Friday, January 25, 2019 - 1:15 pm to 4:15 pm
Perennial vegetables perfectly compliment a home food garden or commercial market garden. They provide large quantities of tender, delicious shoots at a time of year when nothing else is coming out of the garden; they easily fill the spring ‘hunger gap’ with delicious, nutrient-dense and low-maintenance crops.
Many are virtually unknown in the West, whereas they’re cultivated on a large scale in other parts of the world. China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea have thousands of acres of perennial vegetables under cultivation. Why don’t we?
They’re also highly resilient; their extensive root systems allow them to access water and nutrients from the subsoils, so they require less irrigation and fertility than their annual counterparts.
And because they don’t require tillage, they sequester carbon in the soil as they grow. In the era of climate change, perennial vegetables could play an important role in the organic farms of the future.
The only reason perennials are not a large part of the Western diet is because our cultural growing practices start and end with tillage, which is designed to prepare ground for annuals. Perennials require different growing practices, but less fertility and, ultimately, less energy to maintain.
There’s nothing particular to annuals that makes them taste any better than perennials; we’re missing out on a huge contingent of delicious, highly nutritious food.
I’ll cover the top 10 perennial vegetables I grow in my gardens, including cultivation details, bed design, and maintenance requirements for profitable results.
Topics covered will include:
- benefits of cold-hardy perennial vegetables
- design of the gardens for diversity & low maintenance
- establishing your perennial garden beds
- use of perennial ground covers to control weeds and hold in moisture
- tantalizing opportunities for the high-end culinary market
Vegetables to be discussed:
- Rumex acetosa: 1’5” high x 1’ wide / full sun to part shade / zone 3
- We use sorrel every day. The leaves have a lemony flavour and an excellent, crunchy texture that benefits a salad or a sandwich.
- Aralia cordata: 4’ high x 4’ wide / light shade to deep shade / zone 5
- Possibly the most productive perennial vegetable, this is considered gourmet fare in Japan, where the shoots have been cultivated for more than a century and foraged forever.
- Hablitzia tamnoides: 10-15’ high x 1’ wide / full sun to deep shade / zone 4
- Once established, this vine produces scads of vigorous edible shoots, along with edible leaves that remain tender most of the growing season.
- Hosta spp.: 3’ wide x 2’ high / light shade to deep shade / zone 4
- The classic ornamental hostas are cultivated as vegetables in their native Japan. The plants make bomb-proof ground covers, and produce huge amounts of spring shoots that are excellent lightly steamed with a little butter.
- Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Atropurpurea’: 2’ high x 8” wide / full sun to part shade / zone 5
- The young, lightly cooked greens of this diminutive herb are downright delicious, and deserve a place in any epicure’s garden.
- Crambe maritima: 2’ high x 2’ wide / full sun to half shade / zone 4
- Cultivated in England since the 18th Cenutry, sea kale is a tender spring shoot vegetable, akin to a love-child of asparagus and cabbage.
- Hemerocallis spp. 2’ high x slowly spreading / full sun to part shade / zone 4
- Daylilies are cultivated as a vegetable in China and Taiwan. The roots, shoots, and unopened flower buds are nice when cooked, and our salads are always ostentatiously smothered in their flowers.
- Helianthus tuberosus – 8’ high x indefinitely spreading / full sun to part shade / zone 2
- A hugely productive root vegetable, Samuel Thayer posits that it evolved alongside aboriginal foragers, as it benefits from (and relies on) harvesting-induced soil disturbance.
- Hylotelephium spp: 2’ tall x 2’ wide / full sun / zone 3
- The leaves of stonecrops make excellent and underrated salad greens, lending a nice crunch and juiciness to mixed greens. We include them in every salad we make from spring until fall.
- Stachys affinis: 18” high x indefinitely spreading / full sun to part shade / zone 5
- Long cultivated in China, this mint-family member produces large quantities of small, crunchy tubers that can be eaten raw or lightly cooked. We love them in salads and pickle them for winter.
I’ll also touch on my recent experiments with numerous other exciting perennial vegetables, including honewort, scorzonera, sweet fennel, ostrich fern, Welsh onion, patience dock, wood nettle, ox-eye daisy and cinnamon yam.
Speaker: Ben Caesar
Ben Caesar operates Fiddlehead Nursery, which he started in the spring of 2012.
He was introduced to permaculture and forest gardening through a friend in Guelph, where he filled his small urban yard with edible perennials before moving to the Beaver Valley in the spring of 2011.
Besides edible plants, he’s passionate about green building, literature, paddling, wildlife, and Anna Maria Tremonti.