About Carole

I'm a visual artist, writer, PhD researcher, and organic gardener. Twitter @carolekirk

An ecology of mind: Gregory Bateson

ladybird larvae on blackcurrent June 2017

Sometimes it’s good to pause, and consider what makes us think the way we do.  I’ve recently been re-reading the anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an ecology of mind (1972) which I first read in 2002.  I remember that it had a significant impact on me at the time, and re-reading it has brought me to realise how much it has shaped my thinking.  Continue reading


Cooking Paul & Becky’s Asturian Tree Cabbage

Growing perennial vegetables is one thing, but knowing how to harvest and cook them is another thing altogether.   Paul and Becky’s asturian tree cabbage is a rare perennial cabbage, available from the wonderful people at Real Seeds.  I found it very easy to grow, with good germination rates and ability to recover from slug and caterpillar damage.

tree cabbage munched

tree cabbage munched

However, when it came to cooking it, I was disappointed at first.  I took nice big leaves, and cooked them, stalk and all.  It was revolting – woody and tasteless.  However, I was determined to learn how to cook it, as it is such a generous and reslilient plant.  It’s a beautiful lime-green too, and tall so it adds architectural interest to the garden.  So I did a bit of surfing on ‘how to cook Asturian Tree Cabbage’, and found this brilliant thread on Allotments 4 All.

First, you need to harvest the leaves small.  About this size:

asturian tree cabbage leaves harvested

asturian tree cabbage leaves harvested

The plant puts out side-shoots, and these are good for harvesting small leaves.

Wash the leaves and leave them with their stalks in water to stay fresh until you cook them.  Cut out the middle stalks which can be woody, and cut the leaves into thin strips.  Then either boil them as you would cabbage, and serve with butter and black pepper.  Or – and this is our favourite – stir fry them good and hot with plenty of garlic.

So there you have it.  Happy munching.

Miracle mycorrhizal fungi

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.  At the bottom of my leaf mold bin, these fungi appeared in early Autumn, and are still there now.

fungus on leaf mold bin, Autumn 2017

fungus on leaf mold bin, Autumn 2017

And I was just browsing Twitter this week, when I found this post from John Walker.  In it, he describes how mulching his garden soil with woody shreddings and leaf mold, he discovered toadstools emerging from the mulch.  Where these appeared around plants, they didn’t do them any harm at all.  In fact he found that the plants surrounded by fungal growth grew good and strong.  Digging into some of the research around fungal networks, he found some fascinating tit bits.  These fungal ‘webs’ that live beneath the soil (from which toadstools and mushrooms are the ‘fruit’) actually enable plants to communicate with each other.  They also enable nutrients to be exchanged.  Plants collaborate with each other and with the fungal organisms to share resources.  By spreading woody material and leaf mold on the garden as mulch, these fungal networks are introduced and can then develop in the soil.  It’s a good idea not to dig over the soil, because this disturbs these amazing networks.   As winter has wilted some of my garden plants, such as nasturtiums, I have nipped them off at the base of the stem and left the roots in the soil (in the case of nasturtiums, this also leaves the nitrogen in the soil that these leguminous plants have been busy fixing in their roots, making it available to other plants).  The only time I disturb the soil is for planting.  But somebody needs to tell the blackbirds about this ‘no dig’ approach!

As if to drum home this new insight, I then read this post from Flo Scott on the Permaculture Magazine website, in which her number one tip is nurturing the soil, including the use of woodchips which introduce mycorrhizal fungi.  Serendipity!

Alison and The Backyard Larder

Great guest post over on Anni’s Veggies which I am reblogging here:-

All over the place wonderful, dedicated and insightful gardeners are working away developing their own particular specialist niche in our human-gardening-ecosystem. One of these lovely people is Alison Tindale, a lifelong gardener who grows, sells and blogs about some her wonderful collection of perennial vegetables. Here in a guest post she writes about herself, her […]

via Alison and The Backyard Larder — Anni’s perennial veggies

Insect loss

The astonishing and worrying extent of insect loss has been in the news a lot recently, and Clarission has just shared a useful summary of the report.  It makes me all more more appreciative of the insects that I find in my little garden.  Come on in, little folks!

Much has been made of the insect Armageddon news this month – that the massive decline in insect life is overwhelmingly terrible for the world. Conservationists and entomologists have been warning about this for years but perhaps the extent of the decline has been so far unknown. New research, however, has found that three quarters […]

via Insect Loss — This Veggie Life

Permaculture Magazine

The 25th Anniversary issue of Permaculture Magazine just arrived …

PM94 cover

… with my article on designing and planting an edible perennial polyculture:

PM article

The article explains how, inspired by Anni Kelsey’s book Edible Perennial Gardening, I started to garden in a slightly different way.  This blog has been recording my development of the garden since April this year when I wrote that article.

Permaculture Magazine looks at practical solutions for more sustainable ways of living, creating productive systems that respect ecology and people (who are, after all, part of an ecology).  This latest (and beautifully redesigned) issue also contains articles about market gardening, natural skincare, compassionate dairy farming, Universal Basic Income, Food Forests, solar power, vegan cheese-making, and using natural spaces for healing.

You can subscribe from the Permaculture Magazine website, which also has useful blog articles.  They sell some good books too!

Going to seed

This year, one of the challenges that I set myself was to save seed from some of my edibles.  I don’t actually know what I’m doing here.  I’ve read stuff that says you have to have plenty plants and not mix them up, and they might not come true, etc. etc. I’m afraid I’m not a very patient or methodical person.  I learn by doing, not by meticulously following instructions.  It’s a slow and painful method, admitedly.  But nature sets seed and sows it all the time, and has got pretty good at it, so there must be some plants that aren’t complicated to save seed from.  Anyway, I got stuck in and although I’ve been winging it, here are some of my results so far.

seeds oct 17

Top: chard (pink and red).  This one took some patience.  Chard grows to an enormous height as it goes to seed, and then falls flat on its face, sending up forests of flower shoots.  I left it alone, praying that whatever was unlucky enough to be underneath would eventually recover again (ajuga reptans, and it did).  By late September, I was confident that it had actually set seed.  I cut it off at the base, rather than hoiking out the plant, to avoid disturbing the soil (and just out of curiosity to see whether the plant would regrow).  I carried the plants around to the back of the house, holding them upright like some sort of ceremonial flag.  There was a pattering sound as seeds cascaded all around me.  It will be interesting to see where chard appears next year.  I lay the plants down on the patio and painstakingly stripped off the seeds.  I ended up with several handsful in the two tubs at the top of this picture.  I don’t yet know whether they will germinate, but if they do, then I’m how self-sufficient in chard.  I’ve also been reading over on Skyent that perpetual spinach (leaf beet) self seeds happily, so am planning to give that a go next year.

The bottom tub is red orache.  I have also stripped seedheads and sprinkled them around the beds at the front.  This self-seeds very happily and I will probably be overrun with seedlings.  But just look …

red orache to seed Aug 17

Another easy plant to save seed from is sorrel.  This is schnavel, originally from the heritage seed library.  It has a lemony flavour and adds a zingy lime-green colour to the garden.  It looks rather like dock when it goes to seed, and when the seeds look dry and papery, they are ready.  I’ve sown some and they germinated and happily produced seedlings:

sorrel seedling oct 17

The utility room has been stuffed with paper bags full of various seed heads, but I finally got around to organising them into envelopes:

seeds in packets oct 17

Some plants self-seed so happily that I just left the seedheads on the ground:

lambs lettuce and land cress seedlings oct 17

Lambs lettuce and landcress.  Oh, and violets.

cosmos oct 17

And then there is cosmos.  These are from seed that I saved a few years ago.  They are … well, prolific.  They have grown huge and fallen over across pretty much everything .  I think if I’d grown these from commercial seed, they might not have been quite so large.  And they would have had white, pink and dark pink flowers rather than raspberry ripple.  So I’m starting to learn what you can and cannot get away with.

borage beans sweet peas Aug 17

Here are three really easy ones.  Sweet peas, runner beans and borage.  You will never need to save seed from borage.  Once you have it, it will be in your garden forever.  Sweet peas and runner beans just need time for their pods to get good and fat, and ideally dry, and then you can keep them and plant them on for next year.  I put sweet pea seeds in the same pot as a runner bean, as they are happy companions and a magnet for insects.  Nasturtium also set seed happily, but I left them alone to self seed last year and they took ages to get going.  This year I shall collect some, and see if I can get them started earlier.

It’s good to feel just a little bit less reliant on commercial seed companies, and a bit more self-sufficient.