Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Five Unique Perennial Vegetables for Home Gardeners

In a previous post, "Five Top Perennial Vegetables for Home Gardeners," I discussed five very popular perennial vegetables: asparagus, rhubarb, sorrel, sunchokes (or Jerusalem artichokes) and artichokes. In this article, I will discuss five more perennial vegetables that are grown far less frequently, but worthy of every gardener's interest as well.
  1. Seakale. Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is a perennial vegetable suitable for zones six through nine. Also known by the name Silver Kale and Scurvy Grass, seakale is actually not a form of kale, but instead belongs to the cabbage family. It grows wild in the coastal areas of Europe, and became well known in the United States during the 19th century due to the writings of Thomas Jefferson, who often praised the plant. It is often eaten blanched, but is more nutritious (and just as delicious, I believe) if eaten unblanched.

  2. Walking Onions (also known as tree onions, topset onions and Egyptian onions). I once was lucky enough to inherit a garden full of walking onions which grew so prolifically year after year that I soon came to see them as a weed. These small but strong tasting onions are a delight for onion lovers to grow. When growing they look like they are upside down, as the onion bulbs actually form at the top of the plant. The weight of these bulbs will eventually cause the stem to bend down to the ground, where they will take root and soon the plants will "walk" across your garden. They are suitable for a wide range of climate zones (3-10), and are one of the easiest perennial vegetables to grow.

  3. Cardoon. Also known as artichoke thistle, the cardoon belongs to the same family as the artichoke but has a different growing habit. It is also a perennial vegetable, suitable to warmer regions, and both the flower buds and the stems can be eaten (the stems are traditionally served battered and fried during St. Joeseph's day in New Orleans). In addition, the stems are a source of vegetable rennet which one can use to make vegetarian cheese - yet another remarkable feature of this unique perennial vegetable. Gardeners may want to grow the spineless varieties, however, in order to avoid being stuck by the hard to see spines that are found on many varieties. Cardoons are a perennial vegetable that require a lot of space to grow and time - typically they take five months of frost free weather until harvest time.

  4. Chayote. Whenever I visit Mexico, one of the things I most look forward to is eating steamed chayote while shopping in a local farmer's market. Chayote is a perennial vegetable in warmer climates. It is sometimes called a "vegetable pear", as the shape of this perennial vegetable is distinctly pear like, although it's growth habit is quite different. Chayotes grow from a vine which will run rampant and produce dozens of chayotes under the correct growing conditions.

  5. New Zealand Spinach. New Zealand Spinach is a perennial vegetable in warm climates, but it is worth growing even as an annual in cold climates since it will provide a green similar to spinach during warm months, and will not bolt like spinach will during the heat. Insects also rarely bother this plant, an added bonus.
For more suggestions and advice on how to grow perennial vegetables, including more perennial vegetable profiles, please return to the Perennial Vegetables Home Page.