I used to be a passionate flower gardener and considered perennials to be the backbone of my garden beds. Yet, I never thought about using them in my vegetable beds. In fact, I didn’t know of any perennial vegetables but asparagus! That all changed when I gave up on my flower gardens because of two bouts with Lyme disease.
After I got sick, I still wanted to keep up with my veggie patch, but I had a lot of days when I couldn’t do anything strenuous. When I was feeling better, I noticed that my asparagus and strawberries were still thriving. Everything else? They were annual vegetables with little annual roots and not up to that kind of neglect. They were long gone! Suddenly, I needed to re-till beds, move new seedlings into areas that their plant family hadn’t grown in before…Well, it is a lot of work. I looked at the thriving plants and thought, “Man I wish there were more things I could grow to eat that are perennial.” I hopped on my computer to do some research and discovered a whole new world of edible plants!
There are a ton of different options to choose from, especially if you are in zone 8 or 9. However, I am in zone 6b or, in a protected spot, zone 7, so half the plants I’d love to grow won’t come back next year for me. I’m going to talk about some basic varieties that grow well for me.
As I mentioned earlier, I do have asparagus. Sometimes it does well and sometimes it comes to a tragic and untimely end. It isn’t the easiest plant to grow, but when it finally finds a spot it likes, you’ll have one of the most care free, easy to grow veggies year after year. Right now, I am still at the tragic end stage. It doesn’t like that I moved it to a location further from the woods and the deer tick population. It liked its old spot, thank you very much. I will be re-planting, I guess.
One key to growing this crop well is heavy feeding. It loved aged cow manure in its old spot.
The potato onion is an awesome little perennial vegetable that grows like hen and chick plants – the mother surrounded by the little guys. You are supposed to carefully harvest them and save some for re-growing next year. I forgot about them last fall and was worried I killed them off all winter. Nah. I have tiny onions coming out my ears and will be doing a huge replanting project to make sure everyone has room to grow. But I did miss out on being able to eat the mother onions all winter! So, are they good enough to replace yearly bulb plantings? The babies did make my eyes water a bit when I chopped a few to saute with mushrooms and collard greens yesterday and they had plenty of flavor. I don’t miss the other varieties.
Egyptian Walking Onion
I don’t actually harvest these for eating, but I do grow them. They do quite well in a semi shaded area of the garden. They have little bulbils on the tips that you can eat or replant for more onions. I got them before I found the other variety, which is harder to locate. They have doubled in the past few years. They may do better in a sunnier location, but they seem okay, so I’m going to let them be.
Jerusalem Artichokes AKA Sunchokes
If you have diabetes, you may have heard about Jerusalem artichokes. They are tubers that produce inulin instead of breaking down into insulin. They taste kind of like sunflowers – a bit sweeter and nuttier than potatoes. If you decide to grow them, make sure you really want them because they are sort of invasive. I put mine in a raised bed against a fence. I recommend using them half and half with regular potatoes to make mashed potatoes if you aren’t sure you’ll like them. I love them, though, and will make chips and fries and all kinds of fun dishes. (Plus, they look awesome in the summer. They have a small sunflower like bloom and hit four or more feet high.)
Groundnuts or Potato Bean
This is another perennial vegetable option for potato lovers. I haven’t been able to eat them yet, as they should establish for a few years first. They have very pretty vines and lilac flowers, so are quite lovely to look at while you wait! It contains a lot more protein than potatoes, but does have some drawbacks. The vine is sort of invasive, about 5% of people who eat it have an allergic reaction the 2nd or 3rd time and should not ever eat it again and it has a latex type substance on the skin that is apparently murder on kitchen utensils. I’m still debating whether I ever will eat the tubers or just harvest the “peas’ that the flowering vine produces. For more on groundnuts, I recommend the most exhaustive article I’ve ever discovered. Be sure to read the comments. They are practically another article in themselves! (Orion Magazine – Stalking the Wild Groundnut)
So, what’s next? I’d love to track down some Sea Kale. What perennial vegetables do you grow in your garden beds?