5: Episode 5 – Edible Perrenials

The gift that keeps on giving! Plant once, harvest for a lifetime, edible perennials should form the backbone of every self sufficient food plan.

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Edible Perennials

Edible perennials are such an important part of self-sufficiency because it's a lot of work to grow
your own food and to raise your own food, and edible perennials form a part of that self-
sufficient food income, if you like, that over time requires less and less input. So it's the same
amount of work as planting your lettuce this year, to plant (for example) kale, but the difference
is that the kale won't need planting again next year. It's an edible perennial.
So we're going to run through a list of edible perennials. It's not exhaustive and I'm sure later
date, we will go into a lot more depth in some of these, but for now, I just wanted to run through
just some of the edible perennials that we've got growing here to illustrate just how important
they can be for part of your self-sufficient food security.

List of Edible Perennials for Self-Sufficiency


So we’re going to start with vegetables and I’m just going to list four or five that are really key for me.


The first one is asparagus. Now asparagus is hugely important to me because it is something we all love eating. We really enjoy eating it, and it can be the centerpiece of a meal. So if you’re a carnivore – like I am, and you enjoy eating meat, asparagus and mushrooms are two things that can take the place of meat in a meal. You can make asparagus-based main courses, and it reduces the need to produce as much meat as you might otherwise. At least that’s how we look at it.

Another reason asparagus is so great is that, once you’ve got yourself your asparagus bed established, it will go on for decades, giving you a fantastic crop every year. So we started with eight crowns that we bought and we’re expecting our first harvest this year. We put them in two years ago. And this is year three and that’s really when you can start harvesting. There were quite a few Spears came up last year, but we didn’t touch them. As tempting as they were, we left them so the energy could remain within the plant and, as of this year, we should be able to harvest lightly, and next year full harvest. So, from those eight grounds, I’m fully expecting to get enough asparagus to meet our needs, certainly for the summer half the year. And in subsequent years, we should get enough asparagus to fill our needs for the whole year and potentially with some to sell. So that’s a great crop.


The second one is something I've already mentioned and that is kale. We planted a row of kale
two years ago, and it's overwintered and we've basically used it as a cut and come again crop
for vegetables, for leafy vegetables like spinach and equivalent; and it's still going two years
later. And it's strong as ever. So kale is a great plant because it's got two parts. It's got the stem
and the leaf. You treat them both differently and you can actually serve it up as two different
vegetables on a plate. They look very different, tastes very different. So kale is a great perennial
vegetable and it's actually got a place in our vegetable plot with our annuals.


The second and third are both artichokes. They're actually not related, but they've got the
artichoke in the name. So that's the globe artichoke and the Jerusalem artichoke. They're very
very different plants.
Now Globe artichoke flowers, you can put it in the corner of a border flower bed, and it wouldn't
look out of place. Which is in fact what we've done. We've got four or five scattered around our
flower beds. And it produces beautiful Globe artichoke vegetables every single year. And again,
that's a perennial. It will go on and on.
And the second one Jerusalem artichoke – strictly speaking, it's more of an annual but it can be
grown as a perennial. If you've ever tried to grow Jerusalem artichokes as an annual then you'll
be familiar with the situation that they're actually quite difficult to get rid of once you've got them
because they're so prolific. The edible part is a tuber under the ground. You need to think of
them really as very like a potato plant. They grow like a potato. So once you've planted them –
and we planted some last year, and I have just left them in the ground that year for those tubers
to spread, and this year we shall dig and bring some of them up – and by pure chance without
me trying I'm certain that there will be some left behind and they will grow every year. So literally
it's just the case of harvesting from here on in.
I planted them on the edge of our pig wood. The idea being that they'll spread into the wood as
well, and they'll be tubers for the pigs to forage for. So for us, they are a dual-purpose crop in
that way.


And the final one is rhubarb. Rhubarb is a fantastic plant. It is so generous. We inherited a
couple of plants when we moved here. They're huge and those two plants alone produce
enough rhubarb for us to meet our needs all year round, but also, sell a reasonable amount at
the side of the road. So rhubarb's a great cropping plant.
We've also picked up five or six small crowns from Freecycle someone who wanted them
cleared. So we took them and I've place them somewhere else. We're going to leave them
another year, but that will give us another source of rhubarb because we can't meet the demand
we've got at our little shop at the side of the road. So we're going to have a lot more to sell next
year, hopefully.

Vines / Fruits

The next section is Vines. Fruit trees and berries Berry bushes, and things like that. Now here you really are spoiled for choice. A lot of them I’m sure you’ll be familiar with.

As always. I’m talking about a temperate climate, so things might change slightly based on where you are. As you’re aware, I’m in the UK. So do a bit of research on what the best varieties of these things are for you. Something to be aware of whenever you’re planting a fruit tree or a Vine or something like that, is you need to make sure if you’re only planting one that it’s self-pollinating.

So for instance, we have a kiwi here. I can’t remember the name of the variety. But the variety we chose was specifically one that would (a.) grow in our temperate climate, but (b.) would be self-pollinating. So that one plant would be enough. (edit; it’s the variety Jenny)

So I’ve mentioned kiwi. Another great one is grapes. These are something else that we acquired. They were already here. They were actually in a bit of overgrown land and we didn’t know they were there. We cut it all back and while I was debating what to do with it the following spring, these Grape Vines shot up. And I’ve just recently in the last few days built a structure for them to grow up and over. So we’ve inherited those.

We all know about the (what I’m going to call) the standard Garden variety of fruit. We’re talking apples, pears, plums, and that kind of thing. So one thing to be aware of is that you should be able to dry these. So we dry an awful lot of our fruit. We have more than enough from each of our trees to supply our needs. And we get lots of these when they’re in season. So we tend to dry them and that keeps us going through the winter. You can also freeze them and can them.

We’ve got lots of berries and I’ve acquired most of our berries from freecycle for free. So I’m very very happy about that. We’ve got red currants, blackcurrant, gooseberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries. And these are plants again that will come back every single year. They’re great for the kids. Again, we tend to have gluts of these, and they freeze really well. So that’s how we tend to preserve our berries. We also make a lot of cordials, jams, preserves, and fruit leathers. If you’re not familiar with fruit leather, it’s basically this – you make it very similar to a jam – and then you spread it out very thin on a piece of greaseproof paper. Or at least this is how I do it. And then we put In the dehydrator and you can either leave it as it is, smash it into pieces, or cut it into strips. And it’s like a chewy sweet – my kids absolutely love it.


The next section I wanted to talk to you about with regards to edible perennials is nuts. Now hazelnuts are very prolific. They’re so easy to go foraging for. We didn’t have anywhere locally to us that had lots of hazelnuts for me to forage. And when I say local, I mean within walking distance of the property. So what I have done is I’ve planted a load of hazelnuts that I foraged from slightly further away and we’ve got about 15 little Hazel plants growing now, They’re going to take a few years before they crop but thinking long-term, I’m quite comfortable with that. We’ve bought an almond tree, and we acquired a nicely established black walnut tree. So we’ve got hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts here.

One thing to be aware of with nuts is squirrels. It’s very very difficult to stop the squirrels from getting there first. So you’ve got three options. If your trees are small enough, you can net the whole tree out. That’s quite tricky and not always practical. It can make your own harvesting difficult. So that’s option one. Option two is obviously pest control which you can do with traps or an air rifle. And option 3, which is quite ingenious – and I’ve tried it this year, so I’ll have to let in the Autumn how it went. This is something I found online. I can’t remember where I got it so I can’t quote the source, unfortunately. But if you bury a little four-inch pipe under the ground next to the tree and leave one end slightly exposed chances are the squirrels will find it and all he’s looking for is somewhere to hide his nuts. So he will use that to hide the nuts for himself. At which point, you can let him do the harvesting for you and then come along and take the nuts.

Now, I suggest that you look at this one of two ways. There are only two ways to do it humanely. I don’t think it’s particularly humane to let a squirrel starve to death in the middle of winter. So in my opinion, and you want to do one of two things, you want to do this along with a pest control measure. So you are actively ending the squirrels as humanely as possible alongside this, or what I’m going to do is I’m just going to take half the nuts. So I think that’s a fair deal. I’m growing nuts for the squirrel. He’s harvesting them for me and we split the produce. We’ll have to see how that works out.


The last and final thing is mushrooms. And you can buy impregnated plugs that are impregnated with the spores of things like oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane mushrooms, etc. But if you’re a bit of a forager, like I am, you can actually find your own mushrooms and bring them back and leave them to drop their spores on the logs yourself. This is particularly good with oyster mushrooms. Oysters are very prolific at propagating their spores. So they are great ones to find in the wild, bring back, and allow to propagate your own logs.

So there you go. There is my rundown of the really important edible perennials – the ones that come to my mind straight away for ones that you should be thinking about and finding room for if you can.