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The Perpetual Garden
In our 21st century time challenged lives, setting up anything that will work more efficiently is sensible.
The 'perpetual garden' is just that -  it's a method for growing food that saves us not only time and effort, but also money.  With minimal knowledge and planning, you can grow an abundance of food by working in tandem with nature's processes and cycles.
 
Natural food growing
 
Perpetual veggie gardening is at the heart of permaculture practice but the theory and practice of working with nature's cycles to grow and harvest food is a part of all indigenous cultures.

Studies of native indigenous people around the world (people who have lived off the land for generations without electricity, refrigeration, commercial agriculture, pesticides, or insecticides) showed that these people lived primarily on perennials (plants that grow year after year without replanting) as opposed to annuals such as typical grocery store vegetables (crops that must be replanted each year).

We can replicate this method in our own veggie gardens with a bit of planning, careful choices of plantings and a small shift in our cultural practices.
 
Some basics
 
Firstly consider what you eat and want to grow, the location where the plants will flourish (full sun or part shade), the best time to plant, the frequency with which they need to be harvested (daily, seasonally or once a year) and how their life cycle evolves.

Location is important. Plant things you use most often, such as herbs and lettuces, near your kitchen for quick and easy harvesting.  By harvesting these at the last minute you'll also get the optimum nutrition from the food.

Crops that you harvest once a year and all in one go can be placed furthermost from the kitchen as they just require one effort to collect the produce. Think of pumpkins and potatoes...
Also research how these veggies should be stored for maximum longevity.
 
When it comes to selecting plant varieties, consider plants with a longer life, that don’t readily go to seed. For example, choose perpetual spinach over English spinach.
 
Perennials
 
Include perennials in your perpetual garden.  They only have to be planted once and they will produce food for many years in succession, whereas garden vegetables (annuals), have to be replanted year after year from seed.
 
The natural life-cycle of perennials means they have the time to put down deeper and longer roots, which makes them able to get more nutrients, reach water deeper in the soil, and makes them less susceptible to seasonal variations in sunshine, rainfall, cold and heat than an annual plant.
 
Growing edible perennials along with annuals not only increases your food diversity but also adds beauty to your garden.
 
After your new perennial edibles have put down roots, they’ll be set for years to come, so smart design and planning are essential.
There are three basic design approaches:
Plant your perennials where they can flourish undisturbed by digging and weeding. 
Consider either:
1) creating a new area in your garden just for perennials, or
2) planting them alongside other 'inedible' perennials such as flower borders, or
3) carefully intersperse them with annuals in places where they won't be disturbed, or
4) you can even plant them in containers or car tyres if garden space is limited
 
With the exception of Asparagus, Rhubarb and Globe Artichokes, most gardeners are probably unaware of the tasty, extremely low-maintenance bounty that can be harvested when many annual crops aren't available.
Other perennials you can plant are Berries, Groundnuts, Jerusalem Artichokes, Sea Kale, Lovage, Sorell, Kale, Garlic, Radiccio, Horseradish, Watercress and Garlic Chives.
Perennial rhubarb growing in a corner of the garden
 
Heirloom veggies and reseeding
 
And now, we get the slightly untidy part of the perennial veggie garden...
 
Wherever possible, plant heirloom seeds and seedlings, then allow some of these plants to seed and let the seed fall onto the soil. Wait and be ready for the next time seasonal conditions are just right and you’ll have a naturally reseeded garden. Keep in mind that non-heirloom (hybrid) veggies won't produce healthy offspring plants.
 
A perpetually reseeding garden will save money and minimise your work, but it may also become “wild” missing the nice ordered rows of hand placed seeds and seedlings which, by the way is not as nature intended!  In nature, plants don’t grow in rows and don’t need to be cultivated, trimmed, weeded, or treated with pesticides. Yet nature has been growing fruits, nuts, veggies, berries and herbs successfully for millions of years without our help.
 
So if you have the space and you are using heirloom seeds, why not give over a small section of your garden  to working by itself.
Or on a smaller scale, try cultivating a perpetual herb garden allowing it to reseed.  You could plant rocket (argula), chervil, coriander, dill, lamb's lettuce, parsley, poppy and purslane.
 
The idea of course is to cut down on the work you need to do and allow nature to manage things for you.
 
Layering and Guilds
 
By imitating nature’s ecosystems, you'll be promoting greater partnerships between plants, soil, insects and wildlife. In permaculture designs, edible vegetables, herbs, fruiting shrubs and vines grow as an understory to taller fruit and nut trees. This technique is sometimes called “layering” or building a “guild.”

Observe the symbiotic relationships between plants that exist within nature and try to replicate these.
For example, Native Americans plant 'The Three Sisters' together: corn, beans and squash.
Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb; beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following year's corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops' chances of survival in hot weather.
The Three Sisters
 
In natural ecosystems, plants often grow together in three dimensions: some taller, some shorter, and they grow in a way where all plants get adequate sun, air, rain, and oftentimes share nutrients and benefit from natural pest control.  This also creates partnerships between plants, soil, insects and wildlife.
 
In permaculture designs, edible vegetables, herbs, fruiting shrubs and vines grow as an understory to taller trees. This is the “layering" technique.
The tallest plant (often a fruit or nut tree) provides shade underneath it for shade-seeking plants, and outside of that shade, a layer of shrubs like blueberries and blackberries can grow. Outside of that circle of shrubs, herbs are grown to attract pollinators and alongside the herbs, we plant a ground cover to accumulate nitrogen (a natural fertiliser).
 
These 'guilds' of plants mimic a naturally symbiotic order and provide an intelligent system for growing food.
 
By incorporating these methods,  you'll enhance your garden's productivity, no matter what size the garden.
 
So form a partnership with nature and think 'perpetual' when you next plant and you’ll have less work to do in the future.
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