Perennial edibles do double duty

  • Ann Chambers harvests Blue Lake pole beans in her garden, near Sebastopol, on Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Chambers is a fan of growing perennial food.

If you like the idea of growing plants you can also bring to the table, but realistically know your limitations, consider perennial edibles, things you plant once and that keep on producing, season after season.

"There is something to be said for finding plants that are continuously productive and that thrive for several if not many years, and that can also give you food continuously without having to replace it. It's a great advantage for people who are looking for ways to save labor," said Doug Gosling, who oversees the garden program at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center.

Perennial edibles can be grown in the ground or in pots. Of course, we all know that fruit trees and berry bushes are great investments that keep producing dividends every year. But many fledgling gardeners are unaware that there are some vegetables that also are perennial.

Perennial edibles range from arugula and bamboo shoots to rhubarb, kale and radicchio. Other practical plants that do double duty are herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme.

With the fall planting season in full swing, home gardeners are clearing out their beds in preparation for winter crops. But autumn is also an optimal time to plant perennials. They will use the coming wet winter months to establish strong roots. So along with the ornamental Rudbeckia, sedum and euphorbia, work in some artichokes, asparagus, onions and other plants that you not only can eat in late winter or early spring but that will keep on producing without having to remove and replant year after year.

Sebastopol Master Gardener Ann Chambers is a huge fan of versatile workhorse plants.

"Most of my vegetable garden is filled with perennial vegetables and small fruits, with herbs that also are perennial," said Chambers, who will teach a free workshop in perennial edibles on Sept. 22 at the Sonoma Garden Park in Sonoma. "Artichokes and asparagus are the perfect example, the biggies that are pretty common. But there are a lot of things that will winter over here quite nicely and start up in the spring, like collards and kale."

One collard that is really popular, according to Gosling, is the tree collard.

"Their origin is still shrouded in mystery," he said. "Some thought they originally came from Africa. But it's a brassica similar to true collards, with a similar leaf shape and similar taste and that can live from 10 to 12 years."

A tree collard will spread, putting out one plant and then layering, producing side shoots.

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