Growing your own food is a delicate balance between your own personal time and energy, weather conditions but most importantly, the decisions you make about what to grow on your property. Planting edible perennials, hence your own personal “food forest”, is an excellent investment of your time as a gardener and homesteader!
Casually defined, perennials are plants that live three years or more. In other words, you can continue to harvest from them for at least three years (if not longer) without replanting!
How awesome is that?
Why don’t we all have more edible perennials in our yards and gardens?
Annuals are plants that live for one year and then die back.
American favorites like tomatoes, peppers and corn will never go out of style, even though they must be replanted each and every year.
There’s nothing wrong with planting family favs annually, however, could you reduce your work load by adding more edible perennials to your existing garden?
This Spring, I’m watching my asparagus, strawberries and garlic emerge without any help from me.
The garden hasn’t even been planned yet, but food is already growing!
This is a wonderful advantage for any gardener, but especially those who desire to grow more of the food they eat.
Benefits of Growing Edible Perennials
Perennials Come Back Every Year
We all have “those years”, when a new baby is born or there is a health crisis that needs to be dealt with.
Sometimes, the seeds and annual vegetables just don’t get planted!
How good it is to know that your edible perennial “food forest” will always be there for you, year after year!
Perennials Generally Spread within the Area
When allowed to “go to seed”, many perennials will re-seed themselves. This allows new plants to take root and as a result, increase the size of your patch!
Perennials Require Less Work
Once your edible perennial patch is planted, all that is required is maintenance!
Let’s be honest, however, cultivating perennials does take more time and work to get them started.
My asparagus patch, for example, once established will feed our family for close to 30 years!
Yes, it took me weeks to get the trenches dug. The summer would pass before I covered the shoots for the last time before the first frost. But since I planted three-year old roots, we will be able to harvest fresh asparagus this year!
Asparagus will benefit greatly when grown with strawberries as a companion plant!
The nutritional value of this amazing edible perennial, asparagus, is outstanding, making this perennial vegetable even more of a treasure, year after year!
Strawberries are the darling of Springtime fruit! Full of vitamins and flavor, their blossoms are a wonderful sight as the winter fades away!
These berries are so easy to grow! Not only that, strawberries are very simple to propagate, enabling you to expand your strawberry patch without any additional cost!
Many times, gardening friends will be willing to give you their strawberry plant runners, making your strawberry patch FREE!
If you want the very best strawberry yield, include chives in between your rows!
Who doesn’t LOVE fresh raspberries?
Raspberries are ridiculously easy to grow AND they spread like wildfire!
I started my raspberry patch with a few plants that I had purchased, and inter-planted wild raspberries that I found on our property.
2 rows. That’s all I planted was 2 rows.
Today, it’s a 40×40 “food forest” that has a life of it’s own!
With proper care (general weeding), fertilization (manure and compost) and pruning (cut the canes down to the ground after finished fruiting), that patch will last for decades.
Friends and family come over every year to pick from it, my chickens enjoy the berries that drop, so everyone benefits!
Rhubarb is used like a fruit, but it’s actually a vegetable!
A well-established root-ball of rhubarb can not only produce for many years, but can be split to share with others! Rhubarb is an all-time favorite edible perennial at many homes!
Morning Chores has a very comprehensive guide to growing rhubarb, check it out!
One of the wisest things I did soon after we purchased this property was to plant elderberry.
I purchased my first plants, but I have found that elderberry is very simple to propagate.
My well-established elderberry patch allows me to make Elderberry Syrup every winter for my family, during cold and flu season.
Mulberries are the under-dog of foraged berries.
They fall on sidewalks and cars, only to leave unappreciated purple stains. Many people remain convinced that they are poisonous.
However, I hope to convince you that mulberries are not only worth the effort to harvest, but that they are a nutritional powerhouse as well! You may choose to purchase a mulberry tree to grow on your property, or better yet, let me teach you how to forage and use mulberries!
Oh, how I adore garlic! It’s the ultimate in edible perennials!
Garlic is usually planted in the fall and harvested in the spring, however, you can grow garlic as a perennial by only harvesting the larger heads and leaving the rest in the ground for another winter. This is the approach I adopted recently and I’m so glad I decided to do it this way! Garlic is always multiplying underground, while I harvest only what I need each year!
Practical Self-Reliance gives a great explanation of that process here!
Gooseberry plants are part of the currant family and are fairly easy to grow!
They are best planted in 6.0-6.8 pH soil and prefer full to partial sun.
The lifespan of a gooseberry plant is 12-15 years! That’s a lot of berries to make jam and pies with!
What an amazing edible perennial!
Gooseberries can also be grown in a 15″ pot on your patio
Healthy, fresh food that returns again and again…year after year.
Isn’t that the goal, after all?
In the “not too distant” future, I look forward to walking out my back door in the spring and seeing nothing but food growing.
That’s what sustainability looks like.
Can you imagine having enough of your own food growing to eliminate your need for the grocery store?
Wouldn’t that be incredible?