It occurred to me the other day that as I'm growing some root crops (such as scorzonera and skirret) perennially, there isn't really any need to wait until the end of their annual growing season to dig some up. In harvest terms I'd been thinking of them as annual root crops but there should be good root development at any time of year on any of the older plants.
So fork in hand and a stew in mind I went to investigate.
I headed for the herb garden where most of the scorzonera grows now. It's been relegated there as we only eat a small amount of the roots (because they are quite inulin rich and we find them a bit indigestible - although not as tricky as Jerusalem artichokes! If you have no problems eating it, it is very worthwhile as it is a super easy vegetable to grow.) But we do find that the leaves are a useful vegetable - and the succulent young flower buds are also said to be delicious - and it is a great beneficial insect attractor too.
I found a plant that had finished flowering and had some new leaves growing at its base. It was growing in some hard clay soil in the corner of the herb garden and yielded a somewhat knotted clump of roots (the roots are long and straight in ideal growing conditions). But it snapped apart into short lengths of fat and tender roots. I replanted the remaining base of the plant and watered it in.
The skirret harvest was less satisfying. The roots were on the thin side and quite twisty. But I managed to dig a bunch of roots that, despite not being as pleasingly fat as last year's, were food nonetheless!
Skirret prefers a light, moist soil. Despite trying to improve our clay with sand, gravel, compost and mulch, I think the skirret has still suffered during the dry summer - even in the 'bog' garden where I'd put a few plants. There may be some better roots to dig next month. But more work on the soil is needed before we're rewarded with a skirret patch that yields well every year. It will be worthwhile because skirret is a wonderfully sweet and nourishing root vegetable.
A look around the plot yielded plenty of other greens and herbs for the stew; sea beet, horseradish leaves, sorrel, Good King Henry, thyme, French tarragon and winter savoury (all perennial edibles that have virtually looked after themselves since being planted).
Bay, parsley and mitsuba (Japanese parsley) from the garden and some rosemary and sage that I had drying in the house plus some fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, a small courgette, lentils, soy sauce, salt and pepper combined with the allotment produce to give the ingredients for a very well-flavoured stew.
It is close to the time when I would have been harvesting anyway but I'm encouraged that harvesting perennial roots year round is probably what a perennial vegetable gardener should be doing. Although the skirret roots were less sweet than when they are dug in colder weather they were still tasty. And actually the plants I had dug up were replanted crowns, from which the best roots were harvested last year, (or one year plants), rather than older plants which had been left to grow in peace. Better results can be expected once I manage to establish skirret and scorzonera 'colonies' of many plants and harvest just the largest clumps on a sort of root vegetable coppice system.
N.B. I sell a range of perennial vegetable plants on my website.