The benefits of perennial vegetables

rumbunctious Rhubarb. Heavenly stewed with green apples and served with vanilla ice cream.Rumbunctious Rhubarb. Heavenly stewed with green apples and served with vanilla ice cream.

The benefits of perennial vegetables are numerous. Compare them to annual vegetables and it is almost logical. After stumbling on this as an idea, I feel a bit silly for taking two years to realize the truth. But right now I'm unstoppable. I have become an ardent evangelist of perennial crops and when I lay out the reasons why, you will also be converted, I'm sure.

Perennial vegetables are better for the soil and environment

Obviously without regular tilling and planting, the soil is disturbed less frequently so the perennials are better for the soil and this means better for the environment. Healthy soil sequesters more carbon than our trees, and is the greatest water cleaner, a giant water filter taking out all the poisons and helping us to a healthier life. Soil is also one of the best places to store water. Well hydrated landscapes are healthier and more resilient and productive, and healthy soil stores more water.

Two years in the making, these tamarillos have been on a journey with me.Two years in the making, these tamarillos have been on a journey with me.

Perennial vegetables have lower cultural requirements for nutrients, water and pesticides.

Thousands of years of plant breeding in the cold north has meant selection for plants which boom and bust in a few months because of the short growing season. This type of vegetable culture has been carried to the ex colonies. As a permaculturist, because of the way we are taught to think, the annual treadmill of sowing, planting out, and then harvesting in quick succession bothered me and I've been looking for a solution since the beginning. I saw beautiful gardens laid by colleagues turn to dust after summer. I realized that a month of neglect turns an average vegetable garden into a wasteland. It seemed especially wrong in our permanently temperate Mediterranean climate.

Although our growing season is all year round, we have mostly annual vegetables at a place like the Cape, unfortunately. Most unfortunately, because perennials are not only better for the soil, they are often less developed and bred, and closer to the wild varieties. This logically means they are much hardier and their water and fertility needs are lessened compared to four month growth period annuals, which need perfect conditions to grow uninterrupted and rapidly, to build perfect plant tissue as fast as possible. Perennials are often more tolerant of the vagaries of climate and soil.

Perennials are not only hardier concerning water and soil fertility, they have greater resistance to pests and diseases, being closer to wild varieties genetically.

Rough stuff, my Opuntia is doing something, and one day I will too. Nopales yeee heee !Rough stuff, my one pad Opuntia cutting is finally doing something, and one day I will too. Nopales yeee heee !

Perennial vegetables supply greater food security

At the Cape we have frequent drought and poor soil, so its obvious that hardier vegetables like perennial vegetables will do better than the annuals. So for all the reasons above, perennial vegetables supply greater food security. Not only this they can give us greater health security, for which I will lay out two reasons below.

Perennial vegetables promise greater health in the community at large.

The humble grape vine redolent with history, and vein saving reservetrol, and leaves you can do lovely Greek things with.The humble grape vine redolent with history, and vein saving reservetrol, and leaves you can do lovely Greek things with.

less work... giving more

Obviously, perennial vegetables are much less work. After planting and watering until they are established, only trimming and harvesting is needed. So does one love this because one is lazy, or farsighted. Most working people are under too much time pressure to grow their own food. If they are not wealthy enough to buy organic their diet of agribusiness fodder both vegetable and animal condemns them to a future in which possible chronic illnesses and a slow decline into death, in discomfort and at horrendous cost looms in late life. Perennial vegetables are perfectly tailored to the lives of busy people who don't earn fabulous salaries but still want to eat healthily.

Perennial vegetables generally have much higher nutrient value

Because of their closeness to the wild plant originator, perennial vegetables not only have all these advantages, but they have the highest nutrient value of all. Breeding selects for appearance, blander taste or sweetness, fast growth, rapid germination and breeders never even considered nutritional value because it was not yet known. Breeding was done long ago without molecular theory or organic chemistry, and recently without knowledge of the importance of phytochemistry for longevity. Also as the bitterness and strong flavors were bred out of the vegetables and fruit, and many plants were selected for whiteness, like potatoes and maize, the nutrient and the protective value declined, because the plant chemicals that protect us from degenerative disease give the strong flavors and bright colors. The old tangy, colorful perennials are better for us.

Where next ?

In the original set of easy vegetables on this website there were a few perennials, because they are easier. I've moved them here.  So far you can find out how to grow pineapples, mint, olives, New Zealand and dune spinach, rosemary, chard, acorns and turmeric. Becoming interested in perennial vegetables has opened up a wonderful new world to me. Because of our climate I've had to look beyond the European vegetables, and found that most food plants from warmer regions are perennial, to take advantage of the long growing season. A vast cornucopia of new foods becomes available, a splendid variety that transcends anything I thought possible when I began to look for perennial vegetables. I am utterly overwhelmed by the diversity possible. I imagined they would be few and far between, and taste horrible, so stuck I was in a Eurocentric food paradigm. 

Globe artichoke seedlings. The flowers when eaten to wonderful things for gut flora.Globe artichoke seedlings. The flowers when eaten to wonderful things for gut flora.

A collection of perennial food plants on Pinterest

To begin with I've begun to collect pictures on this topic on Pinterest, and I'm transitioning completely as soon as I source enough plants. Many are less common and hard to find at the local nursery. A good source is food. You can find seeds and tubers in food shops that will grow. As I learn more about sourcing and growing perennials, and their climate and soil tolerances I can document my progress. In time I hope to become a supplier and to ensure that everyone in Cape Town regardless of income or area can find these plants in urban food forests, to harvest or plant them at home.

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