Perennial Vegetable Podcast at The Guardian

Well, I never expected that my fascination with perennial vegetables would lead me to the London HQ of The Guardian (for overseas readers this is one of the UK’s leading newspapers).

However, out of the blue came an invitation to join their Gardening Editor, Jane Perrone and Martin Crawford from the Agroforestry Research Trust in Devon for a discussion about perennial vegetables to be recorded for a podcast.  Jane is a very keen gardener and well informed so it was a great pleasure to be take part in the conversation.

The letters behind my head in this picture are part of the Guardian but backwards so I can remember I was really there!

20160120_132958 [844195]

The link here  will take you to the podcast which lasts about half an hour – I hope you enjoy it.




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Will it grow?

That was the question from the puzzled looking greengrocer in the market the other morning.  I was buying a celeriac and as he apologetically told me that it still had leaves on, I replied that it didn’t matter, but was in fact a good thing, as I would be planting it in the garden rather than eating it.  That seemed to flummox him even more.

I went on to explain that I like to replant root vegetables and allow them to flower in their second year.  Most of our traditional roots such as carrots, parsnips, beetroot etc are biennial – that is they flower in their second year; whereas tubers such as potatoes flower in the first year.  For years I have taken the top inch or so from scorzonera plants, eaten the bottom part and replanted the top with a few leaves.  The leaves regrow, the plant flowers giving me seed and on Scorzonera at least, the root regrows as well.  Similarly I replant the tops of carrots to get flowers, which I may use for seeds or just let the insects feast on the flower heads are so amazingly attractive to them.  I do the same with parsnips and last autumn replanted root parsley and root chicory tops as well.

I can count at least twenty flying things – mostly flies I think – on this flower head, which was only one of many.

I  wanted to try planting a whole celeriac root from the market; and had been planning to buy three, but as they were £1.80 each I decided on just the one which I replanted whole.  If I had bought more I would have eaten part of them (most of one and a smaller part of the other) and then replanted the remainder to compare to the whole one.

I have put the celeriac in a bed close to the path so I will be able to watch it closely.  It was a super day (at least until the rain set in later on), sunny and bright, such a change from the dull, wet and windy weather we have had pretty much unendingly since October.  Unusually for this winter there had been a bit of a frost and a light smattering of snow overnight, the ground although cold was soft enough to dig out a space.

I am confident that it will both grow and flower and then give me a fine crop of seeds which is my main objective.  Years ago I tried to grow celeriac in my previous garden.  It did not like the damp, shady conditions at all.  Very few germinated and those that did were soon eaten by slugs.  My present garden is much more open and (fortunately) much less slug ridden.  As vegetables in this family are well known for being fussy germinators I will have far more seed available from a plant that has flowered than from a seed packet.  That means I can expect to get a reasonable number of plants even if the germination is not very good.

These days I tend to let plants I want to propagate from seed scatter their own seeds where they will, although sometimes I also collect them and put them where I want them.  Allowing plants that are happily established in the garden to do this seems to result in a decent number of seedlings.

Of course I don’t know if this particular celeriac plant is an F1 hybrid rather than an open pollinated one.  If it is an F1, then the seedlings I get may not be any use, if it is open pollinated then they will be like their parent.  But that is a chance I am taking. Once I have the seeds I may well dig up the celeriac plant, eat the bottom and replant the top, but equally I may leave it until some seedlings are established.  I may even leave it for as many years as it will last for, depending on how it fares with flowers and seed production and whatever weather comes.  Many plants can last much longer than we might expect – categorising plants as annual / biennial / perennial implies that these categories are mutually exclusive.  However although an annual is definitely only annual and not biennial or perennial, biennials may well live more than two years – which is the definition of a perennial.  Some of my replanted carrots have gone on into at least their third year after which it became impossible to distinguish an older plant from more recent ones.  Certainly Scorzonera has gone on for years and years.  So I am hoping for good things from the celeriac (with my fingers crossed as you can never be certain) and I will return to this topic later on this year.


Posted in Borderland Garden, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, roots and tubers, Seeds and seed saving | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Harvests from the garden in 2015

I have just spent some time totting up the time spent in the garden last year and the yields:

Harvests from the garden in 2015
  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total %
Onions 57 477 19 245 798 7
Cooking greens 106 544 913 922 2485 22
Salad leaves 311 154 25 50 540 5
Roots 1492 17 623 1954 4086 35
Pods / fruiting veg 0 209 2072 0 2281 20
Fruit 0 0 252 1000 1252 11
Seeds 0 0 0 51 51 <1
Other 60 0 10 70 1
Total g 1966 1461 3904 4232 11563  
Total kg 1.966 1.461 3.904 4.232 11.563  
Total kg 3.573 2.927 14.001 1.502 22.003
Total kg 0 0 1.695 4.015 5.813

As I anticipated root crops an greens constitute the majority of the harvest.  I was initially a bit disappointed that the yields decreased compared to the previous year, on closer inspection this is the result of:

  • Growing a decent crop of beans, peas and courgettes in 2014 (when they constituted the majority of the yield) and far fewer this year.
  • Due to the appalling wet weather I have not yet being able to harvest many of the roots grown during 2015.  Some skirret is harvested, one mashua, one oca and a few Jerusalem artichokes.  Still remaining in the ground are at least a dozen mashua, some oca (not sure how many), also Jerusalem and Chinese artichokes, burdock, carrots, root chicory.  Had I been able to harvest them I am sure the yield would have been considerably greater.  If I remember, when I do harvest them I will come back to this post and update it.  3.8 kg mashua harvested on 4 February 2016
  • Some crops were not harvested because I left them to bulk up more – perennial leeks, Babington’s leeks.
  • There are always masses of greens, both for salad and cooking but I don’t always pick what there is.  Partly because we are not there all the time and partly bad organisation.  Had I been more attentive yields would have been higher for these.
Comparison of yields in 2014 and 2015
  2015 2014 Change
Onions 798 595 +203
Cooking greens 2485 2603 -118
Salad leaves 540 494 +46
Roots 4086 4104 -18
Pods / fruiting veg 2281 13895 -11614
Fruit 1252 151 +1101
Seeds 51 0 +51
Other 70 161 -91
Total g 11563 22003 -10440
Total kg 11.563 22.003 -10.44


Time spent in the garden in 2015
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total %
Sowing seed / taking cuttings 2.5 8 0 0.5 11 11
Planting out 7 10 4.25 4.5 25.75 25
Management / maintenance 2.5 9.25 7.5 7 26.25 26
Preparation of new areas 19 18 0 2.5 39.5 39
Total 31 45.25 11.75 14.5 102.5 100
Total 2014 38.5 6 12.5 2.5 59.5 100
Total 2013 2.25 54.25 17.75 3.75 78 100

I spent 102 hours gardening in 2015 – equivalent to fourteen seven hour days.  This was twice as much time in the garden as in 2014.  I had prepared more ground in 2014 than in 2013 so the resultant growing area for 2015 was larger and needed more time.  I also had more time available and as I used that to prepare some additional beds for next year – nearly 40% of the total.

Management and maintenance – ie “weeding”, removing or cutting back plants that have finished their growth and moving things round – took 26 hours, compared to 9 the previous year, again reflecting the increased growing area.  However 26 hours equates to under four days of work doing what most conventional gardeners spend a lot of time doing!

2015 2014 Change
Sowing seed / taking cuttings 11 5.25 +5.75
Planting out 25.75 19.5 +6.25
Management / maintenance 26.25 9 +17
Preparation of new areas 39.5 29.5 -10
Total 102.5 59.5 +43

As time goes on and there is less scope for extending the growing area and things become more established I would expect management and maintenance to take up a larger proportion of the time, but not a great deal more actual time.

In addition to the basic numbers I really want to emphasise the less tangible harvests, such as pure joy.  The garden has been incredibly beautiful, with an astounding amount of flowers.

This is burdock in flower growing amongst flat leafed parsley, also in flower.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Flies love carrot flowers

I have had such pleasure watching bees, flies, butterflies, moths and other unidentified things buzzing constantly through spring to autumn and such a wealth of flowers on plants left to go to seed, in particular flat leafed parsley, radish and carrots.  I have seen several frogs and toads underneath the polycultures furthest from the house.  It is really damp down there and they are constructed of lots of old twigs, branches and decomposing ‘stuff’, which seems to leave little nooks, crannies and passageways for these lovely amphibians to get through or just to sit about in.  There are plenty of beetles and spiders too.

and bees love hyssop!




Posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening | Tagged , | 5 Comments

WordPress’s statistical review of 2015

WordPress – the blogging software this blog uses prepares an annual report on the statistics for the year, clicking on the link below brings you to it.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Happy Christmas

Even though it has been unseasonably warm in the UK so far this winter, it is nevertheless a time of rest for the garden (and gardener), so it is lovely to look at pictures from earlier in the year and to look forward to next year’s labours, harvests and joys.  So here are a few pictures taken from May to September.

Along the hedgerow in May

Forget me nots, fennel, field beans, land cress and calendula in June sunshine

Fennel glowing in the July sunshine

Buckwheat in bloom in August (and a gypsophila I think)


Dahlia in flower in the thriving root vegetable polyculture in September

Happy Christmas to you all

Posted in Borderland Garden, Forest Gardening, Hedgerow, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Worm by Emma Lawrence

The Worm” a picture book for young children is written and illustrated by my friend Emma Lawrence click here to see the front cover illustration.  Emma is a wonderful illustrator – she did the drawings for my book including the one below (which in the end we didn’t use).



As you can see the detail is intricate and absorbing and I can spend hours just looking at one picture.

Emma is brimming with enthusiasm for involving children with nature and wildlife and this book, which is the first of her “Little Explorer” series brings her art and passion for nature together in a beautifully illustrated rhyming tale which can probably teach us adults a thing or two about worms as well!  “The Worm” is a rhyming story book to read to a young child or for a slightly older child to read themselves.

It was only published a matter of days ago and there is a 5 star review on Amazon already from a lady who is looking forward to more books in the series!  If you are looking for a really good book for a young child why not pop into your local independent book shop and order a copy or buy direct from Brambleby Books.

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the garden going it alone …..

It has been a while since I posted regular updates on this blog –  I have been poorly for some months, but am on the mend now.  It has also meant that I have not been able to spend much time in the garden.  What time and energy I did have went largely on growing plants in pots for Shrewsbury Flower Show – for me this was a very much harder proposition than growing them in the ground.

So over the summer the garden has pretty much looked after itself.  I have been able to harvest lots of goodies recently – skirret, root parsley, root chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, kales, leaf beet, chard.  The perennials were already in the garden and the annuals sown early before I was ill.

It has been gratifying to see how the garden has fared well with the very least of attention:

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Radish (on the left), which I left to flower has attracted insects all summer in droves and lots of questions from visitors – “what is that pretty lilac coloured plant?”.  The variegated Daubenton’s kale on the right is surrounded by land cress going to seed, wild marjoram, dandelion, oca, mashua, wild rocket going to seed.

Last year’s flat leaf parsley made an incredible display of flowers for weeks, if not months, attracting many, many bees, beetles, flies, wasps and butterflies.  It was truly gorgeous.



KODAK Digital Still Camera

There were only a few mashua tubers planted here but they have grown so large, you can just see some oca plants peeking through from below.  The Jerusalem artichokes at the back are taller than me.

There are lots of little patches where herbs, flowers, veggies all intermingle have seeded themselves.  This picture is a is tulbaghia (society garlic) in the centre (which I planted) surrounded with self set love in a mist, calendula, wild marjoram and fennel.  Autumn has been, and continues to be, absolutely beautiful and I am really relishing my luxuriant and lovely garden.

Posted in Borderland Garden, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments