Quick Guide to Perennial Vegetables

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Permaculture is sometimes referred to as “lazy” gardening. This catchy phrase refers to permaculture’s emphasis on minimizing unnecessary work in the garden, thus saving you effort and money. One of the main ways you can reduce your work in the garden is by planting perennial edibles instead of annuals. Perennials take a bit of extra time to establish versus annuals, but once they get comfortable they’ll come back every year like clockwork, be more resistant to pests and generally provide larger harvests than annual vegetables.
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
Thomas Merton
There are a bunch of great resources on perennial vegetables already so I won’t rehash their content here. I highly recommend Martin Crawford’s Creating a Forest Garden, Eric Toensmeier’s Perennial Vegetables, and Temperate Permaculture‘s index of edibles and their functional use in the garden. However, these resources tend to be encyclopedic in their coverage and don’t provide the information for actually obtaining these plants or seeds and growing them in your garden. What I want to provide for you is an easy introduction to the world of perennial vegetables and how to immediately get planting to add perennial vegetables to your “bankable” yields you can rely on every year.
I’ve decided to ignore herbs, tropical perennials and rare vegetables and focus mainly on temperate climate vegetables, breaking them down into 3 categories; Sure Win, TLC, and Longshot.

Sure Win

Perennial vegetables (and a berry) we all should have been growing yesterday.

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    Lovage

    Buy Seeds Here
    Lovage is a type of perennial celery (slightly stronger, distinct flavor than celery) that loves cool weather. It’s fairly easy to grow from seed, grows on average about 3 feet tall in the spring and produces about a 1-2lbs of stem and foliage from one plant, which is probably enough for most families.

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    Jerusalem Artichoke

    Plant Your Pantry Sunchokes
    “Sunchokes” are in the Aster family and produce large tall plants that look a bit like miniature sunflowers and grow 8-10 ft tall. The roots are harvested in the fall and can be sliced or boiled like potatoes. Almost too easy to grow, sunchokes will provide you with many pounds of harvest, but are known to be hard to remove once established, so planting them in their own bed makes sense.

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    Rhubarb

    Buy Seeds Here
    Rhubarbs are easy to start from seed, don’t mind the shade, and will reliably send out large stems with fronds in the early spring. The stems are usually baked or stewed in desserts, where their pleasant tangy sour taste matches up well with strawberries. One plant will produce around 3 lbs of stems in a year, which is plenty for most families.

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    Strawberry

    Buy Bulk Plants Here
    I’m sneaking a fruit into this list because this one is the easiest, cheapest berry plant to find (costs about $10-15/25 plants)and get established in the garden. Strawberries have shallow roots and need a bit of shade and water, but aside from that are very easy to take care of. There are 2 main types, an everbearing (continuous harvest from early summer to mid fall) and june-bearing (one main crop) type. The everbearing varieties don’t produce as large a strawberry, but produce more over the course of the year. 10 everbearing plants can easily provide 3lbs of strawberries and they produce runners each year that become new plants.

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    Welsh Onions

    Buy Seeds Here
    These are non-bulbing onions that produce numerous sideshoots that can be split off and replanted. Easy to grow with few natural pests, use them wherever you would use scallions.

TLC (Tender Loving Care)

Plants that are either a little bit harder to get established, are harder to find, or aren’t really worth the yields.

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    Asparagus

    Buy Bulk Plants Here
    Asparagus crowns (the base root of the plant) are easy to find and after establishing themselves can produce up to 1/2 lb of spears per plant for 20 years. The only reason I list them in the TLC category is that they take a few years to establish themselves.

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    Globe Artichoke

    Buy Seeds Here
    Artichokes are a member of the Aster family, but unlike their cousins the Jerusalem Artichoke, yield up huge edible blooms. These flower heads are prized for their soft inner core, but removing the hard prickly outer leaves is time-consuming and they tend to be picky about shade and heat requiremenst.

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    Ramps

    Buy Plants Here
    These wild “garlic/onions” have become the rage in fancy restaurants around the country, but all the foodies have been foraging the ramps into oblivion and there are very few dedicated ramp growers out there (I’ve become one of them after getting some from West Virginia). Only the leaves are harvested each year, leaving the base to regenerate each year.

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    Egyptian "Walking" Onions

    Buy Plants Here
    Another allium, these plants have their bulblets at the end of their stalks. The weight of the bulblets makes them “walk” and plant themselves a short distance from the original plant. Both the actual original bulb (strong flavor) and the bulblets can be collected and eaten (milder flavor). It’s hard to find these for purchase though, usually during the fall planting season.

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    Salsify/Scorzonera

    Buy Seeds Here
    A root vegetable in the lettuce family, these veggies produce long (18 to 24″) scraggly roots that can be boiled and mashed or served as an “oyster-like” substitute. The side shoots and flowers can also be eaten, but unfortunately the roots are quite brittle and are time-consuming to extract.

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    Sorrel

    Buy Seeds Here
    A little bit of sorrel in a soup or stew can add a pleasant sour tang. However sorrel leaves can get quite bitter and grow very vigorously (the sorrel in our front yard is the first and last thing to die back at the end of the year).

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    Turkish Rocket

    Buy Seeds Here
    Looking initially a bit like a sorrel plant, turkish rocket is a brassica, with cabbage-like leaves, broccoli rabe-like flowers, and asparagus-like stems. It is easy to grow, but almost impossible to get rid of and is considered invasive. It’s also a bit hard to find turkish rocket seeds.

Longshot

Fabled plants that are either really hard to find (2 hours grinding through online search engines) or hard to grow and maintain.

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    Sea Kale

    Buy Seeds Here
    A brassica that prefers growing along coasts, it’s quite hard to find seeds and even harder to get them to germinate successfully (some techniques involve scarification and refrigeration). If you do get it established, it’s quite versatile with edible leaves, shoots, and flowers.

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    Good King Henry

    Buy Seeds Here
    An old-timey vegetable that was popular in medieval and renaissance gardens. The leaves are comparable to a bitter spinach and the shoots can be eaten as asparagus (it was once known as “poor” man’s asparagus). However, there isn’t much compelling reason to grow this vegetable over tastier and more popular annuals aside from it being a perennial.

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    Groundnut

    Buy Plants Here
    I haven’t tried growing this legumous vine that produces edible roots personally because of my kid’s peanut allergies, but have heard that it’s quite invasive. It’s also pretty hard to find cuttings to grow this plant.

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    Skirret

    Buy Plants Here
    Like Good King Henry, this is a perfectly acceptable root vegetable that is comparable to parsnip and carrots, but given how easy it easy it is to grow carrots and parsnips doesn’t make a lot of sense to grow even if it is a perennial.