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When most people think about putting in a garden they usually mean an annual vegetable garden but there are some real advantages to creating a perennial garden on your homestead.
What Is A Perennial?
A plant that lives more than two years as opposed to an annual which grows one season then dies back or a biennial which lives two years before dying. Perennials can live and produce for several years without replanting to provide food for your homestead year after year.
A Few Pro’s of Growing Perennials
- Low maintenance
- Ongoing harvests
- Improved Soil
There Are Some Con’s of Growing Perennials Also
- Some are slow to establish
- Some can be invasive
- They require a permanent location
- There are possible pest and disease issues due to no crop rotation
Fruit Trees and Berry Bushes are obvious perennials but I want to share with you 7 perennial plants that many may not think of when it comes to gardening, except for maybe this first one.
This one is probably the most common of the perennials I will share with you. There isn’t much better from the garden than a juicy sweet strawberry, especially when you didn’t even have to plant it that year because they keep coming back every year.
Varieties of strawberries:
June bearing plants have one monster crop of berries per year. June is the general time for bearing but that may be earlier or later depending upon your zone.
Everbearing plants have more modest-sized crops, but they can start producing as soon as there are 12 hours of daylight and continue bearing until the end of summer.
Day-neutral strawberry plant types have three peak periods of fruiting. Usually, these fall as early June, mid-July, and late August, which provides a nicely spread out crop.
How to start a strawberry patch:
- Pick the spot: Plenty of sunlight, avoid frost pockets, good drainage
- Prepare the soil: weed-free, loose, compost mixed in.
- Planting Strawberries: Bareroot strawberries should be planted 12-18″ apart and the crown should be level with the soil surface. If starting with plants the spacing still applies. The strawberry plants will send out runners and quickly fill out the spaces between the plants.
Maintaining a strawberry patch:
- First year: pinch off the blossoms to help the plants establish
- Thinning the crop: cut off dead stems and leaves to keep the patch thinned out.
- Fertilizing the patch: put down 1-2 inches of compost in the fall around the plants.
A perennial vegetable that is generally used as a fruit in desserts and jams. Of the rhubarb plant, only the stalks are eaten. These have a rich, tart flavor. The leaves of the rhubarb plant are poisonous, so be sure that they are not ingested. Rhubarb is easy to grow but needs cool weather to thrive.
How to start a rhubarb patch
- Pick the spot: a place that is well-drained, fertile, and preferably in partial to full sunlight. It also must be a space that can accommodate large plants.
- Prepare the soil: Rhubarb plants are heavy feeders and need lots of organic matter. Be sure to mix compost, rotted manure, or anything high in organic matter in the soil. Don’t add a chemical fertilizer when planting rhubarb or during the first year of growth. Direct contact with nitrates can kill your rhubarb plants.
- Planting Rhubarb: Plant one-year rhubarb crowns in early spring as soon as the ground is workable, when the roots are still dormant and before growth begins or plants are just beginning to leaf out Rhubarb can also be planted in the fall after dormancy has set in. Space rhubarb plants about 4 feet apart and plant the roots 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil.
Maintaining a rhubarb patch
Once rhubarb is fully grown its large leaves will shade out most weeds but you will want to keep the rhubarb free of competition. Because rhubarb is a heaver feeder you will want to add 3 inches of finished compost every fall. I also like to mulch with comfrey leaves and feed with compost tea made from comfrey leaves.
Young asparagus shoots are delicious and are one of the first crops of the Spring harvest. This perennial vegetable is also packed with nutrients with tons of health benefits.
How to start an asparagus bed
- Pick the spot: A permanent place with light soils and full sun so it will warm up quickly in spring and drain well; standing water will quickly rot the roots.
- Prepare the soil: Loosen the soil and remove all perennial weeds and roots and dig in plenty of aged manure or finished compost. If you have clay-based soil, mixing in some sand can help prepare a bed for asparagus.
- Planting asparagus: Starting asparagus from 1-year-old crowns gives you a year’s head start over seed-grown plants. To plant asparagus crowns, dig trenches 12 inches wide and 6 inches deep. Place the crowns in the trenches 1½ to 2 feet apart; top them with 2 to 3 inches of soil. Two weeks later, add another inch or two of soil. Continue adding soil periodically until the soil is slightly mounded above surface level to allow for settling.
Maintaining an asparagus bed
Apply mulch to smother weeds, which compete with the young spears and reduce yields. Carefully remove any weeds that do appear. Water regularly during the first 2 years after planting. Fertilize in spring and fall with compost tea. Leave winter-killed foliage, along with straw or other light mulch, on the bed to provide winter protection.
Don’t harvest any asparagus spears during the first 2 years that plants are in the permanent bed. They need to put all their energy into establishing deep roots. During the third season, pick the spears over a 4-week period, and by the fourth year, extend your harvest to 8 weeks.
4. Jerusalem Artichoke
The Jerusalem Artichoke is a perennial sunflower native to North America. It produces tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked. They’re tasty, available all winter, exceptionally easy to grow, completely undemanding, and very low maintenance.
- Pick the spot: This is extremely important when it comes to this perennial because it can become invasive as it spreads. Give them plenty of room or have a way to contain them. These plants also grow tall which can provide a living screen or windbreak but can also shade out other plants so plan accordingly.
- Prepare the soil: These plants will grow just about anywhere other than soggy soil but ideally they do best in loose soil with a pH of 6.5.
- Planting Jerusalem artichoke: Plant tubers 4-6 inches deep, 12-18 inches apart. If they are already sprouting, make sure the shoots are pointing upwards.
Maintaining Jerusalem Artichoke
These plants can grow up to 10 feet tall so they are prone to get blown over. In mid-summer you can cut them down to 4-5 feet which will cause them to bush out more and put off more flowers, this also encourages larger tuber growth as it will put energy into the roots instead of the stalks.
Start harvesting after the first frost, when the plants begin to die back. If you’re somewhere warmer then leave harvest until mid-winter.
Jerusalem Artichokes don’t store well but one of their advantages is that they’re quite happy left in the ground until you need them. If your ground tends to freeze, mulch well to ensure that you can extend the harvest period.
It’s not necessary to dig them all up if you’ve created a permanent bed for them, but they’ll become congested in a couple of years if you don’t. The best practice is to in early spring, dig over the bed, removing all you can find, and replant.
5. French Sorrel
There are different types of sorrel but for culinary purposes, the French Sorrel is the one I like. It is a tangy, lemony-flavored plant, the youngest leaves have a slightly more acidic taste, but you can use mature leaves steamed or sauteed like spinach.
How To Start Growing French Sorrel
- Pick the spot: Permanent place, full to partial sun, well-draining soil.
- Prepare the soil: Loosen the soil at least six inches deep and mix in a finished compost. Sorrel needs a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8.
- Planting Sorrel: You can plant sorrel from seed, plant seeds about 8 inches apart. You can plant the seeds a few weeks before the last frost date as sorrel is cold hardy and it won’t hurt the seedlings. It can be started indoors and transplanted as well.
Harvesting and Maintaining Sorrel:
Sorrel needs plenty of water throughout the growing season. Keep weeds out of sorrel beds, French Sorrel only grows 8-12 inches tall and can quickly be overtaken by taller weeds. Sorrel is also prone to aphid attacks so you will have to be diligent against these pests. Sorrel will bolt and create a seed head in hot weather which will put off a lot of seeds and cause the leaves to stop growing. Cut off the seed head stems to prevent this before they put off the seeds.
To harvest Sorrel just pick off the outer leaves and the plant will continue to grow new leaves all season long.
Lovage is a great perennial that is very hardy and used as a celery or parsley substitute in dishes. All parts of the herb are usable. The leaves can be used in salads; the root can be dug up at the end of the season and used as a vegetable. Stems can replace celery and the flower yields an aromatic oil. Lovage seeds and stems are often used as a flavoring in candy making. The seeds are a common ingredient in flavored oils and vinegars, which steep in the liquid, releasing their flavor over time.
How To Start Growing Lovage.
- Pick the spot: It’s a large plant getting up to 6 feet tall and bushy so you need a spot that will accommodate a plant that size. Lovage needs well-drained soil and lots of sun as well.
- Prepare the soil: These plants like sandy, loamy soil with a pH of around 6.5. To prepare loosen and mix in finished compost.
- Planting lovage: Direct sow lovage seed indoors five to six weeks before the date of the last frost. Sow seed on the surface of soil and dust with sand. The seeds may also be sown outside in late spring when soil temperatures have warmed to 60 degrees. Keep seedling’s soil moist until they are a few inches tall and plant about 18 inches apart.
Lovage will develop a long taproot which will help it not require much maintenance. Because it’s a large bushy plant weed pressure won’t generally be a problem either. The plant can either grow back from crowns or seeds can be harvested for reseeding. You can also divide the crowns after a couple of seasons to expand your crop. Once established it’s a hardy perennial that won’t require much work.
Watercress is a perennial cultivated for its clean, slightly peppery tasting leaves and stems. watercress thrives in clear, slow-moving water.
How To Start Growing Watercress
- Picking the spot: If you have any sort of water feature on your homestead then this would be a great place to cultivate watercress.
- Preparing the soil: Watercress likes consistently wet soil with a soil pH of 6.5-7.5 in full sun
- Planting watercress: Watercress can be grown from seed, transplants, or cuttings. Seeds are tiny, so they need to be lightly broadcast over the prepared site. Sow three weeks before the frost-free date for your area. This plant germinates best in cool conditions (50-60° F.) but not frigid. Keep the planting area moist but not covered with water. Container-grown plants can be placed in a saucer filled with water to retain moisture.
Consistent moisture is the number one concern in the care of watercress. This plant does not have high nutrient requirements. You need to keep the area around the plants free from weeds.
Looking for a place to get high-quality seeds to start some of your perennials? I like True Leaf Market (I got my watercress seeds there). Check them out, I think you’ll like their customer service.
I hope this has given you some great ideas on planting perennial plants on your homestead. This is just a start, there are many great perennials to fill your permaculture homestead.
Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier
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