In our last post, we learned why perennial plants might be desirable. In this post, we delve into how to use them in food production. There are a variety of approaches. For now, we’ll examine two.
Evolve the Farm Fields
In the NOVA Next article that we referenced in our last post, the focus was on developing what we currently think of as conventional crops (i.e. wheat) into perennials through selective breeding or hybridization. These approaches have their problems, but would allow land currently using the conventional annual model to convert to a less consumptive, more sustainable system while giving consumers the products with which they have become familiar. This approach also favors the monoculture model, with all of its pros and cons.
Back to Nature
An article in Mother Earth News examines the use of permaculture techniques to develop edible landscapes. This approach looks to nature as the example. Natural systems tend towards a polyculture with both perennials and annuals. Natural systems also do a great job of taking care of themselves.
Without getting into exactly what permaculture is (which could take multiple posts), the article mentions these benefits:
- Diversity – this means more variety for your diet, and your eyes. Diversity also has the effect of mitigating pest problems.
- Less work – we covered this in our last post on why.
- Extension of the harvest season – rather than having one big push to pick and use/preserve a single crop, you can enjoy and savor the literal fruits of your labor over a longer period of time.
Getting back to how, the article gives a few suggestions for getting started with perennial food production in your garden:
- Add perennials around the perimeter of your existing annual garden.
- In your existing ornamental gardens, use visually appealing perennial vegetables to fill in empty spots or to replace non productive shrubs.
- Go all out and plant a food forest. That is, copy the pattern seen in a natural forest, but instead of non-productive trees, use fruit trees. In the understory, plant fruiting bushes, shrubs, and vines. Incorporate edibles wherever you can.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to perennials in food production. I’m sure we’ll cover more gardening topics in future posts as it is one of our hobbies here at Family Trivium.