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

About Anni Kelsey

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

6 Responses to Ad hoc polycultures

  1. tommerchant181406285 says:

    Hi Anni,
    I might steal “hedgetable patch”. First off, it is a really funny phrase and secondly hedges are really important in my polycultures and I grow veg too. I was going to start using “alley cropping” (an agroforestry technique) as a phrase but it felt a bit serious. My hedges are either 3 or 4 metres apart, generally nitrogen fixing shrubs (like sea buckthorn and alder) and I mulch the beds inbetween with the trimmings (or compost depending on the slug activity).

    Could we start a hedgetable patch movement with hedgetable patch a populist synonym for alley cropping?

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  2. Hi Anni I noticed you grow yakon. I’m trying it for the first year and I wonder if I can pick your brains please. After harvesting apparently you have growing tips at the base of the plant or next years plants. I was wondering how you keep these throughout the winter until its time for planting out again. I would imagine it isn’t he same way as tubers because these are little plantlets.
    Any advise will be very welcome.
    Thanks Anni
    Gaynor

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    • annisveggies says:

      Hi Gaynor, nice to hear from you!

      Yacon are great, but the downside is that the baby plantlets do need to be kept in a frost free place over the winter. You will find that there are probably a lot of growing tips peeping out from a fairly solid clump around the stem just below ground. I have not found it possible to break this up and have ended up cutting with a sharp kitchen knife to divide it into portions with a growing tip on each. I then pot them into large deep yogurt pots in nearly dry compost. I put the pots inside a large plastic box – the type you get from Wilkos or similar shops – a couple of feet long, by about a foot wide and deep, made from clear plastic so the light gets in. This goes in my conservatory which is cold but does not get frosty and is quite light. They would be equally okay in a spare bedroom. Some pots show small shoots early (soon after potting up), others remain dormant until spring and others in between. They only grow very slowly and I keep them pretty dry / minimally damp. They stay in the box until spring days are nice enough to go out during the sunny periods and eventually go out after the danger of frost is past.

      I store the tubers for eating in shredded paper in a cold but frost free garage and they seem to keep better than other vegetables lasting well last winter even though it was horribly cold and damp.

      Hopefully you will get a good crop from your plants, they are pretty reliable. I like the tubers sliced in stir fries as they remain nice and crunchy.

      All the best

      Anni

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