Perennials – Why?

In our last post, we discovered that perennials are plants which come back year, after year, after year… Why would this characteristic be desirable in a plant?

The obvious answer is that it requires less work because you needn’t reestablish new plantings each year. Yes, laziness. Actually, this would allow you to use your time more effectively, perhaps establishing other plantings in a different area on your land, helping your neighbor establish their perennials, or you can spend this time relaxing or undertaking other activities, such as spending time learning new things with your family.

In large-scale agriculture, a great reason to adopt a perennial food production system is because it retains soil moisture and fertility. According to an article over at PBS NOVA Next, agriculture using the current annual crop production model degrades soil. Furthermore, annual crops miss out on the benefit of winter and early spring precipitation that falls when they are either not in the ground, or not yet established enough to fully take advantage of the moisture. Additionally, when the soils thaw and snow melts, aside from all of the moisture loss, the runoff carries away topsoil and whatever nutrients it contains. Perennial plants sink their roots deeper and more permanently into the soil, helping to retain moisture and prevent erosion.

The NOVA Next article also points out that the current annual crop production method uses energy intensive equipment and material inputs to force productivity out of nutrient-deficient land, with both, material and energy, inputs into this system are largely derived from fossil fuels. Perennial systems would require energy inputs for planting only during establishment. Because perennial systems build soil, rather than depleting it and allowing it to be eroded away, the need for resource-intensive synthetic fertilization would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated.

In a nutshell, perennial systems are less consumptive, requiring fewer inputs. In the long run, they can move us towards sustainability in food production. Here we only looked at a couple of reasons why perennial plants would be used, but there are certainly many more. In our next post, we will examine how perennial plants can be used.

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