GARDEN: Perennial Vegetables
We’re all familiar with the raspberry bushes and fruit trees that can be cultivated to produce fruit each year. But you might be missing out on perennial vegetables, says Ben Kessler at C-ville Foodscapes, a worker-owned edible-landscape-design company. Although some perennial vegetables are hard to find at nurseries, Kessler hopes to grow these five examples this year in his Charlottesville garden—and if all goes well, offer them to clients next year.
As perennials, these plants will keep coming back, without the need for seeds every spring. “If you get a good cultivar,” says Kessler, “they tend to be more hardy to fluctuating droughts and weather conditions.” And they taste good to boot. Eat that, tomatoes!
ACHIRA. Also known as Canna Lily, this plant all places. Maybe today’s just our lucky day. has a tropical-looking flower. The bloom itself isn’t the best part (although it is edible); the potato-like rhizome is the draw. “You dig up the roots in the fall, eat half of them, put them in a straw box, and then plant them again in the spring,” says Kessler. It actually benefits from harvesting as much as possible. (Watch out, though, apparently pigs like to dig them up and eat them too!)
JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE (aka sunchoke). “I’m going to be adding this to my garden this year,” says Kessler. “But it has to be in its own patch because it’ll spread like mad.” Like achira, the edible rhizome—which looks like ginger-root but is slightly sweet and nutty—is the best part, a flavor that’s highly sought by chefs.
SKIRRET. “This deserves its name in bold print,” says Kessler, adding that it was the major root crop in Europe before the potato (its yields are more reliable too). The roots are carrot-like in size and scale, but they’re white. You pick them around the first frost, and then put them back into the ground and mound mulch on top. “The more frost you let them get,” Kessler says, “the more they sweeten up.”
GROUNDNUTS. A staple in early Colonial America, the groundnut is not a peanut, although it is also part of the legume family. “It’s like a cross between a potato and a peanut,” says Kessler. “The wild ones taste a little like dirty roots, but the cultivated varieties are pretty tasty.”
AIR YAM. The vines have heart-shaped leaves, just like regular yams, but they produce potato-like tubers that dangle in the air. Hence the name. “I just learned about them this year,” says Kessler. “But I’m excited to give them a try.” I guess we all are.