To be honest I started my foray into permaculture before I even realized I was doing it. Basically, permaculture is the act of planting perennial edible plants. So if you have just about any type of fruit, congratulations you have some permaculture! Feels good, doesn’t it? If you think about it permaculture just makes sense. You plant it and it comes back year after year and helps to put food in your belly.
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So when you think about it, permaculture, the planting perennial fruits and vegetables, it’s pretty much the set it and forget it of the gardening world. Now before you start ripping up all your annual edible plants it is important to understand what permaculture can and can not do. It is definitely not a silver bullet, but it is something that you should include in your gardening arsenal.
I’m not sure about you, but I have also developed a deep interest in biodiverse farming. I mention this as permaculture definitely fits strongly into this model. If you are curious to know more about biodiverse farming I would strongly recommend you check out the Netflix documentary The Biggest Little Farm. It is literally my playbook for when I finally get my 5-10 acres of land and move out of the ‘burbs. So let’s take a look at some of the things you need to consider when dabbling in permaculture.
Think long term
You have to consider where you are planting perennial herbs, vegetables and fruit as they will be there for a long time. Years or even decades! That’s not to say they can’t be moved but they won’t thank you for it. So it’s better to do everyone a favour and really think about your garden layout before committing them to the ground. You need to understand what they require to thrive so that you can plant them where they will grow best. You also need to consider what you ultimately want your garden to look like.
Do you plan on putting in raised beds or perhaps an English cottage garden in the future? Where will they end up? Best to know in advance before planting permaculture plants. A great way to add edible perennial plants to your yard is to introduce them around the perimeter of your yard.
When edible perennial plants are paired with fruit and nut trees (assuming you have the necessary space) you have the ability to create whole microclimates within your yard. But this is a topic for another post, so stay tuned.
While companion planting is important in any garden setting it becomes crucial for permaculture. You don’t want to put two perennial plants next to each other that hinder or worse harm each other’s growth. Conversely, think of the benefits of planting to complimentary perennial plants next to each other! You should also consider what annual plants you can plant in proximity to perennial ones to benefit the growth of both. As with anything related to gardening, planning is key to a bountiful yield.
Another staple in your gardening playbook should be knowledge of the sun exposure requirements of anything you put in the ground. Once again with perennial plants, it becomes crucial given that they are in the spot for the long-term. There is no point in putting sun-loving perennials such as globe artichokes in the shady corner of your yard. So this gets taken up a notch in important for plants that have a permanence to them. Before you commit any edible perennials to a permanent spot in your garden. I would strongly recommend you invest a bit of time into sun mapping your yard so that you can place them in the optimal spot.
Sun loving perennials
- Globe Artichokes
Shade loving perennials
- Lemon balm
They are low maintenance
I know I said this is the set it and forget it if the gardening world but that’s not completely true. I don’t mean to imply that these types of plants need no love and attention. While they are much less effort than the annual veggies you plant in your garden they are still going to need some attention to ensure they thrive. Which is what we want, right? They are still going to need mulch applied each year to help conserve moisture in the soil.
While you’re at it you should mulch your vegetable garden for the exact same reason. They can also require pruning and thinning to help ensure maximum yields. Lastly, they are still going to benefit from some additional nutrients in the form of compost added to their soil.
Patience is key
These guys aren’t going to give you results in the short term. If you want quick results then edible perennial plants probably aren’t for you and you should check out these 9 veggies that can be harvested in 8 weeks or less. Permaculture plants can take years to mature before you see their full potential. But this is definitely a case of it’s worth the wait! You also need to remember that they will continue to provide you with food for years to come. So in. the grand scheme of their lifetime, waiting a year or two before you can harvest is nothing really. Consider rhubarb which can live for 20 years or asparagus that can live for 40 years. It’s amazing when you stop and think about it!
They are great for trading
One of the amazing things about gardening is the community and camaraderie it can foster. People often talk about seed swaps but what about perennial plant swaps? What better way to get more perennial plants than trading them with friends or like-minded strangers!
They are good for the soil
Growing perennial plants tend to be better for the soil in general than annual plants. A large part of this is that the soil is not tilled/disturbed at the end of the season. This allows the microbes, worms and fungi/mycelial cultures in the soil to live peacefully without disruption to their environment. This is another reason to consider using no-till gardening in general in your garden.
Additionally, perennial plants also help to build and enhance the quality of the soil. They do this by helping to increase the water absorption and aeration within the soil. They also act like little natural composting machines! Year over year, as they grow, they add nutrients to the soil and help top build topsoil when their leaves die back and fall to the ground. Over years of growth, they also help to fix atmospheric carbon into the soil and act as a habitat for microbial life that is crucial to create soil that is healthy and alive.
They are hardier than annuals
In general, permaculture plants tend to be more resistant to pests and disease than annual plants. This is in part due to the deep root structures they build over time. This helps to make them more tolerant of drought, which would otherwise weaken or kill the plant.
Permaculture Edible Plants by Hardiness Zone
Hardy to Zone 2
Hardy to Zone 3
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Ramps/wild leeks
- Egyptian (bunching) onions
- Currants (I love black currants!)
Hardy to Zone 4
Hardy to Zone 5
- Lemon Balm
Hardy to Zone 6
- Scallion/Welsh onion
Hardy to Zone 7
- Oca (hardy to Zone 7)
- Globe Artichokes (hardy to Zone 7)
Permaculture plants are not really suited for your raised beds or vegetable gardens. That’s not to say they can’t go there, but edible perennial plants fit best when incorporated into edible landscaping, especially around the perimeter of your yard. They can fit amongst your flowers and other plants and therefore benefit from the additional pollinators! It also allows you to keep full flexibility in your raised beds without the constraints of a permanent resident that may impact what can be planted around it due to companion planting constraints.
Have you dabbled in permaculture? What edible perennial plants do you have growing in your garden?