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Cuccuzi, Edible gourd, aka yard long bean

Spring is on its way and my thoughts have turned toward my garden.  This post is not meant to be all-encompassing regarding perennial vegetables as so much of maintaining a perennial depends on climate, but it is a quick look at what I’ve planted, what I have in the works, and what I intend to add in future in zone 8.  Do some research before planting regarding planting zone and consider that some edible perennials are classified as invasive species and could be hard to control once established.  To research perennials I recommend starting with Eric Toensmeier’s “Perennial Vegetables”.

My tree collard (perennial in warm climates) cuttings from Bountiful Gardens came yesterday and I had them in pots of potting soil within an hour of taking them out of the mail box.  I have high hopes of them rooting and providing me with years of cut greens.  While rooting in pots prepare a well-dug bed with lots of compost.  In zone 8 the seedsman recommends taking cuttings in the fall in the event a cold winter kills the plants.  They are sometimes called walking stick kale.  See:  www.bountifulgardens.org, 707-459-6410.  Free catalogs, open-pollinated and heirloom seed.  No hybrids or GMO’s.

My Jerusalem artichokes (perennial)were so pretty last year when they bloomed that getting edible tubers from the perennial plants was a bonus.

My asparagus (perennial) is doing OK but I need to do some weed control with mulching.

Walking onions spread from top sets and with any care are perennial.  Mine are doing well even after a week of cold with some freezing rain.

Always match perennials to your climate as not every plant will grow in every planting zone.  My Victoria rhubarb and ostrich fern did not make it past the first year, probably because it was too hot for them in summer.

I’ve purchased seeds for Cardoon (perennial in warm climates) which I will plant when the ground is warm enough.  These look like large thistles but it is the stems that are eaten.  Bountiful Gardens and other seed catalogs offer them.  It will easily self-sow unless the flowers are picked.

I purchased seeds for Malabar Spinach from Bountiful Gardens and those arrived yesterday with my tree collard cuttings.  It is common in Asia and Africa and will grow in areas too warm for spinach.  It is a vine that will die with cold and frost but is supposed to survive in zones 7 and warmer.  I’m not sure it will overwinter for me but it should produce lots of salad greens throughout the summer and fall.

I bought Sylvetta perennial arugula from Bountiful Gardens and will put that out when warm enough.  It is perennial to zone 5.  It is said to be drought-resistant, good for bees, and overwinters in zone 5 or higher.  It bears leaves all summer for salads, adding to soup, or mixing with other greens.

You cannot be from the South and not know what pokeweed is.  Many southern families survived on poke greens and cornbread during the Depression, and for many, it isn’t spring until there’s a pot of poke greens on the table.  It self-sows so I’ve simply left some that came up wild and let them go to seed in order to keep it.  Birds eat it and deposit seeds here and there so once it establishes itself it isn’t too hard to keep going.  Harvest the leaves from young tender plants (preferably not over about 18 inches tall) then cook as any green.  Bringing it to a boil, draining, and restarting with fresh water tempers the strong flavor it can have.  The young stalks can be peeled, sliced, battered and fried like okra.

Below are some other plants (either perennial or those that self-sow) I intend to put in soon.

Egyptian spinach, aka Jew’s Mallow.  This plant self-sows.  The fibers are used to make jute rope.  It does well in southern Alabama and Florida where the weather reaches the broiling point in summer.  It grows 2 to 3 feet but with good conditions can reach up to 6 feet.  Kitazawa Seed Co., packet with 1100-1300 seed is $3.69.  Bountiful Gardens 100 seed packet is $2.00.  The seed are produced within pods and are easy to gather for saving.

I have lovage seeds I will be putting out this spring.  The plant is perennial and the leaves which taste like celery make good salad greens.  They can be added to soup and the roots can be prepared as a vegetable or grated into salads.  Baker Creek, etc.

I’m debating whether or not to plant stinging nettles.  The spines cause a rather unpleasant stinging sensation when touched.  They spread easily and are perennial.  It is a good idea to wear gloves when around it.  The leaves do not cause that stinging sensation after being cooked so if one wears gloves while gathering and washing, they are perfectly pleasant to eat after cooking.  They are made into greens, pesto, frittata, or nettle soup.

Miner’s Lettuce is perennial and is good in salads or it can be boiled or sautéed like spinach.  It was once common but today is little known yet worthy of much more attention.  It is hardy to zone 4 and is mulched during cold winter.  It can be grown in partial shade.

Salad Burnett thrives on neglect so it will be perfect for me.  It is at home in dry soil.  It can be subbed out for parsley and mint.

Cuccuzi.  This plant has more names than a Chicago gangster during the Depression including guinea bean or yard-long bean is perhaps the most common although it isn’t a bean at all.  It is sometimes called squash but is really an edible gourd.  My uncle used to grow these so I want them again for nostalgia.  Once you grow them, save the seed and you will never be without them.  It is not perennial.  Pick them at 10-12 inches and cook them like summer squash or let them grow into large dried gourds for crafting and seed saving.  Find them at Victory Seeds, Seeds From Italy, Sustainable Seeds, West Wind Seeds, Sample Seeds Inc.  They need a sturdy trellis.

Tromboncino.  This Italian squash is said to be resistant to squash bugs and the seed can be saved from year to year.  For anyone plagued by squash bugs this is worth trying.  It is not perennial but one can save seeds.  Bountiful Seeds.

Luffa.  Most people know this as a vegetable sponge, but if harvested when young and tender are edible.  My uncle also grew these and we kept seed from one year to the next.  Sustainable Seeds, Baker Creek, and others.  For best results, soak the seed for 24 hours then set out for transplants.  They need a sturdy trellis.

Profusion Sorrel.  Perennial in zones 4-8.  It doesn’t produce flowers or seed so it doesn’t get tough and bitter like other strains of sorrel.  It produces leaves all season long.  Richter’s offers it for one plant at $6.50 or three for $14.70.  For a less expensive approach, French sorrel is perennial in all zones.

Good King Henry is a relative of spinach with mild flavored leaves, perennial to zone 5, it comes up early every spring.  It should be planted in the fall or very early spring.  Bountiful Seeds, Restoration Seeds, etc.

Welch onions are perennial in all zones and produce clumps of green onions that spread and grow larger over time.  150 seeds from Bountiful Gardens is $2.50.

Lily White Seakale is perennial to zone 6.  It is used like kale.  It is usually blanched (covered) in early spring.  It is not always easy to find seeds for this.  Bountiful Gardens offers 10 seeds for $2.75.  Sea Kale is also available from Nantahala Farm and Garden, Fedco Seeds, and SeedSavers.org.

In the spirit of being self-sustaining, take cuttings from rosemary and basil, root them in water, and plant them to increase the available harvest.

Elderberry does well in zones 3-8 and can be started from cuttings.  I plan to start with 1 or 2 purchased plants then as they grow, root cuttings to increase my harvest.  The only advantage is the berries are supposed to be larger on the tame varieties, but wild ones will root also.  To root, take cuttings during dormancy, probably January through March, about 8 to 9 inches.  Place the cut end in water that comes up about half way of the cuttings and place in a sunny area for 6 to 8 weeks, change the water if needed.  They may also be rooted in potting soil.

 I’m considering groundnut but still weighing the danger of it becoming over-aggressive and hard to control.  It is perennial and available from Norton Naturals and Baker Creek.  It is not peanut.  It has been called Indian potato and in early diaries and travel narratives was called hopniss.  It was commonly eaten by Native Americans.  The Swedish botanist, Peter Kalm, wrote (1749) the Indians boiled the tubers and ate them instead of bread.  Le Jeune, a Jesuit missionary, said the French settlers called it “rosary” because the tubers are strung together like beads.  It is a perennial vine that bears edible beans and large edible tubers.  It is used similar to a potato, but is best not consumed raw.  It is best trellised. Tubers can be harvested the second year after frost kills the plant back.

I will order Quamash camass for fall delivery and I’m excited about adding it to my perennial vegetables.  It was commonly eaten by Native Americans, is perennial, and can be purchased from Restorative Seeds, Brent and Becky’s, etc.  It is listed as perennial in zones 3-8.  It has pretty blue flowers but refrain from cutting them as they make seed and self-sow.  Meriwether Lewis said in 1806, “at a short distance, the colour resembles lakes of bright clear water”.  Their diet included Camass in Lewis and Clark expedition.  Growing instructions say they will grow in most soil, like wet feet in winter and early spring and drier conditions after blooming so they should do quite well and naturalize beautifully for me.  They can be grown in full sun or part sun.  Everwilde Farms Inc., J. L. Hudson, Seedsman (La Honda, CA), and Mary’s Garden Patch (Lockhart, Texas).

Yacon is perennial in zones 9-11, lower than that it can be planted in a pot and put into a greenhouse in winter or the tubers can be dug, overwintered in storage then replanted in the spring.  Some sources say if your season is long enough to grow Jerusalem artichokes you can grow yacon.  The rhizomes are described as a cross between an apple and melon.  They grow similar to potatoes.  They can be grown from seed but when available most prefer to plant the rhizomes.  The plants produce larger tubers that can be harvested and smaller tubers that are ideal for keeping overwinter and growing the following season.  Available from Baker Creek, two plants are $14 and they ship in April to May.   I have ordered four plants and I think the flowers will make the plants as pretty as my Jerusalem artichokes.

Scarlet Runner Beans are often grown as ornamentals but are edible and perennial.  They’ll die in winter but will sprout again in spring so putting them in an area where they can continue undisturbed is a good idea.  So far I haven’t made such a place and so have not planted them.

As always, happy gardening and Blissful Meals.  Copyright, please ask permission before reproducing articles from my blog.  ©

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