Tag Archives: mashua

Summer in the garden

After my post a few weeks ago about a lack of bees, there are more about in both gardens than there were.  The Borderland garden is now absolutely buzzing with both bees and other insects.  The Telford garden has less, but more than a few weeks ago.  They are particularly attracted to a narrow border that was created last year on the edge of the lawn.  Amongst other things it was sown with saved carrot and fennel seed (from the other garden).  Both the fennel and carrots are now flowering and have made what I am referring to either as my fennel and carrot hedge or fennel and carrot forest.  Most of the fennels are above my head height and many of the carrots are up to my shoulder height.

photo (58) carrot and fennel hedge

We ate some of the carrots over the winter, but they were the product of carrots saved over successive years and had either reverted to something a bit wilder or crossed with a wild carrot and many were not very good.  So I left the remainder in place to flower this year for the insects.  They have produced multiples of large globe shaped heads each one containing however many hundreds (or thousands?) of very, very tiny individual flowers.  I think they are very lovely viewed individually or en masse.

DSCN6509 carrots in flower

DSCN6514 fennel and carrot

The new polyculture patch is coming on well.  It is full of perennials retrieved from the other garden (oca, mashua, scorzonera, skirret, ground nut, Jerusalem artichoke, yacon, Welsh onions) plus wild rocket, kales daikon radish, peas and beans, shallots, herbs, potatoes, squash, courgette and some flowers.

 

DSCN6528 polyculture patch 1

DSCN6519 polypatch 1

DSCN6520 polypatch 1

and finally – some biodiversity found under a burdock leaf (our cat Fleur)

DSCN6531 fleur under burdockPS I will be at Shrewsbury Flower Show on 8 and 9 August in the “Our Futures” Marquee with a feature on edible perennial gardening.

Evaluating 2013 in the Telford garden

Our house in Telford went up for sale in the late spring of 2013.  As yet it has not sold but the year began with the clear possibility in mind that we may not see the growing season out in the garden, so I decided to move as many perennial vegetables as possible from there to the Borderland garden.

As a result most of my time and effort were concentrated on developing the new garden and the Telford garden pretty much had to fend for itself.  The time spent in the garden decreased accordingly – from 76.75 hours in 2012 to 17 hours in 2013.

Time Spent in Telford Garden 2013 (hours)
Activity Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total %
Sowing seed / taking cuttings 1.25 6.5 0 0.25 8 48
Planting out 0 0 0 0 0 0
Management / maintenance 0.5 2.25 0 3.25 6 36
Preparation of new areas 0 0 0 0 0 0
Other tasks 0 2.75 0 0 2.75 16
Totals 1.75 11.5 0 4 17 100
Total time spent 2012 76.75  

I continued to sow seeds for new plants and to take cuttings – some, or possibly most of which were then planted in the other garden.  I did a certain amount of maintenance at the end of spring / early summer and in the autumn, mainly to tidy up and that was about it.

Produce from Telford Garden 2013 (g) 
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total %
Onions 16 55 0 87 158 1
Cooking greens 277 628 0 116 1021 8
Salad leaves 172 131 10 89 402 3
Roots 0 0 0 1368 1368 10
Beans / peas 0 0 320 0 320 2
Fruit 0 0 6638 3777 10415 76
Totals 465 814 6968 5437 13,684 100

For comparison total produce in 2012 was 40,390 g / 40.39 kg, and in 2011 it was 24,900 g / 24.9 kg.

  • Produce from the garden was clearly much reduced – approximately one third of the 2012 total – and consisted in the main of fruit.
  • Early in the year there were harvests of cooking greens and salad leaves.
  • I did replant some Jerusalem artichokes, oca and mashua but most of the roots and tubers were re-planted in the other garden.  I left the harvesting of most of these roots until after the New Year so the yields do not appear in the 2013 figures.
  • I experimented with a new variety of runner bean but they did not do well unfortunately.
  • I removed many of the perennial onion varieties to the other garden and therefore had quite small harvests from them.

Even though I had less time to spend in the garden and correspondingly lower harvests the output in terms of kg produced for hours of work increased from 0.526 kg per hour’s work in 2012 to 0.804 kg per hour’s work!  That is very reassuring to me given my objective of obtaining as much yield as I can for as little input of time.

Of course one of the most important things about a garden is what it looks like.  Even though that is not one of my main aims, I do want it to be aesthetically appealing and it does seem that leaving having a hands off approach and letting nature largely get on with it works for this as well.

DSCN5174 flowery edge July 2013

 

DSCN5175 more flowers july 2013

 

DSCN5183 back garden july 2013

Delights in the Mid Winter Garden

I would contend that a garden of edible perennials must be one of the few to yield delights in the cold and often bleak mid winter months. 

I have left a number of root vegetables in the ground over the winter.  Some have been left to continue making tubers and the others I am storing them outside in situ as an alternative to having store them indoors.  Last week I went outside to harvest some.  

Before I went outdoors I poked my head into the (unheated) conservatory to see if anything was stirring yet in the pots of yacon tubers.  These young growing tips for next year’s plants were removed from plants harvested earlier in January.  They were planted into pots of just damp compost and left in a cool, but not cold airy place (ie the conservatory).  Yacon tubers (and the young plants as well) grow very slowly and can take a long time to produce shoots; so I had not expected that four of the dozen or more pots would be showing young leaves breaking the surface.  That’s one delight!  Here are the others found in the garden:

  • Perennial onions of different varieties – perennial leeks, three cornered leeks, Welsh onions.  Some of these appeared before Christmas and are by now growing very strongly.
  • Self seeded lamb’s lettuce that I have been picking since just after Christmas.
  • Fresh young shoots to pick on the kales.
  • Daubenton’s kale cuttings taken in late autumn sprouting new leaves.
  • and what I went outside for in the first place – harvests of Jerusalem artichoke, mashua, oca and skirret – some to use in the kitchen and some to save to replant for the coming year’s crop.

Of course one of the most delightful times of the year for any gardener is when the snowdrops make their appearance, heralding the beginning of the end of winter.  This weekend my partner and I walked to an isolated church on a Welsh hillside looking towards the Shropshire hills.  There in the hedge, glinting in the pale morning sun, between showers of rain were these beauties:

snowdrops at trelystan church

Comparing microclimates

I have two gardens in very different locations and they are not behaving as I had expected in respect of responses to the oncoming winter.  The first is a suburban garden and is about 500 feet above sea level.  The second garden is situated towards the top of a hill in the Welsh borders with an open aspect (and consequently lovely views) at about 1000 feet above sea level.

With the encroaching cold weather and a few frosts I expected that frost tender plants in the hilltop garden would be the first to die back.  However that has not happened.  The oca, mashua and Jerusalem artichokes in the Telford garden succumbed to frost first – the top growth of the oca in particular melted away weeks ago.  However on the hillside today I find that the oca is still relatively untouched by frost, the mashua is still quite green and looks to still be growing.  The Jerusalem artichokes and yacon here have died back, but later than their suburban cousins.

Although the borderland garden is much higher and theoretically more exposed, the actual microclimate of the perennial vegetable patch is presumably much more favourable at this time of year.  It is tucked in quite close to the house and is not all that far from next door.  At the back it is bordered by the mixed hedge running along the road and to the front it faces south.

This is the first year of planting for the borderland garden and I certainly did not expect this difference.  However it has got me thinking and open to the possibilities of trying to create specific niches for microclimates next year.

I have been out this afternoon to harvest the first of the roots, with fingers crossed that there would be something to harvest below ground.  The patch they have been growing in has been an experiment from the outset, being constructed from branches, twigs, upturned turfs and, humus-y material from the nearby hedge.  It was then topped through the summer with grass cuttings and hedge trimmings galore.  For more about that click here.  From a slow start the plants in it grew huge by the end of the summer.

And this is what it looked like by the end of October (the black plastic is next door):

DSCN5513 main patch 060913

I have not weighed them yet, but here are the yacon tubers gathered from the first plant today (there are a number of other tubers out of sight below the top one).

DSCN5934  yacon harvest 061213

Autumn Tidy Up

This weekend I have had an opportunity to get out into the Telford garden enjoying the golden autumn sunshine and doing some tidying up. 

I have not had much time to spend in this garden over the summer and until yesterday had not actually done any work in it since May!  My partner has been cutting the lawn and tidying up some shrub borders, but as far as the polyculture patches go, they have looked after themselves all summer.  Of course by October they do start to look untidy and in need of some attention.  In line with my avowed intention to keep work to a minimum I have so far spent three and a quarter hours tidying up.  This has involved

  • Cutting back raspberry canes.
  • Pruning blackcurrant and jostaberry bushes (using the prunings as cuttings).
  • Cutting back dead or dying flower spikes on toad flax, foxglove, mint, St John’s wort, wild marjoram and others.
  • There has not been much “weeding” to do as the ground cover plants in place are generally okay to remain; for the most part these are a mix of seedling forget me nots, buckler leaf sorrel, herb Robert, creeping Jenny, violets.
  • There are patches of nettles which I cut back and not all the grass was totally eradicated when I made the beds from upturned turves so that needed to be pulled out of quite a lot of nooks and crannies.
  • In places a covering of speedwell had grown expansively across the ground and needed to be pulled back.  Interestingly it had spread quite a long way from its roots and although there was a lot of plant material it came up in a few armfuls with no effort at all.
  • The dead flower spikes were placed along the pathways I walk on across the patches.  This keeps them clear of plants and eventually breaks down to join the soil.  I use twiggy / shrubby material for this usually.
  • The wild strawberries have grown much larger than they used to be and started to crowd other plants.  I have been able to remove quite a few to take to the other garden along with Welsh onions and chives.
  • I stuck sticks in the ground beside the bases of the oca and mashua plants as once the frost comes they quickly disappear and I may lose the place to dig for the tubers!
  • I have been able to add seeds of fennel, quinoa, marjoram, calendula, phacelia, sweet cicely to my growing collection for next year.

Calendula flowers and seeds still going strong

In May 2011 I wrote about the way the soil has become almost “fluffy”, very soft and fine textured and how I was able to pull long deep rooted docks and dandelion plants out intact.  Yesterday I was tugging at an angelica plant that has been enormous this year; it had set seed and the main stem had died and I was attempting to break it off.  I was only pulling gently and the whole thing came up in my hand with a very long root indeed.  I did not actually measure it but it must have been well over a foot long.

All in all it was a few hours spent very enjoyably!  I continue to be very pleased with the way the garden gets along with next to no input from me.  As the weather has been very mild so far the root vegetables are continuing to grow, the Jerusalem artichokes are even taller this year than ever before and crowned with sunny yellow flowers.  I will not be harvesting the roots for a while and am keeping my fingers crossed that there is bounty below ground that matches the exuberant growth above it.

DSCN5811

Ad hoc polycultures

If you have read this blog before you will know that this year I have started a new garden this year, up in the hills on the border between Wales and England.  The general plan is along the lines of a mini forest garden with fruit trees and bushes inter-planted with perennial vegetables, herbs and flowers.  All sorts of climbers both edible and ornamental ranging through the hedge and assorted beds developing over time for more perennial vegetables and some experimenting with beans and grains with plenty more flowers sprinkled in as well.

This year the main priority has been to make room to accommodate as many perennial vegetables as possible from the other garden as the Shropshire house was due to go up for sale.  There have been constraints on time as I have had only short slots of time to work in – a few hours a week here and there.  Additionally because of the setting of the garden in relation to the property and neighbouring properties there has been a consciousness that at any one time it would have to look reasonably tidy.  This has meant that I could only bring very small patches into use at any one time, plant them up and move on to another small patch.  This is not the way to do something if you have a plan to stick to!

Arising from these constraints are three distinct and different rather ad hoc polycultures:

  • The ‘main patch’ housing a number of roots / tubers plus some other vegetables, herbs and flowers.
  • The ‘hedgetable patch’ which is home to a miscellany of perennial vegetables and some annual beans and other things.
  • The ‘flowery border’ which looks like it is mainly flowers, but is in fact another quite mixed up polyculture.

I can’t pretend that any of these patches are in any way orthodox but now I have the time to sit down and think about it, I can itemise what is where and see how many of the elements that I would want to include in a polyculture have actually arrived in each of these.  Off the top of my head here is a list of the plants in these patches, a note of their function in a polyculture and my reason for planting them.

The Main Patch

Name Purpose Notes
Oca Edible tuber From the other garden
Yacon Edible tuber From the other garden
Jerusalem artichoke Edible tuber From the other garden
Mashua Edible tuber From the other gardenPlus a named variety (Ken Aslett) purchased in garden centre
Skirret Edible root, flowers on year two plant attract insects 1 x old one from the other garden, one new from seed
Edible dahlia Edible tuber, may flower, but too small From seed this year as a new experiment
Parsnip Edible root, flowers on year two plant attract insects Brought in its second year from the other garden to provide seed
Horseradish Edible root From garden centre
Potato Edible tuber From a tuber saved from the other garden
Burdock Edible root From seed this year
Salsify Edible root From seed this year
Carrot Edible root, flowers on year two plant attract insects Brought in its second year from the other garden to provide seed
Radishes Edible root To fill a small gap
Field beans Edible beans, nitrogen fixer From seed saved
Peas Edible pods and peas, nitrogen fixer Some from saved seed, some from supermarket pack of marrow fat peas
French beanTrail of Tears Edible pods and beans, nitrogen fixer From seed saved
Wild rocket Salad leaf, flowers attract insects From seed this year
Land cress Salad leaf, flowers attract insects Seed arrived with other plants
Asparagus Edible shoots From seed this year
Wild kale Edible greens From cuttings made in other garden
Daubenton’s kale Edible greens From cuttings made in other garden
Other kales Edible greens From seed this year, experiments
Lemon balm Herb, flowers attract insects Purchased to add this function to the patch
Wild marjoram Herb, flowers attract insects Brought from the other garden for this function
Thyme Herb, flowers attract insects Brought from the other garden for this function
Fennel Herb, flowers attract insects From saved seed, for this function
Flax Flower, attracts insects From saved seed, for this function
Gladioli and other flowering bulbs Flower Saved from bargain bin in shops
Buckwheat Green manure, flowers attract insects Using up spare seed

The ‘Hedgetable’ Patch

Name Purpose Notes
Burdock Edible root From seed this year
Skirret Edible root From the other garden
Lathyrus tuberosus Edible root From the other garden
Shallots Edible onion From the other garden
Babington leeks Edible onion From the other garden
Clumping spring onions Edible onion From the other garden
Wild garlic Edible onion From the other garden
Three cornered leek Edible onion From the other garden
Allium paradoxum Edible onion From the other garden
Wild rocket Salad leaf, flowers attract insects From seed this year
Land cress Salad leaf, flowers attract insects Seed arrived with other plants
Asparagus Edible shoots From seed this year
Wild kale Edible greens From cuttings made in other garden
Daubenton’s kale Edible greens From cuttings made in other garden
Other kales Edible greens From seed this year, experiments
Runner bean Edible pods and beans, nitrogen fixer From seed this year
Field beans Edible beans, nitrogen fixer From saved seed
Peas Edible pods and peas, nitrogen fixer From pack of marrow fat peas
Flax Flower, attracts insects From saved seed
Honesty Flower, attracts insects From saved seed
Vetch Flower, attracts insects From saved seed
Sweet cicely Flower, culinary herb, attracts insects From saved seed
Honeysuckle Climbing flower Purchased
Clematis Climbing flower Purchased
London pride Flower, spreading plant to stabilise the edge Transferred from elsewhere in garden
Bugle Flower, spreading plant to stabilise the edge Transferred from elsewhere in garden
Primrose Flower From the other garden
Wild violet Flower From the other garden
Wood sorrel Flower From the other garden
Creeping jenny Flower From the other garden
Foxglove Flower From the other garden
Herb Robert Flower Native to garden
Raspberry Edible fruit Some from the other garden, some purchased
Blackcurrant Edible fruit From cuttings
Blackberry Edible fruit Purchased
Honeysuckle Climbing flower Purchased

The ‘Flowery Border’

Name Purpose Notes
Jerusalem artichoke Edible tuber From the other garden
Skirret Edible root From seed this year
Carrot Edible root From seed saved last year
Lathyrus tuberosus Edible root, nitrogen fixer, flowers attract insects From the other garden
Runner bean Edible beans, nitrogen fixer From seed this year, left to sprawl along ground level
Chilli pepper Edible pod Donated by neighbour
Wild rocket Salad leaf, flowers attract insects From seed this year
Asparagus Edible shoots From seed this year
Fennel Herb, flowers attract insects From saved seed from other garden, for this function
Garlic Edible bulbs From supermarket
Flax Flower, attracts insects From saved seed
Camellia Flowering shrub Purchased because I love them
Love in a mist, Californian poppy, Welsh poppy, alyssum, cornflower, love in a mist, calendula, pansy Flowers, attract insects From seed this year
Sunflower Flower, attracts insects From purchased seed and inadvertently from birdseed
Blackcurrant Edible fruit From cuttings
Gooseberry Edible fruit From cuttings
Chokeberry Edible fruit Purchased
Gladioli and other flowering bulbs Flower Saved from bargain bin in shops
Buckwheat Green manure, flowers attract insects Using up spare seed
Coriander Culinary herb, flowers attract insects From seed this year

That’s quite a range of perennial vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs and other plants!  The various plants also fulfil a range of functions; in particular there is lots and lots of provision for insects, the garden has been humming and buzzing all the summer!  Mineral accumulating plants are missing and I will probably allow nettles and dandelions (I have just been told as long as they don’t show) in for that function in future.  There may be need for more nitrogen fixers and the placing of different elements could arguably be better done in the hedgetable patch and the flowery border.  However, given that it all just evolved as the summer progressed I am pleased.

The ‘main patch’ has been intensively mulched, mainly with lawn cuttings and hedge and tree prunings because that is what the garden generated.  I have a philosophy of not importing fertility to the garden and also not exporting potential fertility (to the council green bin or tip) and just re-use it as directly as possible.  For aesthetic reasons I don’t have a cmpost bin or heap in this garden and so the easiest thing to do with lawn cuttings was to put them on the vegetable patch. 

I don’t know if this mulch is the reason for the extraordinary amount of growth the plants in this patch have put on but here are some pictures to illustrate the change in a few short months.  Of course I have yet to harvest the main crops from below ground, and that will be the proof (or otherwise) of what I have been doing.

This is the main patch on 10 June  – oca, yacon, Jerusalem artichoke and mashua are small plants at the back.  Lots of grass cutting mulch all over, using sticks from hedge to form an edge.

DSCN5031 main patch 100613

With more mulch on 28 July – plants at back growing well, potato, beans, burdock, gladioli coming on at the front.  More mulch and more twigs and branches being incorporated.  Black plastic is next door.  

DSCN5302 main patch work in progress 280713

This week – on 6 September.  Yacon at left back growing very strongly, beans (front right) extraordinarily vigorous.  Everything very, very green and lush!

DSCN5513 main patch 060913

more detail of the front, yacon, oca, potato, beans, (small extra) mashua, buckwheat and burdock….

DSCN5512 front of main patch060913

…. and back – more beans, mashua, Jerusalem artichoke

DSCN5522 back of mainpatch 060913

The progess of the hedgetable patch from June

DSCN5040 hedgetables 170613

to August…. quite full of smallish plants, but they are healthy and growing despite unimproved soil.

DSCN5466 hedgetables 270813

and finally the flowery edge this week

DSCN5538 polyedge 080913

The garden is bursting with life!

Just a quick post to say that after the ravages of the bad winter, freezing spring and the garden being battered by the erection of new fencing – it now looks wonderful and absolutely bursting with growth.

DSCN5081 side garden 170613

Hidden in the masses of growth are lots of Jerusalem artichoke, scorzonera, field beans, runner beans, potatoes, wild kale, skirret, mashua, chives, garlic, shallots, tomatoes an assortment of herbs (mint, marjoram, angelica, sage, thyme, lemon balm), flowers (calendula, lavender, aquilegia, sweet peas, toadflax, phacelia, foxgloves) and fruits including raspberries, blackcurrants, apples and wild strawberries.  There are a few more annual veggies and a few less perennials than in previous years as we are putting the house and garden up for sale imminently and I am busy making sure I can transfer as many as possible to my new garden as it becomes able to accommodate them.

This is the time of year when I always notice the most rampant growth and it does take a bit more time to keep on top of things, but even so the work is absolutely minimal compared to the more conventional methods I once used.  I usually keep this angelica small by pulling out the leaves as they come but this year as the garden was having a hard time in early spring and I wanted as much growth in it as possible I left it alone.  It grew so fast I could hardly believe it and now it is towering over me!


DSCN4971 angelica in P1 6 June 13