Perennial Edibles: Low Maintenance Food Growing

Let's face it, growing annual vegetables is quite a bit of work. It requires dedication, persistence, and is sometimes risky business! How many times have you carefully and lovingly looked after your beloved broccoli, only to come out to the garden one morning and find it had been devoured by rats, birds or possums?

This is why it's a good idea not to put your eggs in one basket by growing a variety of edibles and including perennial edibles into your productive garden design. As opposed to an annual plant, which has a life cycle of six months to a year, perennial plants can last 5 to 15 years or more! There are hundreds of varieties of perennial edibles, many of which are described in a wonderful book written by Eric Toensmeier entitled Perennial Vegetables, which I really recommend.

As chance would have it, you already are growing some perennial edibles in your garden like rosemary, lavender or thyme. You may have inherited them from your landlord or the previous owner of your home and they happily provide you with a constant supply of herbs (and provide the bees with wonderful nectary flowers) year after year. What giving plants they are!

As it turns out, perennial vegetables work much in the same way. The wonderful thing about them is that they are often very hardy and low maintenance. Many thrive in part shade, so are a wonderful option in a shady garden. You plant them once and they will provide you with fresh food season after season.

Let's go through a couple of our favourites:

- Salad burnet is a wonderful perennial, peppery, leafy salad plant that will provide you with a constant supply of salad greens all year long for years to come. It is a great ground cover layer in a permaculture food forest and is very easy to grow. That possum we mentioned above can literally eat it right to the ground, and burnet will come right back and grow more vigorously than before!

- Lovage is a wonderful celery substitute as you only need one stalk of lovage in your stew to replace three stalks of celery!

- Perennial leeks are fantastic as they provide you with a constant supply of leeks (smaller than traditional ones, but much tastier) by constantly sending out new baby leeks that you can divide and re-sow.

- Gotu kola is a great bog plant (for boggy, shady areas in your garden) said to alleviate and prevent arthritis.

- Asparagus can live up to 20 years! Now is a good time to plant asparagus crowns. I would plant about four for one household. They will start producing a good amount of spears in their second year, die back every winter, and come back every spring!

- All members of the mint family are wonderful medicinal edible perennials, although you may want to plant them in a pot as they do tend to take over. One of these, which we have a lot of in our vegetable garden, is lemon balm. It is one of our Naturopath Sarah Mann's favourites. We have a Holistic Gut Health Weekend coming up in our workshop space and lemon balm is a herb that will feature for its ease of growing in the Blue Mountains and it’s incredible help restoring gut health.  It has the most beautiful, warm, citrusy and refreshing scent. A low mood or lethargy is transformed with it’s beautiful aroma, lifting and strengthening the spirits and sharpening the mind. Lemon balm is a powerful anti viral and anti microbial, sweeping the gut clear of unhealthy bacteria and bugs while nourishing and repairing the gut. It is warming, calming and enlivening, bringing the gut into a supple and supported responsiveness and providing a landscape for healthy gut flora.

Perennial herbs, vegetables, and fruit (most fruits and berries are also perennial of course) play an important role in a diverse, productive garden providing long lasting yields of food and medicine, nectar for beneficial insects and different edible 'layers' in a food forest ecosystem.