Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Perennial Vegetables to Establish Now for Your Survival Garden

I've been watching a series of old British TV shows called "The Victorian Kitchen Garden", "The Victorian Kitchen", and "The Victorian Flower Garden". I find it really relaxing to learn about gardening in days gone by. It's kind of like visual Valium for me.  I love it.

One of the things that these programs have done is to pique my interest in perennial vegetables. The Victorians grew a much wider array of vegetables than are commonly consumed today and many of them are perennials that will grow back year after year. If you establish several of these types of vegetables in your garden now, you will have them in place should an emergency situation occur. You could consider these plants to be living members of your food storage.

Perennials in the kitchen 

There are perennial vegetables mentioned in many of the episodes of the series listed above, but this episode of "The Victorian Kitchen" is the one that really got my wheels turning. If you start watching around 8:00, you will see the head gardener, Harry, come in with a basket of Jerusalem and Chinese artichokes for the cook, Ruth. The finished dish of Chinese artichokes is shown at about 10:30.

E8 Victorian Kitchen - The Dinner Party 

Don't those Chinese Artichokes look like some sort of insect larva? I'm not sure that I would have an easy time putting them in my mouth, but I'd enjoy giving it a go.  

Another reason to plant perennial vegetables - OPSEC

Besides the obvious advantage that perennial vegetables have in coming back every year with little help from the gardener, it is also worth noting that many don't look like vegetables to the uninformed. Jerusalem artichokes, for example, are a type of sunflower and could simply be a pleasing addition to your landscape. If the worst happens, the average Joe isn't going to recognize that your sunflowers have serious edibles growing underground.

This is what a Chinese Artichoke plant looks like. Does this look edible to you?
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What should you plant? 

There are whole books dedicated to perennial vegetables out there. (Try this one,especially if you live in warmer climates.) The following is a short list is composed of plants that will thrive in my Zone 5 climate. Many of these plants can be grown in climates both warmer and cooler than Zone 5. Follow the provided links to learn more about each plant and its needs. 

Asparagus - A classic, but, alas, no one in my family likes it. Maybe we can use it to barter. It must be grown for several seasons before you can harvest spears and even longer if you start with seeds rather than crowns.

Crosne (aka Chinese Artichoke) - Fool your friends and make them think you are eating insect larva! A plus for the time-crunched or fuel-conscious: these tubers can be cooked or eaten raw. 

Dandelions - Maybe you don't need to plant these in your garden, but you probably have them in your yard already. Just make sure you don't spray them with chemicals and you can eat them or feed them to your chickens.

Egyptian Walking Onions or other Multiplying Onions - The article I linked says that they "tend to be more reliable and productive, less day-length sensitive and less subject to the depravations of pests and diseases" than your standard onion. Yes, please! 

Good King Henry - I love the fanciful name of this plant. Apparently it is similar to spinach, though it also has edible flower buds and seeds. It can be grown in the shade, so if you have an area of your yard that is too shady for traditional vegetables, this would be a great option.

Lamb's Quarters - This is a plant that grows as a weed in many areas of the country. You can eat any of the above-ground parts of the plant and it can be used as a substitute for spinach. 

Lovage - Lovage can be grown as a substitute for celery and it was used for medicinal purposes in times past.

Patience Dock - This is a hard-to-find plant, but apparently worth the search. It is supposed to taste like spinach (Is that the perennial vegetable equivalent of "tastes like chicken"?) and is one of the earliest greens in the garden.

Russian Red Kale - I am a new convert to the wonders of kale. If you've never tried it before, it reminds me of broccoli, but in leaf form. My kids gobble it up and it is great livestock feed as well. Many varieties of kale self-seed readily, which makes kale a great addition to your perennial vegetable plan.

Rhubarb - Rhubarb is a popular spring dessert ingredient, but don't forget that the leaves are poisonous!

Skirret - This is a vegetable I had never heard of until I watched "Victorian Kitchen Garden". Apparently it was a favorite of Queen Victoria. The edible part of the plant is its roots. 

Sorrel (all kinds - Garden/Common, or French) - Tasty, lemony-flavored greens. 

Sunchoke (aka Jerusalem Artichoke) - This tuber is popular with chefs and can be eaten raw, roasted, or boiled and pureed.  This is one of the most attractive perennial vegetables to me simply because the plant is so pretty.

A sunny patch of sunchokes
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I hope you find this list to be a useful starting place. I definitely plan to make perennial vegetables part of our garden in the future. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for the link for the dinner party. Wonderful to watch that recreated.:)