamiliar to many gardeners are perennial vegetables — vegetables that do not require annual plantings, and provide fruit, leaf, and shoot year after year without constant replanting effort.
Most familiar is perhaps asparagus, but there are dozens of other perennial vegetables, and taking advantage of these varieties will save you time and energy throughout your gardening years, in addition to promoting a healthier garden ecology.
Permaculture: less work and more reward
Permaculture, or ‘permanent agriculture’ is a design methodology (for gardens and even homes, too) that mimics the patterns, relationships, and balance found in natural ecosystems. Permacultural gardens stress the use of perennial plants because they do not require constant replanting (which usually involves tilling that upsets soil), and they take less energy to maintain and provide greater bounty for the effort it takes to get them established.
Food forests, an extension of permacultural design, are intelligent gardens that group different layers of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs into guilds. In essence, guilds are crafted so that each plant benefits from all of the others. Successful food forests and self-sufficient ecosystems that do not require outside resources and energy inputs.
For more information on food forests, guilds, and ecological gardening, check out Gaia’s Garden, which is an excellent introduction to permaculture theory and gives practical information about food forest design. A more advanced and in-depth resource is Edible Forest Gardens.
Perennials provide food years after planting
Strawberries, rhubarb, and asparagus are some of the more common perennial plants grown for their edible fruit. However, there are many more than just that. Depending on where you live, you can you grow a bustling array of vegetables that will continue to provide food for your table during their long lifespans.
Thankfully, Eric Toensmeier has detailed over 100 different perennial vegetables in his obviously-titled Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, a Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles. This resource gives detailed descriptions of many lesser-known perennials and provides maps for US-based gardeners to determine if their area is appropriate for each variety.
Permaculture promotes healthier living
Ultimately, permaculture promotes a healthier ecosystem and lifestyle. Food forests are self-sufficient gardens that provide their own needs without the need of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, and provide great bounty through smarter design. Perennial vegetables are an important part of this equation.
Growing your own produce can save you a lot of money. Many Americans are already receiving aid from food stamps and some are digging quick financial holes with easy cash advances to put dinner on the table. It can be tough work to maintain a vegetable garden, but it’s worth the health and fiscal benefit in the long run.
You can live a healthier and more ecologically sustainable lifestyle though these means!
(Photo credit: flickr via London Permaculture)