In Sustainable Farming

Walking onions, or egyptian onions (allium proliferum)

Spring may be the busiest planting season, but fall is also a wonderful time to add to your garden. Some perennials thrive when planted in fall. The soil is still warm, there’s less disease and weed pressure, and fall plantings don’t need to compete with all the other spring crops for your attention. Perennial plants are not new to agriculture; plants such as apples and alfalfa are already commercially grown and harvested. As an example, discover how 2017 grantee Bertrand Farm used their $4,991 grant to establish a 500-foot-long perennial food project.

These eight perennial crops can get you well on your way to establishing a year-round food forest of your own.

1. Shallots 

Prized in French cuisine, shallots form more bulbs under the soil, just like garlic. They’re typically a bit milder than onions. Shallots should be planted four to six weeks before your first hard frost.

2. Rhubarb

A springtime favorite, rhubarb crowns can actually be planted in the fall. They take a few years to get established before you can begin harvesting, but fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie is worth the wait!

3. Walking or Potato Onions 

If you struggle with bulb onions, try planting a perennial onion variety this fall. Many are hardier and more disease resistant than annual bulb onion varieties. The walking onion, which is sometimes called the Egyptian onion even though it’s not from Egypt, spreads by producing bulblets at the top of the plant that eventually become heavy enough to bend it over and plant themselves. As they spread, they seem to “walk” across the garden. Potato onions produce clusters of bulbs under the soil similar to the way garlic produces cloves.

4. Saffron Crocuses

These cute little flowers are actually planted in the fall as bulbs. Note that not all crocus species are saffron crocuses. Some crocus species are actually poisonous, so be sure you order bulbs of the saffron crocus, or Crocus sativus. They will bloom each fall and provide you with normally pricey saffron!

Asparagus (asparagus officinalis)

5. Asparagus

Planting asparagus crowns this fall will provide you with abundant spring harvests for years to come. Like rhubarb, asparagus takes a few years of undisturbed growth before you can begin harvesting, but it too is well worth the wait. Freshly harvested asparagus is sweeter and more tender than store-bought.

6. Salad Burnet

Salad burnet may be seldom seen in the backyard garden, but it’s a wonderful addition. This perennial herb will offer delicious greens in early spring year after year, and it can be added to salads or other dishes. Many fans of the plant say it has a slightly nutty, cucumber-like flavor.

7. Fruit & Nut Trees

Fall is a wonderful time to start a backyard orchard. Most trees are best planted in fall, which  minimizes stress, gives the roots time to adjust to the soil, and allows them to take advantage of fall and winter rains. Affordable bare-root fruit and nut trees can be planted while they’re dormant to begin growing the following spring.

8. Daylilies

You may be under the impression that these summer blooms are solely ornamental, but several parts of the daylily plant (Hemerocallis fulva) are quite edible, even delicious, all year long. The young shoots can be harvested in the spring and make a nice addition to a stir-fry. In the summer, the flower buds are delicious fried, and when they open, the petals are great in salads. The tubers can be dug in the fall and winter and used much like potatoes. After harvesting tubers, bury any roots you uncovered to keep your patch going.

Don’t let cool weather stop you from gardening! A little extra work this fall can be an excellent investment for the future. Perennials will provide you with abundant harvests with relatively little effort.

Jordan Charbonneau is an organic farmer and writer from West Virginia. She holds degrees in ecology and environmental humanities from Sterling College in Vermont.

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