Vegetable Gardening for the Lazy

One of the problems with growing vegetables is all the labor involved–starting seeds, composting, watering and watching out for bugs. It’s worth it, of course, for the tasty rewards, but many busy folks are simply too exhausted after work or corralling the bambinos to pick up a shovel and garden. For those who’d rather sit on the porch with a martini than laboring in the field, and we often include ourselves in that category, perennial vegetables can put food on the table year round without the hassle of having to plant seeds every spring. Here’s a roundup of our top four favorite edible perennials we have growing in our humble garden.

1. Tree Collards (Brassica oleracea acephala–I think). This strange but attractive member of the Brassica family, pictured above (in a protective cage to fend off our chickens and Doberman), goes under a confusing number of popular names. The specimen given to us by Trathen Heckman of the Petaluma based Daily Acts (thanks again Trathen!), has matured into what looks like a four foot tall kale plant gone to seed, except it hasn’t gone to seed. The leaves are mild flavored and we’ve eaten them both cooked and raw. The problem with this plant is finding one. Search for it on the internets and you’ll find other people searching for it. So dear readers, leave a comment on this post if you know of a good source either local or mail order. We’ll definitely be making some cuttings, as it would be nice to have more than one.

2. Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus). A member of the sunflower family, this North American native produces an edible tuber that, while hard to clean, is worth the effort. It’s invasive which, from the perspective of the martini swilling gardener, is a plus since it means never having to propagate more. We planted ours in the spring from tubers we picked up in the produce section of our local market, Trader Joes. You may be able to find Jerusalem Artichioke at fancy food markets such as Whole Foods. Stick those grocery store bought tubers in the ground and in a few months you’ll have a field of these things.

3. Regular old Artichokes (Cynara cardunculus). Here’s a perennial for those of us lucky enough to live in a Mediterranean climate. In foggy coastal areas artichokes thrive year-round. Here in inland Los Angeles they die back in the summer. We cut them to the ground in June and wait for them to come back in the fall. Artichokes are a handsome, large plant that produces one of the most delicious of all vegetables.

4. Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica). We won’t natter on about this one, as we’ve covered the edible leaves here, jam making with the fruit here, avoiding the spines here and penned a very early potty-mouthed love letter to the plant here. Needless to say, a plant that needs no added water or fertilizer and grows in dismal, alkaline soil while producing an abundant crop is a plant that allows more time to get the perfect vermouth/gin ratio for those late afternoon cocktail sessions on the urban homestead.

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  1. Oooh, please do make some cuttings of your Tree Collards; this is the first I’ve heard of them, and want them already. Since I’ve been having gut problems (probably celiac), I’ve been craving greens. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re soothing to digest, or if the celiac has caused a malnutrition. But the way it’s been these last few weeks, I’d probably need a few of those trees LOL. I’ll mark this post in case I find some.

  2. Alot more people are starting to take on gardening as a hobby. This year has seen a large increase in vegetable gardening mainly due to the increase in food prices.Some of these plants are great for anyone who wishes sit back and relax but a garden is a great way to keep yourself and children occupied. I feel more and more people are becoming more active and gardening is a great way of doing this and far cheaper than the gym membership.

  3. Another plant for the lazy gardener is asparagus. In zone 7+ where I live, chard sometimes is perennial. Also in my zone, French sorrel is perennial, but its sour/lemon flavor is not for everyone. I have also planted dandelion, but it was not long lived.

    These are all pest free, important in our humid bug infested southeast.

  4. Congratulations on the book. It looks very interesting, I’ll have to pick up a copy.

    One of the plants that grows with no effort around here (Chicago) is Lambs Quarter. I thought they were “weeds” until a friend came over and said that the stuff sold for $5 a bunch at the local farmers market.

    Have you seen this link on how to build solar panels yourself?

  5. Regarding tree collards and where to get them, there is a vendor at the Hollywood farmers market (Sunset and Ivar) who sells them every Sunday

  6. Tree collards can be had from the wonderful Centrose Nursery on 525 E Rosecrans Ave Gardena, CA 90248, 310.324.2004. (I take the 405 to the 105 to the 110 and it’s right at the Rosecrans exit basically.) They seem to specialize in veggies and fruits, it’s beautiful, and I adore visiting there.

  7. I could not find tree collards at Nichols. Thompson & Morgan has a similar plant called Walking Stick Cabbage (or Kale).

    This is not a true tree collard as it is propagated by seed. A true tree collard is only propagated by cuttings.

    Walking stick kale requires that you sow lots of seeds and the germination rate is low, however, once established, you will have lots of little starts all around the parent plant after it drops seeds.

    True tree collards are available at as cuttings. I just ordered some. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Eating perennials

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