Perennial Crops for the Homestead & Beyond
Here at the Traditional Catholic Homestead we have a bit of an affinity for perennials. Wherther it be tasty vegies or the ever popular berries we go in big for perennial crops! A big draw for me, as the main garden guy, is the reduction of care and maintenance that most perrenial crops require. Over time your perennial garden beds will build their own little micro-ecosystems and will tollerate considerable neglect, which around here can happen pretty easily. Most perennial crops just aren’t as needy as your annuals…and I appreciate that especially during the busy spring season!
Speaking of the growing season, up here at 4000ft above sea level in North-Central Idaho our growing season is short…like 90 days short! Having established perennials in the ground can really give you a jump on the growing season, and extend your harvest past those first killing frosts on into the “indian summer” we usaully get around here. The resiliancy and stored energy of perennial garden crops can really fill the void in a short growing season, or just extend the harvest for those of you in a more hospitable growing environment.
The versatility of many perennials goes beyond just a tasty treat for the plate, many also have ornamental value, or attract polinators and other beneficial insects. Many predatory insects will
overwinter on your perennial plants or in the undisturbed litter surrounding them. Some will fix nitrogen to share with your other plants, or provide dappled shade during the heat of the day.
Since you will rarely be tilling or distrubing the soil the soil food web is left largely in tact, providing a safe haven for beneficial soil microbes, organisms, fungi, and more. If planned properly these islands of soil life can act as a buffer or seed stock for the surrounding soil that is more intensively managed. When you use a deep mulch system around your perennials you will get even more benefits with accelerated composting in place and water retention.
Some consideration needs to be taken in you preperations for planting your perennial garden areas. Since the plants are in place for the long haul you should really make sure that where they will be for quite a while. Once established most will be trouble free, but until that time they may require a little more work. On the other side of the coin some perennials are so vigorous and require such little care that they can become problematic, even to the point of being bestowed that lowly title of “weed”! Cautious consideration shoud be made befor planting any perennial plant.
Enough of the Pros & Cons…onto the plants! Besides the standard asperagus, rhubarb, and berry varieties every gardener knows and loves, there are other stanbys that are perennial but grown as annuals. Garlic, potatoes, and kale come to mind here (all will easily perennialize if you allow it!). Horseradish and artichokes are both fine perennial homestead crops as well. We’ve planted walking onions, bunching onions, and multiplier or potato onions here with good success! Comfrey, winter savory, mint, roesemary, thyme and sage round out the perenial herb patch. We’re experimenting with getting ground nut or apios americana
established, and trying out runner beans this year also. Both should help with nitrogen fixing to add fertility to the soil while also providing a yeild. I’ve done some strategic planting of jeruselem artichoke, a sunflower relative grown for its edible tuber, and hope to get nice patches of that staple crop established. I’ve tried sorrel with little luck, but haven’t given up hope on getting a patch of that unique perennial green established. I’m toying with the idea of trying out tree collards in the greenhouse, but with our canola/flea beatle problems up here I’m not real hopeful. These are just a few in a long list of perennials that we hope to get established on the Traditional Catholic Homestead! For further resources or ideas check out the “Resources” section below.