Imagine a perennial foods garden that produces fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers every season with out having to be replanted, tilled or fertilized with chemicals. Perennials are plants that live for three to many years. They need few inputs (such as water and nutrients) and use little energy compared to conventional annual vegetable and grain crops. Some important food crops come from perennial plants such as mangos, cinnamon, cappers, black pepper, coconut and apples. In cold climates perennial foods include cherries, plums, greens, many kinds of berries and nuts, rhubarb, many kinds of herbs, edible flowers and much more.
Benefits of Perennial Foods
- Growing plants that stay put year after year reduces soil erosion caused by tilling and leaving the soil bare between crops. Also, perennial plants usually put down deep, soil stabilizing roots and have a chance to develop extensive root systems over the years.
- Less tilling leaves soil microorganisms undisturbed.
- Fewer resources are used shipping plant starts and seeds around the country each year, and less time is spent replanting.
- Plants can be attractive whether grown in a food plot or incorporated into your landscape. Many are suitable for containers on patios or balconies.
- Perennial foods are nutritious and taste great. Many of the vegetables and berries listed below are gourmet treats, hard-to-find and costly in grocery stores, but they can easily be grown at home.
Permaculture is the practice of growing foods in an integrated system that mimics the patterns of nature. The Land Institute in Kansas is researching ways to use native plants to create a more sustainable, holistic system for growing food and reduce agriculture's dependence on portable liquid fuels such as oil and ethanol. While the research there is directed at emulating prairie ecotypes, many tropical and temperate permaculture systems are modeled on forest biomes. All permaculture systems are based on protecting and enriching the valuable resource of soil. Growing foods in an important component of this.
Bill Mollison, author of 'Permaculture: A Designer's Manual', is considered the founder of modern permaculture. Beginning in the 1970s, he, along with David Holmgren of Australia, developed principles about intentionally designed food production systems, encompassing ethical lifestyle choices and community building as well. Observation of nature's patterns is key to building sustainable systems. Patrick Whitfield's excellent book, 'The Earth Care Manual' is a good place to start learning about permaculture. You can also earn more from periodicals such as 'Permaculture', published in the UK, and 'Permaculture Activist' in the US. And each year there are more permaculture design workshops offered around the world.
How to Grow Perennial Foods
Perennial plants are easy to grow in any amount of space, in any climate.
- Choose plants that are hardy in your zone and fit in the in space you have available. This is especially important for trees and shrubs. Good choices for small spaces include strawberries, herbs and greens.
- Select a site that your plants can grow undisturbed in for several years, or grow plants in containers.
- Prepare the soil by loosening with a pitchfork and mixing in organic matter.
- Mulch around your plants with compost to amend soil and shade the roots.
- For plants that need watering regularly, install soaker hoses or drip irrigation.
Below is a list of edible plants commonly grown in gardens, arranged by growth habit. Many types of common weeds and wild plants are also perennial and can be used in salads. Harvest from areas that are not contaminated by traffic exhaust.
- American wild plum, Prunus americana
- Apple, Malus domestica
- Avocado, Persea americana
- Black cherry, Prunus serotina
- Chestnut crab, Malus sp.
- Choke cherry, Prunus virginiana
- Citrus, Citrus sp.
- Cornelian cherry, Cornus mas
- Eastern Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
- Fig, Ficus carica
- Glossy black chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa
- Hawthorn, Cratagus sp.
- Hazelnut, Corylus americana, C. cornuta, C. avellana
- Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica
- Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba
- Monkey puzzle, Araucaria araucana
- Pear, Pyrus sp.
- Persimmon, Diospyros sp.
- Pin cherry, Prunus pensylvanica
- Plum, Prunus sp.
- Quince, Cydonia oblonga
- Serviceberry, Juneberry, Amelanchier sp.
- Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa
- Tart cherry, Prunus sp.
- Grape, River or Frost, Vitis riparia
- Grape, Table or Wine, Vitis sp.
- Kiwi, Actinidia sp.
Shrubs and Berries
- American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis
- American highbush crannberry, Viburnum trilobatum
- Black berry, Rubus allegheniensis
- Black raspberries, Rubus occidentalis
- Blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium, V. corybosium
- Cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon
- Elderberry, Sambucus nigra
- Golden currants, Ribes aureum
- Golden raspberries, Rubus sp.
- Gooseberries, Ribes spp.
- Hobblebush, Viburnum alnifolium
- Honeyberry, Lonicera caerule
- Huckberry, Vaccinium sp.
- Huckleberry, Gaylussacia baccata
- Lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea
- Nannyberry, Viburnum lentago
- Red raspberries, Rubus idaeus
- Regent Serviceberry Amelanchier alnifolia 'Regent'
- Sea berry, Hippophae rhamnoides
- Silverbuffalo berry, Sheperdia argentea
- Smooth sumac, Rhus glabra
- Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina
- Strawberry, alpine, Fragaria vesca
- Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana
- Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus
- Wild rose, Rosa blanda or sp.
- Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum
- Basil, Ocimum basilicum
- Catnip, Nepeta cataria
- Chives, Allium schoenoprasum
- Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
- Feverfew, Chrysanthemum parthenium
- French tarragon, Artemisia dranunculus
- Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum
- Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia
- Lovage, Levisticum officinale
- Mint, Mentha sp.
- Oregano, Origanum vulgare
- Parsley, Petroselinum crispum
- Rosemary, Rosemarinus officinalis
- Sage, Salvia
- Shiso, Japanese Red Mint, Perilla frutescens
- Thyme, Thymus vulgaris
Perennial Vegetables and Greens
- Arrowhead, Sagittaria sagittifolia
- Arugula, rocket, Diplotaxis erucoides
- Asparagus, Asparagus officinalis
- Chicory, Cichorium sp.
- Comfrey, Symphytum sp.
- Earth Pea, Lathyrus tuberosa
- Elephant Garlic, Allium ampeloprasum
- Galangal, Thai ginger, Alpinia galangal
- Garlic, Allium sativum
- Ginger, Zingiber officinale
- Globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus
- Golden shallots, Allium cepa var. aggregatum
- Ground nut, Agrios americana
- Horseradish, Amoracia sp.
- Jerusalem artichokes, sunchoke, Helianthus tuberosus
- New Zealand Spinach, Tetragonia
- Oca, New Zealand yam, Oxalis tuberosa
- Peruvian parsnip, Arracacia xanthorrhiza
- Rhubarb, ''Rhuem rhabarbarum
- Sea beet, Beta vulgaris ssp.maritima
- Sea kale, Crambe maritima
- Sorrel, Rumex acetosa
- Sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas
- Taro, Colocasia esculenta
- Turmeric, Indian saffron, Curcuma domestica
- Waterchestnuts, Eleocharis dulcis
- Welsh onion, Allium sp.
- Yacon, Smallanthus sonchifolius
- Yam, Dioscorea batata