There are different reasons for growing your own fruits and vegetables. One reason to grow your own produce is to save money. Most of us usually only grow annual veggies which die at the end of the season and must be replanted the succeeding year. If you were to grow more perennial vegetable plants, you could save even more money and expand your veggie repertoire at the same time. What are some different types of perennial vegetables and how do you grow perennial garden vegetables?
What are Perennial Vegetables?
Okay, so what are perennial vegetables anyway? As with all perennials, perennial veggies are those that live for more than two years. The word “perennial” distinguishes them from the short-lived annuals and biennials.
There are fewer true perennial vegetables than annuals, but there are still plenty to choose from. Perennial veggies extend the growing season by providing food both earlier and later in the year. Since they return each season, they give you more bang for your buck than annuals. They also often require less care than annuals.
How to Grow Perennial Vegetables
There are a few readily known perennial vegetable plants, such as rhubarb and asparagus, but there are a number of fascinating less recognized perennials that make a great addition to the garden landscape too. Each perennial has a unique habit and planting requirement. As a general rule, once the plant is established, it is fairly maintenance-free.
Rhubarb, for example, is notable for its colorful red stalks topped with huge leaves that thrive in cool spring weather. Plant rhubarb in full sun and side dress with well-rotted manure to fertilize in the summer and fall. Plant the crown in the early spring, with the central bud 2 inches (5 cm.) below the soil and crowns 6 feet (2 m.) apart. Don’t harvest the first year of growth. Thereafter, the plant will thrive for six to eight years, at which point the plant should be divided in the spring or fall.
Like rhubarb, asparagus shouldn’t be harvested in its first year of growth. It is another perennial that thrives in the cooler spring temps. Mature plants may yield for 10 to 15 years. Amend the soil prior to planting with a 2-inch (5 cm.) thick layer of compost in a trench that is 6 inches (15 cm.) deep. Plant crowns in the spring, 6 to 8 inches (15-20.5 cm.) deep and 14 inches (35.5 cm.) apart. Cover the crowns loosely with 3 inches (7.5 cm.) of compost-rich soil. Finish filling the trench in the fall.
Other Types of Perennial Vegetables
Here are some of the lesser-known perennial vegetables you can grow:
Another popular perennial vegetable is the globe artichoke. Not only are they delicious but the plant is quite spectacular. Artichokes are a member of the thistle family, which is patently obvious if you ever leave the edible flower bud on the plant; they open up into fuzzy vibrant purple flowers much like a thistle.
Plant artichokes in full sun in moist, well-draining soil that is amended with 2 inches (5 cm.) of compost. This perennial can be grown either from root divisions or seed. Plant 24 to 36 inches (61-91.5 cm.) apart in rows that are spaced 36 inches (91.5 cm.) apart. Amend the soil around the plants in the spring with 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) of compost. Cut the artichoke back in the fall and cover it with a 6-inch (15 cm.) layer of straw.
Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, are not the same as the above. Grown for its small, sweet tubers, the plant is actually related to the sunflower, and like the sunflower, is notable for its height of 6 to 12 feet (2-4 m.)! They will spread rampantly and should be contained and thinned often.
Hill the plants like potatoes to increase production and harvest after the first frost. Plant the tubers directly in the ground in the spring.
Welsh onions are more commonly grown as an annual, but they can be grown as a perennial too. They produce mild onion-flavored greens that can be harvested throughout the year. Start from seed, which will grow into a clump that can be divided in the spring.
French sorrel is a lemony, acidic green that is easy to grow from seed and can be eaten either fresh or cooked. Good King Henry is a European native that can be planted in either sun or partial shade.
Young shoots can be cut in the spring and cooked like asparagus while the leaves can be harvested and cooked like greens through the late summer. The plant is cold hardy and low maintenance.
Walking Stick Cabbage
“Walking stick” cabbage or kale prefers well-fertilized soil. This plant can get very large and looks like a thin palm tree with leaves that can be harvested from early to mid-fall and should be cooked prior to eating.
Bamboo shoots can be difficult to control but if properly contained, there are edible varieties. Also, if you keep harvesting the bamboo for its crunchy shoots, it can’t get too out of hand.
Nettles are actually common weeds (like dandelions) that are high in vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, magnesium, and more. The young shoots are mild in flavor and can be used cooked in any recipe calling for greens. Wear gloves to harvest them to avoid getting stung.
Skirret is a low-maintenance root crop that is cold hardy and thrives in moist, shaded areas. It grows in clumps that can easily be divided, is pest resistant, and its flowers attract pollinators.
Ramps are delicious members of the onion family that taste like a combination of onion and garlic. Often found growing wild on the forest floor, they are easy to grow, and the bulbs can be divided every year in the spring to be eaten or replanted. Add organic matter into the hole prior to planting and keep the plants moist.
Water celery is an edible groundcover that can be grown in the sun or shade. It does like moisture and will form dense colonies. The raw leaves taste somewhat like celery and parsley combined. Start water celery from transplants or seed.
Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads
Ostrich fern fiddleheads are harvested for the tender, young shoots in the early spring. It thrives in shaded areas with moist soil and may spread. The delicious fiddleheads should be harvested when they are tightly coiled and just a few inches (7.5 cm.) tall then cooked for at least ten minutes to bring out their unique, crisp, and nutty flavor.