Plant These Perennial Veggies for Years of Produce
What if you could plant just once and then enjoy harvests for many years to come with minimal effort? Well, amazingly, you can if you grow perennial vegetables! These are fantastic vegetables, with superb culinary qualities and often good looks, too. Here are six fabulous perennial vegetables to grow!
Not only do perennial vegetables grow for years upon years, but also many fill the ‘hungry gap’—that time of year in spring when winter’s vegetables are over but the newly sown crops of the season aren’t quite there yet.
1. Globe Artichoke
First up is the globe artichoke—a big, bold plant whose thrusting eruptions of glaucous growth make an incredibly architectural statement. They can be grown from seed but you can get a head start by planting young plants. Plus, it looks so darn good and is just such a striking plant in its own right!
Plant in an area that gets plenty of sunshine and that’s well drained. They might not look like they need a lot of space, but if you’re planting more than one, leave at least 3 feet between plants. There’s a little work to do; keep the area free of weeds during the growing season, water well in dry weather, and top up the ground around plants with a mulch of organic matter each spring to feed all that eager growth. If winters are very cold where you are, consider adding a mulch of straw or compost over the plants in winter, to protect them from the worst of the freezing weather.
It’s the tight flower buds that are harvested once they reach about golf ball size and before they open. The buds can be steamed or boiled till tender then, to eat, the individual scales are picked off and dipped into a butter sauce, hollandaise sauce or some other dipping sauce before sucking the delicious flesh from each scale. You’re then left with the tender heart—the real centerpiece to the whole affair!
You’ll often get a second cut of buds a few weeks after harvesting the first, but do allow some of these to open out and flower – they are one of the most bee-attracting flowers! The bees will love you for it and it’s endlessly fascinating watching them at work.
Another perennial vegetable similar to the globe artichoke is cardoon. It’s just as dramatic and eye-catching and grown in much the same way – plenty of warm sunshine and a well-drained soil – but in this case it’s not the flower buds you harvest, but the stems. Harvested cardoon looks a lot like a bunch of celery and can be used in similar ways: baked, gratinated or turned into soups, for example.
And if you’re looking for a bold statement-of-a-vegetable for cooler, damper parts of the garden, you can’t beat rhubarb. A herbaceous perennial, rhubarb will produce for many years—ten years or more! Plus, this plant suffers from almost from no pests! The tart-flavored ruby stems are used to make pies, crumbles, jams, and sauces. Plant in late autumn or early spring when the soil is workable. Learn everything you need to know to grow and care for your own rhubarb.
3. Perennial Leeks
Babbington’s leek, a type of perennial leek native to the United Kingdom, has a mild, garlicky leek flavor. Order them from an online nursery. You could plant them directly outside into well-prepared soil, but you can also start them inside to avoid any risk of them rotting away. Plant into pots of all-purpose potting mix to grow on undercover before planting out in spring. The bulblets are going in about an inch deep. Once they’re up and underway, they’ll go outside, spaced about 6 inches apart to establish a decent-sized clump.
Plants need to be left alone in the first year after planting to bulk out and establish. Then from the second spring you can begin harvesting the stems, cutting them off at ground level but leaving the bulbs below ground intact to continue growing.
Plants send out a flower stalk in early summer. The flower stalks produce lots of tiny bulbils. These bulbils will either drop down to the ground or weigh the whole stalk down onto the ground so that the bulbils make contact with the soil that way. Once in the ground, these bulbils will also root and eventually form new plants, spreading the clump still further.
Other perennial alliums to try include the Welsh onion, a type of perennial bunching onion, and the tree onion, or Egyptian walking onion, which gradually ‘walk’ their way across your garden using their top-setting bulbils that flop down onto the ground, root, and grow.
4. Oca (yam)
What if we told you there was a root crop that’s as easy to grow as potatoes but that suffers few of the pests and diseases associated with the common spud. Well, that’s oca, also known as the New Zealand yam.
Oca can be cooked just like potatoes – boiled, fried or baked – but also eaten raw – sliced into salads for a lovely lemony tang. And that lemon zing is also found in the leaves, which may be harvested fresh as a welcome extra salad staple.
Oca isn’t frost-hardy, so to get it off to a strong start you’ll need to plant the tubers into pots of potting mix then grow them on under cover until you can safely plant them out after your last frost, setting plants about 3 feet apart.
The tubers form very late in the season, in autumn, and are harvested only after all the foliage has died off, usually with the first hard frost. Tubers can then be lifted, brought inside to dry off and stored, like potatoes, in a cool, frost-free place. Some of these tubers can then be planted the following spring to keep the harvests coming.
5. Perennial Kale
Another perennial vegetable I’m making room is perennial kale, and here’s why. Perennial kales can reach pretty epic proportions – up to person height – but are easily kept in check through regular harvesting. They’re very hardy and very resilient, easily shaking off any caterpillar damage. And the best bit: They can be harvested almost year-round, anytime you need fresh, tasty greens, straight from the garden.
The best way to introduce perennial kale is with cuttings taken from side shoots. Big chunky cuttings like these ones, which are about 6 inches long. These came by post, trimmed and ready to plant straight away. Cut just below a bud and the strip off the lowest leaves to reduce the stress on the cutting. Plant into pots with potting mix; keep the potting mix moist to encourage root growth, while keeping them in a bright, sheltered position. They can then go outside in spring to their final home.
This type is called Taunton Deane kale; others to look out for are Daubenton’s kale, Ethiopian kale – which is a great choice for warmer climates, and the Sutherland kale, with its origins in the crofting communities of the north of Scotland, making it very tough indeed!
Let’s save the best for last! The final must-grow perennial vegetable is that royalty of veggies: asparagus. Asparagus loves a very free-draining soil and does best basking in full sun. You’ll need a little patience, but boy is it worth it.
The easiest way to begin an asparagus bed is using dormant roots, or crowns, which are available from early spring. Get on and plant them as soon as they become available, into a patch of ground you can dedicate solely to this hard-working perennial. Prepare the ground by removing any weeds, work in some garden compost, then dig a trench for your asparagus crowns about a foot wide and 8 inches deep. Make a ridge along the bottom of the trench then splay your crowns out along the top. Set them about 18 inches apart along the trench, leaving the same distance between further trenches. Back fill with soil then water to settle.
At this stage you can add a mulch of compost or well-rotted manure to help keep weeds in check, and to help slowly feed the roots below. You’ll then need to resist the temptation to cut spears for at least two years, to give plants time to establish. Then from the third spring onwards, harvest as they appear for up to six to eight weeks until about midsummer, when the stems should be left to develop their ferny foliage, which will recharge the crown’s resources for next year.
You’ll need to watch out for asparagus beetle, which can chew notches in the spears, making them crooked, before setting to work on the foliage. Control them by picking or knocking them off into soapy off, and be sure to tidy away old, dead foliage at the end of the season. Other than that, they’re largely pest free.
There are lots of other perennial vegetables worth seeking out, many of which are flower border favorites: for example, hostas for their tender young leaves, or how about daylily flower buds – all delicious for sure! Don’t be afraid to explore but do your research so you know what’s safe to eat.