As soon as I knew I may be having an allotment plot, I started to dream about what I would grow there. Initially, prompted by fears of food shortages during the COVID19 lockdown, I planned to grow potatoes and onions. I looked up growing instructions and spacing requirements, and found that with six one metre raised beds, I couldn’t grow many of them. Maybe enough for a week’s worth of meals. So I started to think differently, and instead decided to use the plot to continue my experimentation with growing perennial food crops which are also good for wildlife. Jake’s Forest Gardening course and the allotment both entered my life in the same week, which was a clear shove in that direction. Jake sums up the forest garden design philosophy as ‘growing edible crops with nature’, which is certainly singing my song.
With that in mind, here is my wish list of plants. A key question that I’ve considered in selecting these is ‘what does the plot give me that my garden doesn’t’? Another is ‘what is their role in the local ecosystem?’
Broad beans – because I like them, and don’t have room for them in my garden. They are good for the soil, as they fix nitrogen in their roots, and the tops will add biomass when they have finished cropping. The flowers are good for nectar, and smell good too (remember those sewerage works). I’ve chosen ‘The Sutton’ dwarf variety as it is smaller and more suitable for the boxes.
Oca – this is something of an experiment, given that it isn’t frost hardy. I don’t yet know how sheltered the plot will be in winter. I want to try it because it provides a blight free carbohydrate, it is something new to eat and can’t be bought in the shops. It also provides ground cover. It is my alternative to growing potatoes. It will need protection from frost.
Skirret – or wild carrot. This will provide flowers for insects, and carbohydrate from the sugary root. It is a native wild plant. It will benefit from the deep beds of loose, friable soil, and from the aspect in full sun.
Bunching onion – a companion for the skirret. I plan to grow it as a perennial, harvesting only the tops. It will provide us with a spring onion replacement.
Scorzonera – another root to try, and definitely an experiment.
Blackcurrant – I want to see if this will grow better in a deep bed in full sun. I have one in my garden which doesn’t thrive, but it is in shallow soil and part-shade. I love big juicy blackcurrants! Insects seem to like the flowers too.
Strawberries – to provide ground cover for the blackcurrant, and another plant that doesn’t do well in my garden.
Pignut – a native wildplant which may provide tubers for us (if I can find them) and flowers for insects. You can also eat the foliage, and it provides ground cover.
Welsh Onion – flowers are good for insects, companion for Pignut, there wasn’t room for them in my garden where I have multiple clumps, and I want to try harvesting the bulbs.
Sea beet – this doesn’t grow leafy in my garden, so I’d like to see if it grows better in the plot. It grows tall and will cast shade so I’ve put it at the back of the bed.
Garlic – which I will grow for the greens, rather than the bulbs. Another experiment.
Other roots on my list are chervil root, hamberg parsley, and plain old parsnip. These would be grown annually.
I also have a wish list for companion plants for wildlife, to be grown in pots or encouraged into the ground. I already have (I think) polygonum persicaria (Redshank), horse radish, chamomile and borage. I’ll add more chamomile and borage to encourage them to proliferate (as if they need encouragement). Other plants to grow include calendula, nasturtium (which can tumble down the sides of the boxes), sweet peas (which can grow up them), wild thyme (which can scramble around their feet), and foxglove.
That concludes my wish list. This may need some refinement, given the evidence that I’ve seen recently of a wild visitor to the plot who may uproot my plans. All will be revealed in my next post.