Finally I am starting to produce food in my garden with absolutely no labour required – thanks to the beauty of perennials.
Perennials are the staples of the food forest: you plant them once, then harvest them year after year with a minimal of effort required. As long as the soil is healthy, full of organic matter and plenty of nutrients for your plants, there will be virtually no work needed. They need far less watering than their annual counterparts because their roots are established; which means they can take up more water and search further for a supply.
It can take a little while to get them self sufficient – for example the herbs have struggled through some very hot, dry times and been a bit spindly and sparse – but after a wet year and gradually adding more mulch and compost they are now quite lush. There is a constant supply of marjoram, oregano, chives, mint, parsley, thyme and lemon verbena, with warrigal greens, silverbeet, rocket, and the ubiquitous and indestructible sweet potatoes most of the year. This year I have added asparagus, strawberries and mulberries to the list of ‘no work’ harvestables.
I planted a strawberry almost five years ago and neglectfully left it to its own devices. It has spread widely and been the source of many runners, but I don’t usually get anything from them – the berries are not only tiny but get eaten by critters before I get to them.
But this year, for some reason, they are mostly being left alone and the strawberries are much bigger! The latter is likely due to the soil being improved over time; and perhaps more mature plants produce bigger fruit? But the former is something of a mystery, although sadly it could be that having cats deters birds from coming to the ground outside my back door.
I have been picking a colander full of strawberries every two or three days and the same of mulberries, from a tree I put in last autumn, less than a year ago.
This is the first year I have harvested asparagus and now that I have started picking them they are coming up a few at a time, now an actual side dish more than just a munching snack.
And it is true – asparagus makes your pee smell rank! But I can live with that for the joy of eating them.