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Quinta do Vale da Lama
Quinta do Vale da Lama
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Odiáxere, Algarve, PT
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Quinta do Vale da Lama

Quinta do Vale da Lama

Odiáxere, PT

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Perma-harvest: Discovering Perennial Root Crops

Project: Quinta do Vale da Lama

Posted by Walt Ludwick over 10 years ago

Fall is the traditional root-harvesting season in the northern hemisphere. Across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, agriculturalists large and small dig up root crops to store for winter. The same is happening here at Vale da Lama!

While the potato patch took lots of work to dig up, I've been amazed by the ease of cultivation and high yield of several less-well known root crops planted in the food forest.

To me, learning about these species is a step to how we can grow calorie-rich food permaculture-style: local, valuing diversity, using renewable resources, integrating rather than segregating plants, and applying the least effort to get maximum yield.

So who are these plants I’m getting to know? I'll give a brief intro to each one, and then talk a bit about beneficial connections between them.

1. Sweet Potato / Batata Doce (Ipomea batatas):

You're probably familiar with this perennial that produces delicious, sweet taproots. What you might not know, is that it's a multifunction plant: aside from edible roots, the leaves are also good in soups or stir-fried, and the herbaceous spreading vines shade soil, suppress weeds, and enrich the soil.

2. Jerusalem Artichoke /Tupinambur (Helianthus tuberosus):

This plant looks like it’s relative, the sunflower. However, hiding under the base of the stem is a clump odd-shaped roots that are nutty and delicious roasted. It's easy to harvest the roots at the base of the plant, though it’s almost impossible to find every single root. That makes the plant easy (and almost unavoidable) to propagate, since forgotten roots resprout next year.

3. Achira / Cana Ìndica (Canna edulis):

This plant was the biggest surprise for me: I had seen this ornamental, with it's beautiful bright-red flowers, in many gardens, without suspecting that it has edible roots! Digging these up took more effort than Tupinambur, but the dense roots yielded a lot from a small space. Only the newest parts of the root were good to eat, the older roots were too fibrous for most people to enjoy.

Beneficial Connections:
In the food forest, I observed that in the areas where Jerusalem Artichokes and Sweet Potato intermingled, their leaves didn't compete: while Jerusalem Artichoke reached up to the sky, the sweet potato grew a carpet of leaves close to the ground. The sweet potato harvest wasn't much smaller in the Tupinambur zone than in the sweet-potato-only zone.

I went back to my permaculture primer, Gaia's Garden (by Toby Hemenway) to read up on perennial polycultures: groupings of plants that are cultivated in the same space, where the yield of the various species combined is greater than the yield obtained if the same space were planted as a monoculture of one species. That seems to be happening in the mixed area of Tupinambur and Sweet Potato!

The Cana Indica, on the other hand, has thick, clumping roots, not conducive to sharing space with other species! However, in the food forest, this plant still interacts with the other two, functioning as part of a summer windbreak.

The idea of perennial polycultures sounded complex when I started reading about it, but when I'm out in the garden, it starts to feel really simple: I observe how each plant grows, and get to know what it likes or dislikes. Ultimately, nature is the best teacher: there is just nothing like getting my hands in the dirt and experiencing these plants firsthand!

Would you like to read more about perennial vegetables or polycultures? Here is a more in-depth article about Polycultures that I enjoyed reading this week.

Do you have any interesting experiences growing perennial vegetables, lesser-known root crops or polycultures? I’d love to read your stories and learn together.

All the best,

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Alex Clifton
Alex Clifton : a list of root crops native to Andes for people's research...

Ahipa -- (Pachyrhizus ahipa) Arracacha -- (Arracacia xanthorrhiza) Maca -- (Lepidium meyenii) Mashua -- (Tropaeolum tuberosum) Mauka -- (Mirabilis expansa) Oca -- (Oxalis tuberosa) Ulluco -- (Ullucus tuberosus) Yacon -- (Polymnia sonchifolia)

I've heard that yacon syrup is delicious and ahipa is a legume!

Posted over 10 years ago

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