12 Edible Perennials to Plant Once and Harvest Every Year
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Every year in the spring, I plant the seeds that will eventually turn into the crops to be harvested from our annual vegetable garden.
I’ve grown an annual garden for 8 years now, and every year is just as exciting as the last. But it is work, and it requires diligence in the spring to get all of your seeds planted on time and set up with the proper growing conditions.
With a new baby, I’ve found myself struggling to get everything started and planted out in time, which is why I’m so thankful this year for our perennial food plants; The ones we planted long ago and continue to enjoy every year, no seed starting and little to no work required in the spring!
Of course, there are many benefits to growing edible perennials beyond not having to start them from seed in the spring…
Benefits of Growing Edible Perennials
Perennials need only be planted once and will continue to provide a harvest year after year.
Aside from just being a great return on your initial investment, in an uncertain economy and with our global food supply under more pressure than ever before in our lifetime, knowing you can rely on your land to produce even some food every year without worrying about being able to get seeds, or hitting your seed starting window on time, or whether those seeds will germinate or not can provide a lot of peace of mind.
Plus there are benefits beyond the actual food that these plants provide. For starters they’re super low maintenance. Even beyond the fact that they don’t need to be started from seed each year, they’re generally pretty low maintenance crops all year round. While some do require some pruning and feeding, they’re pretty minimal effort compared to an annual garden.
Perennials also help to build healthy soil. There’s a lot of debate over tilling, and much of the evidence suggests that we should be leaving our soil as undisturbed as possible. This is because microorganisms, mycorrhizae (fungal networks) and healthy soil structure all contribute to healthy soil (and healthy plant growth), and they all depend on leaving the soil intact and undisturbed.
Perennials require no tilling so these systems are well established around the roots of perennial plants. Plus their deep root systems draw up nutrients from deep down and help to aerate the soil and keep it from compacting, which also helps to prevent runoff and erosion.
Perennial food plants are also diverse, and range from fruits and vegetables to nuts, herbs, spices and even mushrooms! And while some require a bit more space, many can be grown in a relatively small space. In fact we grow 8 out of the 12 perennial food plants on this list on our 1/4 acre property. Some can even be grown on a small patio or balcony!
If you’re wanting to turn your property into a food forest that will reliably provide you with something to eat every year and are looking for the most bang for your buck, perennial food plants are the way to go.
Here are 12 must-have perennial food plants for your house and homestead. (More than 12 actually because some encompass many different varieties under one umbrella category).
Which ones are you currently growing? Let me know in the comments!
The very first time I ever grew a garden, I was beyond excited to go shopping for seeds at one of our local seed and feed stores. Even though we had just moved out of the city and were just beginning our homegrown journey on Vancouver Island, I felt like a real homesteader as I chatted with the locals about gardening and chickens and growing food. I still had no clue what I was doing really, but somehow I felt like I had come home.
Anyway, my very first seed purchase included a pack of asparagus seeds. Like so many things at this time, asparagus was another one of those foods I just didn’t know you could grow at home. And when I found out it was a perennial that would come back year after year after year, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world!
So I grabbed a pack of seeds and tucked them away for a few years until we bought our first home. I probably could have planted them at our rental at the time with the owner’s permission, but it takes three years to get a harvest off asparagus plants started from seed, so I saved them.
I started those seeds the first spring in our new home and now, 5 years later we’re enjoying harvests every year starting in April or May and lasting all the way until June or early July!
Alternatively, you can cut down the time until harvest by planting asparagus crowns rather than starting from seed (similar to planting onion sets rather than starting from seed). But either way, this is one perennial plant that is worth making some space for in your home garden.
When we moved onto our current property, there were three giant rhubarb plants growing in different areas. One of them was even flowering when we first moved in, which was another first for me. I had never seen a rhubarb plant flower before! What you don’t know you just don’t know!
We ended up pulling that rhubarb plant out because it was smack in the middle of the area that was slated to become our annual garden. And we ended up removing another one of the plants when we tore down our old greenhouse and built a workshop last year. But the third one remains beside the stone path to our garden gate. I harvest from it from spring until fall every year and it provides all of our rhubarb needs and more!
Another plus is that rhubarb is deer resistant, and here on Vancouver Island where deer are abundant and our annual garden needs to be dance because we’ve had up to 6 deer at a time in our front yard, our rhubarb plant remains untouched.
In fact, even in our wet climate full of slugs and snails, we don’t seem to have much of an issue with anything attacking our rhubarb plant. We don’t even fertilize and it comes back as strong and healthy as ever each year!
Basically what I’m saying is, if you’re looking for a high yielding perennial food plant that will produce a harvest quickly (typically two years after planting), rhubarb is a must-have.
I remember the first (and only) time I grew artichokes. They were HUGE and took up our entire little front garden at our old rental. But they were beautiful, and I was giddy when they bulbed out and produced a head!
I set to harvesting them before they flowered and then they sat in my fridge for a couple weeks before I ended up composting them because I had no idea how to prepare them! I’d only ever eaten them prepared and marinated from a jar, and if I’m being honest, I still don’t know how to properly cut and prepare fresh artichokes!
But it obviously can be done, and these prehistoric looking plants can be grown both as annuals or perennials if you live in the right climate (artichokes do best in USDA gardening zones 8 and above).
While they’re a large, short-lived perennial –typically producing for anywhere from about five to 10 years, starting in their second year– artichokes are another great perennial food option if you have enough space.
I was originally going to list the different types of perennial berries you can grow, but there are so many that this could easily turn into a list of DOZENS of perennial food plants you can grow at home.
We grow a variety of different berries on our relatively small 1/4 acre homestead, including blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, elderberries, huckleberries and red currants.
Of course there are also blackberries, mulberries, cranberries, boysenberries, and the list goes on. I might even add rose hips to this list, since they’re technically the berry of the rose plant.
The point is, there are TONS of edible berries you can plant once and enjoy year after year.
When choosing what berries to grow, consider your climate, geography and gardening zone. What grows well for me here on Vancouver Island won’t necessarily grow well for someone living in Florida or on the open prairie. But when it comes to berries, you’re sure to find at least one or two varieties that grow well in just about every corner of the planet.
Grapes are another great option for perennial fruits you can grow at home, and you don’t need a ton of space to grow a grapevine. You can grow them up and along a fence line, over an arbor or up a trellis in a relatively small space.
Of course you could go big and grow a vineyard too! It all depends on how you want to use them. If you plan on making a few jars of grape juice and jelly every year, a single Concord grape vine is probably all you need. If you’re wanting to make your own wine, you may need to scale up a bit! Although we did get around 30 bottles of wine from a single established grapevine at our old rental…
In any case, grapes are another oft overlooked edible perennial that would work well on most homesteads, from small backyard to properties with enough space for a rolling vineyard!
Just be sure to choose varieties that work well for your climate, especially if you plan on growing for winemaking as most varieties of wine grapes require a very specific climate and terrain to grow well.
Like berries and grapes, fruit trees are another excellent choice when it comes to edible perennials. As far as sheer volume, the amount of fruit you can get off a single established fruit tree is pretty impressive! A single apple tree can provide you with applesauce, apple juice, storage apples and more.
That being said, there are a few drawbacks to fruit trees. For starters, they require more space than most other perennial food plants. We’re looking at some dwarf varieties for our property, but we also have to consider their root system and our septic system.
Fruit trees also take years to establish and produce a significant harvest. They’re well worth the time investment, however, because once they start to produce they can easily provide a bumper crop every year or two.
Finally, you may need more than one tree in the same species (ie. two different types of apple trees) in order for them to cross-pollinate. Some trees (like most peach trees, tart cherry trees and some pear trees) are self-fertile, but always be sure to check to see if you need more than one tree in order to get a harvest. Sometimes if there is another tree of the same species nearby (like in a neighbour’s yard) that will suffice.
Depending on where you live you may be able to grow any variety of apples, pears, peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, cherries, citrus fruits or even more exotic fruits like mangoes and avocados in tropical climates!
Nut trees are similar to fruit trees in that they require more space and time to produce a harvest, but once they do, the sheer volume of nuts a single tree can produce each year is more than you’ll probably even need!
We are lucky to have an established hazelnut tree on our property. Every year we get baskets and baskets FULL of hazelnuts… Even on the years when the squirrels take most of them, we still end up with more than we can handle.
One of the upsides to nuts is that they are high in fat, protein and calories, which makes them a great choice for anyone looking to supplement as much of their diet as possible off their own land. (Obviously chickens and meat animals are great for this too, but for the sake of this article and sticking with edible perennial plants, nuts are a great high-calorie option that will help keep you satiated.
Another plus is that nuts store well without any processing. They will keep in their shells for at least a year or two. Once they’ve been shelled they will spoil a little quicker, but should still last quite a while on your shelf. However if they’ve been roasted, they will spoil much quicker. An easy solution is to store roasted nuts in the freezer. I store our roasted hazelnuts in the freezer and they keep for a long time (well, until we eat them all anyway!)
The biggest downside to its is the time it takes to process them. It can take hours on end to crack nutshells, which means we often have hundreds of nuts leftover that do eventually spoil simple because we didn’t have time to crack them all.
That being said, most types of nuts sell for a pretty decent price, so you might consider selling some, and then use the money to buy more edible perennials!
P.S. If you’re in the market for a good nutcracker, I bought one like this last year after struggling with the traditional “lobster cracker” style nutcracker and it’s been such a game changer. Highly recommend!
Herbs should have actually been first on this list because they’re an excellent starting point for anyone at any level and in any size space. Even if all you have is a small balcony or a sunny window, you can grow herbs at home!
Most herbs are perennial too, which means they’ll come back year after year with very little effort required on your part, other than maybe a little pruning and fertilizing every so often. Herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, mint, lemon balm and chives are all perennial that typically produce for years. Fennel is a short-lived perennial that will usually come back for 3 or 4 years. And parsley is actually a biennial herb, which means it sets seeds in its second year and those seeds drop and naturally grow more parsley, making it act a lot like a perennial.
Herbs also grow well in containers, and some (like mint, lemon balm and oregano) are actually better when contained anyway because otherwise they can spread and take over your garden. So whether you’ve got 10 acres or all you’ve got is a window box, no house or homestead should be without an herb garden.
Related: 13 Culinary Herbs to Grow At Home
Garlic is usually grown as an annual, but if you leave it in the ground it’s actually a perennial that will multiply naturally. Each clove of garlic produces a head, and each head produces a garlic scape. But when left in the ground, each of those cloves on the head will continue to multiply.
While you might not get large heads of garlic like you would when growing and harvesting garlic annually, you’ll get clusters of small cloves and TONS of garlic scapes, which are the green shoots that grow from the garlic above soil. Garlic scapes taste just like garlic and can be used similarly. I personally like to turn ours into garlic scape pesto!
If you leave some of the scapes to flower, they’ll eventually produce seed heads with tiny garlic cloves in them. These can be used as seed garlic if you like! While they may take an extra year to produce a large garlic bulb since you’re essentially starting from seed rather than planting individual large cloves, this is an easy way to 10x your garlic production (or more!) by just letting nature do its thing!
Another perennial food plant you may have never considered is horseradish. While it won’t exactly FEED you or your family, it makes a nice condiment and can also be used as medicine, like in this recipe for homemade fire cider.
Horseradish is actually considered to be a root vegetable in the mustard family. The roots will continue to grow over the years, and you can dig some up each year in the fall to use as food and medicine, or to propagate and plant elsewhere.
You can also eat the horseradish greens in the summer. They have a sharp, bitter taste similar to arugula, and can be added to salads and eaten raw or cooked and added to soups and stir fries.
Like herbs in the mint family, horseradish can take over a space, so it’s best planted in its own garden bed or in a large container. We grow ours in a large cedar planting box.
Ginger & Turmeric
Similarly to horseradish, ginger and turmeric are also edible perennials for those who live in the right climate (or can mimic the right climate with a greenhouse or conservatory). While they are not in the same family as horseradish (ginger and turmeric are both rhizomes from the Zingiberaceae family), their roots (or rhizomes) are similarly useful as both food and medicine.
Ginger and turmeric are actually technically known as spices, at least in their dried, ground up form. When we start talking about spices we get into a whole new world of gardening, which we won’t go too deeply into here. But many spices like vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom and peppercorns are actually perennials too.
If you’re interested in learning more about growing your own spices, be sure to check out this article on how to grow spices at home.
While the fruiting bodies of mushrooms are technically annuals, the mycelium (aka. The “roots” of mushrooms) are perennial if undisturbed.
Growing mushrooms is different from growing plants. For starters, mushrooms are fungi, not plants at all! They also grow from spores, not seeds, and they can be grown in soil, on logs, sawdust, straw or grain. Certain mushrooms only grow wild due to their complex relationship with other organisms. But some like Cremini, Shiitake, Oyster and Wine Cap mushrooms can be grown at home.
You can learn more about growing mushrooms at home, as well as get all the supplies you need from North Spore Mushrooms. Use code HOUSEANDHOMESTEAD at checkout for 10% off your order!
Well there you have it, 12 (plus!) perennial food plants that you can plant once and harvest from year after year.
While I still encourage you to grow an annual vegetable garden, if you’re really wanting to increase food production on your property with minimal input/effort each year, I highly recommend adding some edible perennials to your homestead. Depending on what you’re growing, it’s not much more effort up front that it is to start annual vegetables from seed, and once established your perennial plants will continue to feed you and your family every year!
I’m sure there are probably more edible perennials that I missed here too. Can you think of any? Let me know in the comments!
P.S. Ready to reclaim your independence and start living a more self-sufficient life?
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