Friday, December 11, 2009

Perennial Vegetables (Part II)

This is Part II of a two-part review of the book. (Read Part I of the review of Eric Toensmeier's Perennial Vegetables.)

Toensmeier, Eric. Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to 'Zuiki' Taro, a Gardener's Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles. Chelsea Green Publishing: White River Junction, Vermont, 2007.

Part II of the book begins with a caution about sampling too much of too many new food plants for the first time. This is an important caution, given the prevalence of food allergies. Sample slowly! I was also a little taken aback to see how frequently some of these perennials have poisonous cousins and look alikes. Exercise caution and know what you are eating before you taste!

After that brief caution, Part II plunges into the meat (OK, the vegetables) of the subject in earnest. What follows is a list of edible perennials, accompanied by a map of the U.S. climate range for the particular plant (similar to the maps in bird-watching books); shaded pink where the crop is perennial and yellow where it might be grown as an annual. Along with the Latin name of the plant and known common names, Toensmeier provides the following for each entry (as applicable): Overview, Crop Description, Climate, Tolerances and Preferences, Naturalization, Pests-Diseases-Weeds, Propagation-Planting-Cultivation, Harvest and Storage, Uses, and Related Species and Breeding Potential. Wow! These "notes" on various plants are alone worth the price of admission. (However, I should note that Toensmeier breaks his pattern sometimes and treats some plant in a cursory manner, e.g., Lovage, pp. 86-87.) I cannot wait to try a few new plantings and report on the results this year. But, of course, I live in what Toensmeier calls the "Cold Temperate" section of the country in Zone 5b Indianapolis. I'll not be able to plant anything now until the ground thaws. We woke today to a temperature of 16F in an area that regularly experiences temperatures as as low as -16F. It will be March 2010 before I am able to plant, and many of the perennials will likely take a full year or more to become fully established. So, my sampling of new vegetables will be slow. As indicated in the previous review, though Toensmeier discusses growing tropical perennials in some locations as annuals, I plan, because of my particular climate, to ignore the tropical plants and those for the warmer Southeast and review the book with an eye toward its greatest usefulness to me here in the Cold Temperate Midwest.

So, what can I and will I plant? Herewith, my personal list of potential perennials, with an asterisk beside those I plan to try in 2010:

Onion Family, Alliaceae

Arrowhead, tubers cooked like potatoes.

Multiplier Onions

*Ramps (wild leek)

Perennial Onions

The Celery Family, Apiaceae


Water Celery


The Aroid Family, Araceae


The Spikenard Family, Araliaceae


The Aster Family, Asteraceae

Chicory and Dandelion

Sunchoke (Jerusalem Artichoke)



The Malabar Spinach Family, Basellaceae


The Cabbage Family, Brassicaceae

Turkish Rocket

Sea Kale


The Cactus Family, Cactaceae


The Canna Family, Cannaceae


The Papaya Family, Caricaceae


The Goosefoot Family, Chenopodiaceae

*Good King Henry

The Morning Glory Family, Convolvulaceae


The Squash Family, Cucurbitaceae


The Sedge Family, Cyperaceae


The Yam Family, Dioscoreaceae

*Yams (D. japonica and Chinese yam)

The Wood-Fern Family, Dryopteridaceae

Ostrich Fern

The Spurge Family, Euphorbiaceae


The Pea Family, Fabaceae


The Mint Family, Lamiaceae

Chinese Artichoke

The Lily Family, Liliaceae




Giant Solomon's Seal

The Mallow Family, Malvaceae

Musk Mallow

The Neem Family, Meliaceae

Fragrant Spring Tree

The Mulberry Family, Moraceae


The Moringa Family, Moringaceae


The Banana Family, Musaceae


The Lotus Family, Nelumbonaceae

Water Lotus

The Wood-Sorrel Family, Oxalidaceae


The Pokeweed Family, Phytolaccaceae


The Grass Family, Poaceae

Running Bamboos

the Smartweed Family, Polygonaceae



The Nightshade Family, Solanaceae


The New Zealand Spinach Family, Tetragoniaceae


The Linden Family, Tiliaceae


The Nasturtium Family, Tropaeolaceae


The Nettle Family, Urticaceae

Stinging Nettle and Wood Nettle

Remember, I have listed above ONLY what Toensmeier has claimed is hardy as a perennial to Zone 5b. Part III of the book is entitled "Resources" and includes lists of perennial vegetables for each climate type (similar to what I have done above, but for all of the plant hardiness zones and with greater detail, including variety names and Latin names). He also includes a list of recommended books in the following categories: useful plants, permaculture and edible landscaping, history-ecology-native/non-native species, garden climates, and gardening techniques, water gardening, pests-diseases, and propagation. There is a short, but excellent list of organizations and web sites, and lists of plant and seed sources and garden suppliers. Finally, Toensmeier includes a bibliography and helpful index.

I heartily recommend the book. It is well worth the $35 list price. The only downside is that the cultivation of perennials as garden vegetables is so new that the details are sometimes sketchy at best, because sketchy details are all that is available. Toensmeier has done us a great service in drawing so much information together under one roof. It is now our turn to do the hard work of collecting, propagating, and breeding these plants--and introducing them to our friends and neighbors--until they become successful, mainstream garden varieties. I for one wish winter would hurry up and end so that I can get started.

[Note: The above title was provided for review by the publisher. No remuneration was received for the review.]

No comments: