How to Grow Perennial Vegetables
Low-maintenance, low-impact vegetable gardening
by Martin Crawford
Forward by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Green Books 2012
Martin Crawford is the director of the invaluable Agroforestry Research Trust in Dartington, Devon, and this is his second book, the previous one being the more general and comprehensive Creating a Forest Garden.
This more compact (and portable) manual provides a comprehensive guide to growing perennial vegetables in cool temperate climates.
The first chapter runs through the advantages of growing perennials rather than annual veg- they are less work, since once established they do not need to be started from seed again each year in prepared beds, but simply emerge in the spring when they are ready; they are better for the soil which is left undisturbed; and they are healthier- Crawford includes some useful and interesting tables on comparative nutritinal content of different vegetables, for example Good King Henry Chenapodium bonus-henricus has twice the potassium of carrots and twice the protein content of spinach- a benefit of the perennial’s larger and more established root-systems.
Chapter 2 gives instructions on growing perennials, including establishment, use as ground-covers and in the forest garden and under existing trees, and excellent examples with line drawings of suggested perennial polycultures. Also covered is aquatic perennials, such as Arrowheads Sagittaria spp. and even Water Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) -for its edible rhizomes.
There next follows a chapter on maintenance, including feeding, soil conditions, pest and disease management, harvesting and propogation. Tables of nitrogen fixing plants, shade-tolerance and mineral accumulators and included, also a box section on Mycorrhizal fungi.
The bulk of the book consists of a catalogue of vegetables A-Z: you will find here the commonly grown perennials such as Rhubarb, Globe Artichokes and Jerusalem Artichokes; well-known herbs such as salad burnet and chives; wild plants like nettles and ramsons; as well as plenty of suprises in lesser known plants such as Giant butterbur or Fuki- (Petasites japonicus) and Quamash (Indian Lilly- Camassia quamash). There is even a perennial wheat.
With over a hundred listed in total this book is a delight and packed with information. Maybe Crawford’s enthusiasm might be slightly over-stated- his comment in the first chapter that “in basing our whole civilisation on short-lived plants [annuals] we may have been down a productive but nevertheless destructive cul-de-sac” seems a little over the top and an unnecessary selling point, since we are unlikely to ever substantially replace the world’s major crops with perennials; nonetheless, no-one has done more than Martin to demonstrate the viability of edible forest gardens in this part of the world and there is plenty enough inspiration in this volume to convince the most conventional four-part rotation vegetable gardener that perennials have great potential and should be taken more seriously.