Using diverse crops to ensure a yield (2)

If my garden is not resilient it is nothing; and as the summer moves on this is becoming ever more apparent.  The garden may be small, but for the area it occupies it is productive and I hope to improve that productivity in the future.  However any future productivity is at risk if the plants I grow and the way I grow them are not resilient.

Since my post on 3 July about diversity of crops sadly most of the 150 odd bean seedlings that I planted out in early June have succumbed to the wet conditions.  The few that have made it thus far are Cherokee Trail of Tears beans (from Real Seed Company) and are pictured below.  I am hoping that they will yet have time to ripen some pods from the recently formed buds.

The other plants in this picture include cardoon, oca, marjoram (foreground) and wild strawberries, mint, evening primrose (background).

As the summer progresses the contrast between annual veggies and perennials is becoming more marked.  The field beans which were growing really well have all contracted the rust virus and died.  Tomatoes (under cover) are doing okay but not as well as last year and the carrots have hardly showed above ground.

However kales continue to produce leaves and shoots – they do not usually do much in the summer, but seem to be demonstrating an enjoyment of the cool, wet conditions.  Most of the perennial root crops are growing well above ground and I trust below ground too, but it’s a bit early to check that out.  Welsh onions are smaller than in previous years, but the tree onions have multiplied well.  Wild rocket has been a mainstay of the salad bowl for months.  This picture features variegated Daubenton’s kale, oca, marjoram, wild rocket, dead nettle, toad flax and others.

In addition to managing to cope with the weather perennials grown in polycultures are really easy to manage.  I let what will grow around them grow, until it starts to get in the way and then just cut it back and leave it to fall to the ground.  I have been doing this for years now with no problems.  It takes very little time and gives temporary residence to a variety of wild flowers – speedwell, dead nettle, toad flax to name a few.  Compost has been applied in between some perennials as a surface mulch as it has become available from the heap and is also helping to keep down the work by suppressing unwanted growth and fertilising the soil from above.

I definitely spend much more time enjoying the garden than working in it.  I am keeping a record of exactly how much time and will use this information in a future post later in the year when the days have drawn in again.  I am also recording everything that is harvested and will analyse this as well during the winter.  I know that complacency is dangerous and will continue to experiment, observe and reflect on everything (that grows and does not) with the aim of making the garden ever more resilient.

Unpredictable, tempestuous, ill mannered weather has long been the lot of the British.  I have been reading about rural life and farming through various decades of the 20th century and one ever repeating theme is the variability and unkindness of the weather as in this war time diary:

“This regrettable weather, which has been holding up our invasion, has also held up haymaking.  We had a drought for so long, indeed there has been no rain to speak of all winter and all spring has been so dry, that there is scarcely any hay to cut and when the rains came it was so necessary for our root crops that it was difficult to know whether to be pleased about it for the crops or sorry about it for the hay…… we cut the hayfield and that very night the weather changed again and for 3 weeks we had rain day after day”  The Milk Lady at New Park Farm, The Wartime Diary of Anne McEntegart (p102).

So, on one hand it is not surprising that we continue to experience wild fluctuations and seasonal abnormalities – warm springs, dry winters, wet summers, floods, arctic winters and so on – but on the other hand climate change makes it certain that such wild fluctuations will not only continue but are likely to increase.  Any food growing on whatever scale must be largely able to withstand whatever weather comes along.

And so to finish with this is a photo that I hope conveys something of the vitality and exuberance of the perennials – with yacon, oca and marjoram (with masses of flowers) in the foreground; kales running to seed (which I will save), clover and Chinese artichoke in the middle ground; mashua and a ginormous kale plant under an apple tree at the back, with raspberries at the very back.  It is my little piece of Eden.

About Anni Kelsey

Author of Edible Perennial Gardening and avid researcher into edible perennials and associated useful plants.
This entry was posted in Forest Gardening, perennial greens, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures, roots and tubers, Suppliers, Telford Garden and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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