‘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.

Taking stock of the polyculture

borage bees beans Aug 17

What’s working?

Lambs lettuce is starting to show up all over the place.  This happy self-seeder creates splashes of lime-green colour and soft mild leaves for winter salads, perfectly offsetting the dark green landcress and counteracting its strong flavour.  The landcress seedheads have now split, and I’ve chopped them down and laid the trimmings directly onto the bed, seeds and all.

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My saved seeds from the sorrel (shchnavel) have started to come up, so hopefully I will have small plug plants to add to the beds later for winter salads.   There are also red mustard seedlings which germinated in about 24 hours flat, which will add colour to the winter beds.  These are strongly-flavoured, but apparently are milder once cooked, so should be a good source of winter greens.

red orache to seed Aug 17

Red orache is producing well, and grew from saved seed.  However, I keep forgetting to pinch out the top to encourage more bushy leaf production, so I now have tall plants that are starting to flower.  This, of course, means more seed which is fine by me.

welsh onion Aug 17

Welsh onion is romping away, and is a useful source of oniony greens for potato salad or mash.  It has self-seeded, some of which I’ve collected, leaving the rest to sow itself.

Borage is everywhere, popping up out of the compost.  Luckily we have learned how to eat the leaves – cut out the centre stalks and sweat them in olive oil and garlic until they look like spinach (don’t add water or they will be too wet).

What’s not working?

borage beans sweet peas Aug 17

Whilst borage-blue sings out with the sweet pea hot pink and runner bean cadmium-red … whilst the bees are in seventh heaven … the actual beans are looking a bit floppy.  And no wonder.  Runners are thirsty plants at the best of times, and borage is no shrinking violet when it comes to taking up water.  So I have taken out every other couple of borage plants to give the beans a fighting chance.

cosmos thug Aug 17

Well … who knew that cosmos would be such a thug?  I thought their feathery foliage would be perfect for the polyculture, leaving room and light for leafy veg to grow.  But no.  No, no, no.  The question now is whether to cut it back before it has even flowered, or put it down to experience and try something else next year.  With hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have included it in the watering with nettle tea (nitrogen).  This might have encouraged leaf production, which is the general idea for leafy veg but not for flowers.

There are few flowers in the back garden, so I might try moving some of the cosmos into a pot for back, creating more room for the kale and chard at the front.  Some of the chard is so desperate that it is running to seed, but it isn’t too late to start again.  Thinking to the future, I might try some herbs in and amongst the leafy veg, such as chamomile and dill.  These dainty little herbs may be less thuggish and more useful.  I’m sure cosmos has its place in the … er … cosmos, but that place is almost certainly in a pot.

A closer look at ‘pests’

Have you ever seen how a ladybird is born?  Now is the time to go out and look, because the ladybird larvae are transforming into the loveable little bugs.  I had noticed that my blackcurrant bush was all curled up at the tips.  A closer look revealed that the ants were busy farming aphids up there, in their enclosures of folded leaves.

ants farming aphids on blackcurrant June 2017

ants farming aphids on blackcurrant June 2017

The other day, I looked over to see how it was getting on and look who had arrived!

ladybird larvae on blackcurrent June 2017

Ladybird larvae on blackcurrant

This, believe it or not, is the larvae of a ladybird.  They are very good news, because they eat A LOT of aphids.  More than their adult future-selves do.  A closer look at the blackcurrant revealed this happening elsewhere:

larvae turning into ladybird blackcurrant june 2017

larvae transforming into a ladybird

Is it just me, or is that magic?  My blackcurrant ‘pests’ are fuelling the birth of lady-bugs.

Meanwhile, in the annual polyculture bed, the slugs have had a ball:

chewed kale june 2017

kale seedling being munched

As I said in my last post, I’m leaving nature to do its thing and am recording this here so that I can trace the progress (or slow death) of the kale.  It is hard to see in this photo because it is surrounded with grass clippings and chopped up clover, which are  mulching and hopefully adding slow release nitrogen to the soil.  The only thing with mulching is that nobody tells you about the blackbirds.  They LOVE mulch.  They jump up and down gleefully and chuck it everywhere.  I take this as a sign that there is lots of wriggling life down there (including happy and well-fed slugs), and therefore a healthy soil.  Here is the whole bed:

polyculture bed june 2017

annual polyculture bed June 2017

I am telling myself that it will look quite different in July.  And that, as I said in my post over on Anni’s blog, ‘pests’ are essential to a fully functioning ecosystem.  Meanwhile, on the project to include more perennials, here are the pots with seeds all sown:

new perennials no sign yet june 2017

no sign yet … June 2017

But I do have some baby Asturian Tree Cabbage on the way:

baby tree cabbage june 2017

tree cabbage and red orache June 2017

The troughs are protected with copper tape to deter slugs.  In theory.  They can have a ball over in the polyculture bed.  And if the slugs have a ball, then we also have happy hedgehogs, thrushes, frogs … after all, one person’s pest is another creature’s lunch.