Yet again the weather over the past twelve months has been really challenging. 2011 was uncharacteristically dry and 2012 was unbelievably wet. It is therefore really gratifying that in the main my perennial veggies have grown well and yielded more than before. Of course some things have worked much better than others and as ever there are things to be learned and new ideas to try out. So here are the “headlines” of how things grew and yielded in 2012. If anyone is particularly interested to know more detail just drop a comment at the bottom of this post or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
My polycultures are located in two main patches and a few scattered “patchlets” in the garden and I estimate that together they have an area of no more than 300 square feet. The total yield that I weighed coming into the kitchen was 40.39 kg.
Although I made a firm resolution just over a year ago in December 2011 to harvest as much as I can from the garden, as tends to be the way with resolutions I have not managed to keep to that as much as I intended. Of course I blame the weather, not being able / wanting to go out in the cold / dark / wet after work; I can blame being too busy or being at times too indifferent – but it adds up to two things – I could have harvested quite a lot more greens and onions and I must make more effort in the months to come.
I have divided the plants into the following categories:
- Oniony plants for salad / cooking including wild garlic, three cornered leek, tree onion, Welsh onion, spring onions, nodding onions and many others
- Greens to cook, mainly kales of different types but also wild beet
- Greens for salads, primarily wild rocket, lamb’s lettuce, land cress
- Fruits, from raspberry canes, blackcurrant bushes, wild strawberry plants
- Roots, including oca, yacon, Jerusalem artichoke
- Beans (not perennial)
|Type||Weight||Percentage of Total|
|Salad Greens||946 g||2%|
|Cooking Greens||9658 g||24%|
|Oniony plants||1549 g||4%|
|Beans (not perennials)||840 g||2%|
|Total 2012||40390 g / 40.39 kg|
|Total 2011||24900 g / 24.9 kg|
Happily despite not harvesting as much as I could have done this still represents an increase of 62% from 2011 to 2012 and I am well pleased with this result. Also part of the potential yield was left to grow and multiply for future years.
The most successful plants in each of the categories above were:
- Land cress, self seeds and is available from early autumn to late spring.
- Lamb’s lettuce, self seeds and is available from early autumn to late spring.
- Wild rocket, available all year round.
- Wild kale
- Daubenton’s kale
- Asturian kale
- Purple sprouting broccoli (grown to see if it will grow perennially)
- Nine star perennial broccoli
- 1000 headed kale (grown to see if it will grow perennially)
All greens thrived in the cool, damp conditions. Surprisingly there were not many difficulties either with slugs or with cabbage white butterfly caterpillars.
- Chives, long season from spring to autumn
- Spring onions, plants originally grown in 2011 or before and re-growing each year are available throughout much of the year.
- Wild garlic, plentiful and easy to grow. It is available in March, April and May. I have left most of my plants untouched in order to bulk up and seed around.
- Three cornered leek grows from late December / early January until late May. Again I have left most to multiply.
- Shallots – I am using these as plant / replant perennials by lifting when mature in the summer and will replant in the spring. Previously when I left them in situ through the winter they tended to rot.
- Perpetual leek, comes up in late autumn / early winter– I am leaving this to bulk up.
- Tree onion, grew well and has been left to multiply
- Yacon, increased yield on last year
- Jerusalem artichoke, increased yield on last year
- Scorzonera – known as an annual root but I have been harvesting and replanting the top part for several years very successfully.
- Raspberries, many mouldered in the damp conditions but a good harvest nonetheless
- Wild strawberries, tiny fruits but they produce from June to November.
Those plants which have not done well in the damp are garlic, elephant garlic, Welsh onion, skirret, all the beans and other annuals such as peas. Sadly my experiment in growing beans everywhere (see 3 July 2012, using diverse crops to ensure a yield) was a washout with the beans virtually all disappearing. Although there was not much slug damage over all in the garden it seems that on wet nights at the edges of the garden, they munched through all the bean plants even though they were all strong and well established when planted out.
In the autumn of 2011 I planted lots of field beans from seed saved that summer and the plants mainly grew well through the autumn, weathered the winter and came in to spring looking really healthy and strong. They flowered prolifically and looked lovely for weeks but once the pods began to ripen the rains came and every plant got rust and died. Nevertheless I managed to save quite a lot of beans for re-planting. At present I am hanging on to these and will sow them in spring (not long now!).
I increased the area dedicated to growing perennials in 2012 but have not yet gained any increase in yield from this. I began by sowing phacelia (a green manure) which provided marvellous colour and insect habitat and improved the soil texture wonderfully. In early summer I put in beans (field beans, French beans and runner beans, but they all succumbed to the wet conditions (as above) and died. The beds were largely composed of upturned turves and two yacon plants did very well in the deep soil created this way.
In the autumn I planted some onion sets which are part of an ongoing experiment to see if “normal” onions can be perennialised. This experiment started with some red onions raised from seed in 2011 and kept in situ through the following winter and last summer. During the summer they each split into two separate bulbs. Interestingly they did not even attempt to flower which they would perhaps have been expected to do. I have re-planted these individually in the hope that they will once again come through the winter and hopefully double again next summer. By using onion sets I am hoping to do the same again in a shorter time, but of course I don’t yet know if these will also split in two.
The detail is for another post, but I have been logging exactly how much time I spend in the garden on different tasks. I did a mini analysis of this part way through the year and was really surprised at how little effort and time had been needed.
The polycultures of perennial veggies seem to be bearing out the theory that having a mixture of plants to fulfil a variety of functions benefits the general environment in terms of increased biodiversity and health. In addition they also continue to produce an increasing yield over time despite difficult weather conditions which continue to vary wildly from one year to the next.
And finally some of my favourite pictures of the garden from 2012:
This shows how the greens and oniony plants really get going early in the year. This is March and in the picture you can see purple sprouting broccoli, nine star perennial broccoli, wild beet, sorrel, lamb’s lettuce, perpetual spinach, Babbington’s leek, perpetual leek.
I love this photo – it is reminiscent of those lovely warm, special, dreamy days of late spring when everything is burgeoning, soft pastel blooms are everywhere, the sun is out and there is time to sit and enjoy the garden. This is the same patch as the photo above taken from a different angle and now two months later on filled with flowers (field beans, forget me nots, columbine, dandelion heads) as well as green veg.
And as the growing season comes to a climax here is the other main polyculture patch with two small yacons, oca, Jerusalem artichoke and mashua (at the back scrambling over the other plants). Also featuring wild rocket at the front (tiny yellow flowers), chives at the front in flower, fruit bushes back right corner and an artemesia at the front left. I am really looking forward to how things evolve in 2013!