In between annual veggies and fruit trees are the perennial crops, ones that live for many years without replanting. Some of them are quite familiar; asparagus, artichokes, and rhubarb come to mind. They go in the ground one time and then provide you great groceries for many years with little effort other than harvesting.
Perennials help build good soil; use few resources; extend the harvest season beyond what annuals can deliver; and can be part of a perennial polyculture, a diverse ecosystem of productive plants of all types. Perennial food crops don't replace annual crops; they add another dimension to your food system.
Perennials are easy, but they aren't perfect. Some are slow to begin producing, and a few can become weedy. Still, perennial food plants are worth exploring even if you just stick to rhubarb.
Sharing the wealth: The foodshed idea
Once you get hooked on growing your own food, you can take it to the next level by sharing the food surplus with your neighbors. Nearly every food gardener has a surplus now and then, and it often goes to waste because the family just can't eat that much broccoli at one sitting. The answer is to organize a neighborhood foodshed, which is like a watershed except that it's apples and peaches and onions that flow to a central point in the neighborhood where folks gather to trade food, swap growing tips, watch the kids play, and make friends.
Because the food is both grown and transported without the use of fossil fuels, it's the most efficient way imaginable to feed people. You can even go a step further and tune the neighborhood for a balanced diet by adding crops as needed and optimizing the use of the land.
Foodsheds are about much more than just food; they're also about building community and having fun. Visit my Web site www. owendell.com for a complete how-to on starting and managing your own foodshed.
You may be surprised by how many foods come from perennial plants other than the Big Three (asparagus, artichokes, and rhubarb). Depending on your climate, you may want to try some of these crops. Unless otherwise noted, these will grow in most climates and soil types (and all these are attractive plants that you don't need to hide behind the garage):
For more information, check out these Web sites: Edible Forest Gardens (www.edibleforestgardens.com) and Plants for a Future (www. pfaf.org).
Farmers work with soil and plants every day. The best of them can teach the home food grower a thing or two about keeping the harvest coming and the land healthy, not to mention how to do it without wrecking yourself in the process. Here's some of the collective wisdom of sustainable agriculture:
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