Mid Summer Polyculture

After all the patient waiting, bounty abounds.  There are insects plastered on the windows, squadrons of spiders, and colour everywhere.

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And some progress on the new perennials …

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Sweet Cicely

Imagine a delicate fern that will grow happily in damp shade, providing a patterned backdrop – that sweetens fruit with a delicate aniseed flavour – and that comes back again, year after year.  Sweet cicely, a perennial and wild plant, does all of these things.

sweet cicely July

Sweet Cicely July

Myrrhis odorata (from the Greek myrrhis ‘aromatic oil’, and Latin odorata ‘scented’) is also known as sweet chervil.  The nature writer Richard Mabey wrote in Food for Free that it was probably introduced to the UK by the Romans, and that the 16th Century herbalist John Gerard rated the seeds highly, “eaten as a sallad whilst they are yet greene, with oyle, vinegar and pepper“.  The practical herbalist tells us that the plant was popular in Victorian gardens – known as ‘Grandma’s Candy’ it used to be nibbled by children, and is also good for digestion.  It is related to fennel and a member of the celery family, apparently.

A couple of weeks ago, I harvested my first crop of seeds after checking with Anni that they were indeed ripe.  (Anni has some seeds available just now.)

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If you are growing sweet cicely from seed, you do need patience.  It needs a cold season to germinate (some sources suggest putting it in the fridge for a couple of months).  In my experience, it can take up to a couple of years to germinate.  I just leave the seeds in a pot outside and forget about them.  Eventually, after a year or two, it puts up a couple of unfeasibly long baby-leaves.  Once these appear, the first feathery true leaves soon put in an appearance.  Although it takes its time germinating, once it turns up it seems to be remarkable hardy, resisting the advances of slugs despite its tempting flavour.  In the winter it can disappear completely, before astonishing me by turning up out of bare soil in mid-late Spring.  Anni, in her book Edible Perennial Gardening, has warned that it can overtake things somewhat if grown in the vegetable beds.  She grows it with kale and fruit bushes, which I guess can stand up for themselves.

A little green helper

I’ve been dismayed lately by the numbers of aphids being farmed by ants on my edibles.  I do try to be patient, to wait for the predators to move in and for balance to be re-established, but …

aphids on kale July 17

Aphids on kale

… I was starting to wonder whether I should intervene.  If I pick off the affected shoots, will the ants just move somewhere else?  Should I make life a little less cozy for them?  I was just thinking perhaps I should do something, when I went out to have another look:

insect eating aphids on kale July 17

Green insect eating aphids

Do you see what I see?  A tiny green insect, like a narrow shield bug.  I think s/he was at the dinner table 🙂  Perhaps I have help after all.

Into July …

Just a quick progress post.  Remember that I left the polyculture bed to the mercy of the slugs to see what would happen?  Now look at it!

Polyculture bed July 2017

Polyculture bed July 2017

Meanwhile, over in the perennial seedling pots:

Fennel and lovage have germinated.  I’m still waiting for the seakale and the salad burnet to put in a showing.

Patience, patience …