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Perennial plants that produce in the first year

 
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What are the fastest perennial plants to produce food?

I think a list like this could be very valuable to help both with beginning gardeners getting into permaculture, and also with Paul's latest humongous (in scope and awesomeness, imo) project: hiring 6 GAMCOD gardeners: earn $100k for less than a year of work

A concern came up in that thread that I think Permies is uniquely adapted to solve...

Since the program is going to pay by the calories produced and permaculture farming is a part of the requirement, the concern was raised that people may be challenged to produce enough food/calories via perennial permaculture methods.  We can help people out by creating a list based on our own experiences.

First, the project does allow annuals.  The list of 20 recommended crops is here: Annual Crops allowed for the GAMCOD project

Also on that page are a list of perennials people have suggested, in order to meet this requirement of GAMCOD:

Along the way, there needs to be evidence of establishing perennials, these are not expected to produce the first year.  If they do, their calories can be counted in the million.  But there needs to be evidence that each of these species has been established.



Now I ask the community - what perennial plants have you grown that produced in the first season, and can you estimate how much they produced?  Also, please give the region you grew them in.

Perennials that have produced in first year for me, Western Oregon and the hot, high desert SW:

Chufa. Cyperus esculentus, a tuber producing sedge - a very ancient food. This is a very hardy and fast growing crop. It makes tubers in it's first year as long as you get them in early.  They grow from tubers, and you can get started just by buying and planting raw Tigernuts you can buy in a store or online. One 5 oz bag will plant a good sized area, about a 24-30 sq ft bed in my experience. Each plant produces about a handful of tubers in a season. I haven't weighed that before  but it might be between 1/2 to 1 ounce.

One ounce (aprox 30 grams) has 120 calories including 7 grams of fat.  This may be the highest fat containing fast growing vegetable.

This is the chufa sold as Tigernuts you can buy easily in the US:
Tigernuts online, raw, unpeeled - can be used for growing them


For this crop to "count" it has to be edible to Paul. I would recommend the traditional way - you soak them, then blend in water and strain, like making a nut milk.  The resulting beverage is the traditional "horchata" drink and tastes like almond milk.  Add a tad of sweetener, and some ice, and it's delicious, slightly creamy, both refreshing and satisfying.

Strawberries - For my second food -  I would note that on Paul's list are strawberries, which I think of as a perennial (but I don't know if they are in his region in Montana), and so those might count, too. I"m not sure where he would allow plants to be procured from, but I'm sure this can be figured out.  Many times local gardeners are cleaning out their patches in the spring.  If I were in the challenge, I would ask around for a local organic farm near Missoula that would possibly share strawberry starts with me or the challenge.  All the strawberries plants I've put in have produced the first year - but that was western Oregon.  It would be good to find out if local gardeners/farmers report the same around Missoula.

Also, I'd highly recommend the use of painted rocks, so you don't lose your crop to hungry birds!
Using painted rocks to keep birds from eating your strawberries

As far as perennials go, strawberries are super productive and produce some of the tastiest calories out there. Add some frozen strawberries to your chufa-milk and almost anyone would happily drink that delicious concoction!  I would definitely put in good sized patches of each of the above were I participating in the challenge.

Blackberries - If these are good enough sized plants and go in early enough, I've had some fruit production in the first year. Also, they can go up a trellis, and you can use that trellis for numerous annual crops at the same time - so they could be used to meet the perennials requirement without a loss of space.  I currently have my blackberries on a trellis, in a bed with peas, cucumbers and climbing summer squash sharing the trellis, and raspberries, kohlrabi, radishes, basil, broccoli and a bunch more annuals also in the blackberry bed.

Leeks. These can be very productive planted the first year, as most people grow them as annuals anyways.  They are actually perennials and many are bunching types. I grow my leeks in perennial beds and only harvest the offshoots. So if a contestant was able to leave some leeks in place while harvesting the rest - then they'd have a perennial to help meet the perennial requirement, plus a first year calorie harvest.  That's kind of having your cake and eating it too, isn't it?

Potato Onions - Learn more about these here: Potato onions the easy to grow perennial crop  They would need to be started from bulbs in the first year to guarantee harvest, but they are the easiest and most reliable decent sized bulb onion to grow.  Also shallots are fast.

Sunchokes- Jerusalem artichoke - I don't think Paul considers those food. :-D  I think he might if he tried them sliced thinly and fried.  That's the only way I can eat them due to the same gut issue.  Frying seems to negate the intestinal effects for me.  

Even just a couple tubers added to the perennials in the garden could produce a lot (I've had a 5 gallon bucket worth grow from only 6 tubers planted their first year), and can do so with little irrigation.  I would put them in a spot on an edge. The top growth makes excellent compost/chop-and-drop and animal feed, as well. These are a key part of our permaculture gardens even if we eat few of them, the plant has so many uses.

What other first-season producing perennials can we think of?  Which are the highest calorie fast-producing perennials that you can think of?





 
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Kim Goodwin wrote:
Chufa. This is a very hardy and fast growing crop. It makes tubers in it's first year as long as you get them in early.  They grow from tubers, and you can get started just by buying and planting raw Tigernuts you can buy in a store or online. One 5 oz bag will plant a good sized area, about a 24-30 sq ft bed in my experience. Each plant produces about a handful of tubers in a season. I haven't weighed that before  but it might be between 1/2 to 1 ounce.

One ounce (aprox 30 grams) has 120 calories including 7 grams of fat.  This may be the highest fat containing fast growing vegetable.

This is the chufa sold as Tigernuts you can buy easily in the US:
Tigernuts online, raw, unpeeled - can be used for growing them


For this crop to "count" it has to be edible to Paul. I would recommend the traditional way - you soak them, then blend in water and strain, like making a nut milk.  The resulting beverage is the traditional "horchata" drink and tastes like almond milk.  Add a tad of sweetener, and some ice, and it's delicious, slightly creamy, both refreshing and satisfying.



I had never heard of this plant.  According to the thing I read, it's perennial to zone 3.  How have a not heard of this?!?!?!?!  Thank much for posting this!

As far as perennials that produce the first year, only greens really fit that bill for me, and they are notorious for being nutrient dense, but calorie sparse.  I've always been told that strawberries weren't supposed to be harvested the first year and I pinch the blossoms off.  If I were involved with the challenge, I would plant asparagus, horseradish, good king henry, etc when I was establishing my area, but I would rely pretty heavily on annuals to get calories the first couple years.

I have planted lots of walking onions and they produce the first year, but I couldn't eat enough of them to contribute many calories to my diet.  Ditto garlic, and I love garlic.

I hope you get better answers, I'm always looking for perennials to fill out my food forest.
 
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Raspberries! Especially if you get the everbearing or fall bearing varieties.

Artichokes- I only get one bud per plant the first year but that counts for something.

Onions- green onions, chives, walking onions, shallots, etc.

I had a perennial broccoli once (5+ years old). So I consider broccoli a short lived perennial. It died this spring. I'm still sad about it. I've got a new broccoli plant (2 years old) that looks like it might replace the old one. 🤞

 
Kim Goodwin
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Trace Oswald wrote:

I had never heard of this plant.  According to the thing I read, it's perennial to zone 3.  How have a not heard of this?!?!?!?!  Thank much for posting this!



Here's a fascinating use - hunters in the US use chufa to create turkey forage plots.  Also for other wildlife, but it's particularly tasty to turkeys.

Chufa food plot for attracting turkeys and other wild animals.

Pensylvania government recommendations for creating turkey habitat



 
Kim Goodwin
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Jenny Wright wrote:Raspberries! Especially if you get the everbearing or fall bearing varieties.

Artichokes- I only get one bud per plant the first year but that counts for something.

Onions- green onions, chives, walking onions, shallots, etc.

I had a perennial broccoli once (5+ years old). So I consider broccoli a short lived perennial. It died this spring. I'm still sad about it. I've got a new broccoli plant (2 years old) that looks like it might replace the old one. 🤞



Raspberries is a really great point. I high sugar, higher calorie, absolutely delicious point. I forgot about fall bearing/everbearing raspberries producing on the first year canes - plus potentially doing two crops per year.

Artichokes - sounds like you have a similar problem to me in the desert.  Maybe if I had put them in from starts/base cuttings they would produce the first year, but the plants I'm growing from seed here in the desert SW are not big enough to produce the first year.  So starting from base cuttings might help.  Cardoon, however, is a beautiful monster!

I didn't add cardoon to the list initially on account of how much space it takes up for a lower calorie crop.  However, on thinking about it, the amount of compostable leaves the plants produce the first year is astounding, and you can still tie, blanch and harvest the younger stems. Plus you can eat the flowerbuds -they are just a lot smaller than an artichoke.  The humble but gargantuan cardoon might be a good addition to the first-year perennial list after all.
 
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I'm not sure how many calories are in these, but...
Ground nuts are supposed to produce the first year.
Fiddleheads too. I forget what kind of fern they are called, but they should be ready the first year.
Google suggests Sea Kale and Scarlet runner beans.

Specific to the challenge.. is there anything specifically against animals in the contest? I feel like feeding a couple pigs or some geese that were fed off the acre would be a good addition to your total calories :)
 
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There's a couple of other perennials that I would suggest will give a yield in  the first year:

Skirret:
You'd probably need to be growing this from offsets to provide much of yeild in the first year, although I think you would have a small yeild if you got a good year from seed. I found the roots very tasty. The disadvantage is they can be difficult to clean - they have wrinkles in most of the roots and sometimes a woody core. The consensus seems to be this is down to growing conditions as much as the genetics of the plant. The leaves are also supposed to be edible, although I've not got round to trying those yet.

Skirret-root-grown-from-offsets
This is one plant (grown from a plant divided the previous year)

skirret root Cleaned and ready to cook
Cleaned and ready to cook

Scorzonera (Black scorzonera, Scorzonera hispanica)
This is a perennial often grown as an annual for it's roots. I've found the leaves are really tasty, so those would be the main perennial yeild, although it does divide as a crown over the years and can be transplanted. This way you could increase it, or snap off the root and replant the crown perhaps. The first year you could eat the smaller roots and replant the rest to improve the plant stock.

Scorzonera hispanica black leaves edible roots

Cardoon
I've grown this, and it is perennial. The part normally eaten are the leaf stalks, again usually in the first year, although I understand that it can be done in subsequent years also if you get the technique right (I'll try and link to where they describe doing this if I can find it again)
 
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Also, the question is how narrow your definition of perennial is. For example, potatoes are technically perennials (grow from tubers). Of course, they will not reliably survive winter everywhere, but I've seen some come back the next year, even when I lived in a place where winter temperatures go down to -30 C. I suppose this is due to the plant setting some tubers very deep, below deepest frost level. Sunchokes are also perennial and yield the first year (again, provided you start them from tubers rather than seeds).

Edit: Just saw that sunchokes were mentioned in the OP. Oops...
 
Kim Goodwin
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Eino Kenttä wrote:Also, the question is how narrow your definition of perennial is. For example, potatoes are technically perennials (grow from tubers). Of course, they will not reliably survive winter everywhere, but I've seen some come back the next year, even when I lived in a place where winter temperatures go down to -30 C. I suppose this is due to the plant setting some tubers very deep, below deepest frost level.



That's a very good suggestion, Eino.  This list is specifically for the GAMCOD challenge which would happen at Wheaton labs in Montana.  If some perennial potatoes would be possible there, I'm sure they'd be welcomed. I haven't live somewhere that cold, so I didn't know it was possible there.  Your experience with the low of -30C is valuable information!

Many of us have guessed that potatoes would be a key part of the GAMCOD challenge, as they do produce a lot of calories quite reliably.
 
Kim Goodwin
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There are some plants I haven't mentioned because they wouldn't apply to growing in Montana as a perennial, or they grow too slowly.

Oca - if you are in a good climate for it, this is a wonderfully productive, tasty perennial plant.  If you are in an area that is too cold, the tubers can also hold all winter and be planted in spring. Cooked oca tastes like moist potatoes that maybe you put sour cream in - a little tartness. It's my favorite of the "lost" crops of the Incas.  Second would be yacon, also delicious, but more of a dessert type veggie.

Stachy affinis, the Chinese artichoke, also called crosnes, artichoke betony and several other names - These held up well in western Oregon, competing with other plants.  But the tubers take a long time to develop, so I didn't include them in this list for the GAMCOD challenge.

Apios americana, American groundnut, hopniss - This was mentioned above.  I have not grown it and so I looked it up to find growing info.  According to Hank Shaw's experience listed here: Contemplating Hopniss, the American Groundnut he found they need to grow two years to produce decent sized tubers.  He makes them sound delicious though!  He uses them as you would a potato, and even says they fry better.

From Hank Shaw's website:

For now, the only way you will get your hands on hopniss is to forage or grow them yourself. And if you grow them, it will be a long, often frustrating endeavor. But it may not be like that for long.

For a brief, shining time, scientists at Louisiana State University worked to improve yields and tuber set on Apios americana. It worked, and they got up to 7 pounds of tubers per plant in one season. But sadly, that research ended and has only recently been picked up by the plant geeks at Iowa State University. Slowly, improved hopniss tubers are becoming available.

My great hope is to see hopniss become more widespread. It is more than just a potato substitute. It is a world-class food plant that happens to be native to the United States. And that’s a good thing.



The flower is lovely, too.



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