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.

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The Launch of the National Forest Gardening Scheme — Anni’s perennial veggies

Forest gardening involves planting trees, shrubs and perennial plants together in a way that mimics a natural forest ecosystem and is productive.  According to the Agroforestry Research Trust, its aims are:

  • “To be biologically sustainable, able to cope with disturbances such as climate change
  • To be productive, yielding a number (often large) of different products
  • To require low maintenance.”

Anni’s post below is a call-out to all gardeners interested in the forest gardening approach:-

 

Calling all aspiring forest gardeners I know there are lots of people out there who are passionate about forest gardening and would like to see more of them planted across the country particularly in places that are accessible to the general public. For the past year I have been involved with other link minded people […]

via The Launch of the National Forest Gardening Scheme — Anni’s perennial veggies

‘Weeds’ by John Walker

Weeds book by John WalkerThis is a comforting little book that speaks up for ‘weeds’.  The author is keen to tell you about their finer points, before telling you how to manage them in an earth-friendly way – if you still want to.  He describes a selection of 60 weeds common to the UK Midlands.  The principles apply to many other weeds of similar habit or species, so this is not intended to be a definitive guide.  It is more of a ‘spiritual’ guide; a guide to developing a mindset that recognises that some weeds have a useful place, and others do perhaps need gently dissuading if we are to achieve our gardening goals. Continue reading

Harvest, harvest, while you still can

As I sit to type this there is a chill in the air, the sun is lower, and Autumn is signalling its presence.  Mists float through the valley, and the trees are tinged with orange.  Plants are increasingly frantic to seed, and insects and larvae have not much longer to feed.  The perennial tree cabbage is clearly being enjoyed:

tree cabbage aug 17 eaten

The borage has nearly finished flowering, but the bees tell me off when I try to remove it, even if there is just one flower left:

bee on borage aug 17

We want to invite the bugs to stay with us over winter, so they are nice and handy for the re-emergence of the garden in Spring.  Rick has built a couple of houses, which we will have fun furnishing this weekend (no trip to IK*A required).  Here’s one:

bug house unfurnished aug 17

I’m still harvesting salad:

salad early sept 17

The tomatoes are ripening now (they’re outside against our front wall which holds the heat from the sun).  I’m also harvesting red orache, nasturtium, garlic chives, chives, welsh onion, wild rocket, runner beans, sorrel, baby chard, golden oregano, lambs lettuce, mint, more runner beans … in fact, there  is more out there than I can usually remember to harvest.   (And by the way, all of those things listed do not get eaten by slugs).

So for now there is still plenty for everyone to eat.  But we’d better make the most of it while we can.

 

‘Edible Perennial Gardening’ Book Review

Edible Perennial Gardening: Growing successful polycultures in small spaces.  By Anni Kelsey, published 2014 by Permanent Publications.

annisbookcover.phpThis book sets out with a clear vision: “Looking towards a sustainable future when a polyculture of perennial vegetables is as familiar a feature of our gardening landscape as the conventional vegetable patch.”  The book clearly traces the author’s own experimental journey towards this vision, and shares the information that she’s learned along the way.  Continue reading

Slug attack – DO look back

Following on from my last post on strategies to accept slug damage, I remembered taking a photo of the polyculture bed when the kale had been munched.  This was on 12th June:

munched kale 12 June 17

What a mess.  Only two or three weeks later, on the 3rd July, it looked like this:

polyculture bed 3 July 17

And a month later, on 12th August, it looked like this:

polyculture bed 12 Aug 17

OK, so the cosmos began to dominate a bit, but … you can see that the bed did recover from a bit of early slug damage.  This is how it looked yesterday, 26th August:

kale 26 Aug 17

Still munched, but clearly managing to grow.  By the time we can harvest the kale (from November onwards) the slugs and caterpillars will be bunking down for the winter, and we should have it all to ourselves.  In theory!

Keeping a visual record and remembering to look back is a good reminder that plants and slugs have shared the same space for a long time now, and plants do manage to recover.  In a month or two, my surviving endives might be thriving.  You never know.

Slugs – three strategies for acceptance

I walked out the other day to find this:endives munched late Aug 17

Endives seedlings munched to bare soil, despite being carefully tucked up in a pot with copper tape around the edge.  I chose endives, rather than lettuce, because I thought it would be tougher and less attractive to molluscs.  Not so.  I spent the rest of the morning feeling frustrated and helpless, as no matter how hard I try to find edible plants that can survive slug damage, no matter how many precautions I take to try and protect plants, this still happens.  My dream of lime green livening up the winter garden started to dissolve.  I’m a rubbish gardener, I thought.

But.  I’m stubborn.  I have set out to garden without (knowingly) killing any wildlife, and whilst still providing food for our table.  And I will do it.  But I need to learn how to manage these feelings of sorrow and frustration when things like this happen.  So here are three strategies I use to feel better when the critters crunch my lunch.

  1. Learn about your enemy – they might turn out to be a friend.  The organic gardener and writer John Walker writes of molluscs: “These amazing, tenacious creatures are part of the dynamic,interconnected ecosystem of my garden. They beguile me, challenge me and teach me plenty …” They are detritus recyclers, clearing up debris and improving the soil, as nature writer Marlene Condon explains: “As snails and slugs become active, they will be delighted to find their favorite food (decaying plant and animal matter) waiting for them to feed upon. When these unusual organisms are provided with such a fine smorgasbord, they don’t bother your growing plants. Instead, they help to fertilize them—which is exactly what their function in your garden is supposed to be.”  They are also lunch for other garden wildlife, including frogs, thrushes, blackbirds and hedgehogs.
  2. Look at what is working.   Earlier this year, I dropped seedheads of lambs lettuce and land cress directly onto one of the beds.  From experience, these don’t tend to get eaten.  Low effort, low maintenance, and great contrasts of colours and flavours for winter salads.  These are now coming up and so far, only tiny signs of munching:lambs lettuce and land cress seedlings late Aug 17
  3. See the bigger picture – is there enough left over for you to enjoy?  And the answer, of course, is yes – plenty! Whilst the endives are munched, I still managed to harvest all this for our salad:salad late Aug 17 And the garden is not exactly full of gaps: front garden late Aug 17

So in the meantime, I’ve put the endives up on a table with its legs in water, and will let the remaining plants grow on.  When they are bigger and tougher, I will see how they fare in the ground.  If they don’t survive, then they aren’t the right choice of plant.  There are many others that are, and probably several more that I haven’t yet discovered.  But meanwhile, I feel a bit better.  Perhaps I’m not a rubbish gardener after all.