The Backyard Larder

A place to explore and buy perennial vegetables and other food plants.

Review 2017

It’s almost the end of March, the perennial vegetables and herbs are leafing up in the garden and it’s time for The Backyard Larder Blog’s fourth review.

I’m feeling more like a seasoned perennial vegetable gardener now.

Not that there isn’t a long way to go – lots to learn to keep all my plants in tip top condition, probably many more perennial vegetables yet to discover – but some of my plants are quite mature and well established now and getting to be old friends. I have my favourites that we use a lot (the kales, sorrel, Babington leeks, Good King Henry, Caucasian spinach, wild rocket, sea beet, sea kale and skirret come to mind) and a range of ideas for how to use them in the kitchen.

Wild rocket

Wild rocket in the spring garden.

I’m gradually making changes to try to get the balance right for plentiful year-round supply of vegetables we like. For instance only some of the plants give a harvest for winter so we need more of these (e.g garden sorrel, kale, skirret and Chinese artichokes), and different Allium varieties tend to have their individual seasons of use so I need to plant the right selection for plenty of leek or onion flavour at any time of the year.

I’m still trying new polyculture arrangements. Oca worked well beneath the perennial kales but the perennial onions became diseased. I replanted oca at harvest time (as it seemed to overwinter well the previous year) but I removed the onions. Someone suggested that oregano might deter cabbage whites (I think) so there is some of that in there and I’m trying some in situ feeding of some of the kales with field beans which I shall chop at intervals so that they release their nutrients to the kales.

Daubenton kale and field beans

Daubenton kale and field beans to feed it.

The daylilies were a little crowded out in the globe artichokes and cardoon bed last summer. That was at least partly because the bed got weedy. In the photo below, the canes mark the spots where I’ve transplanted silverweed which will be allowed to make a good cover to keep down the weeds (but still be dug up here and there for silverweed root harvests).

Cardoon, globe artichoke, daylily and silverweed polyculture

Bare ground awaiting a cover of silverweed

Garden sorrel, Babington leek and Roman chamomile have been growing quite happily together.

Babington leek, garden sorrel and Roman chamomile polyculture

Polyculture of Babington leek, garden sorrel and Roman chamomile

Sometime I’ll carry out my plan to try sea beet in there too, especially if I manage some vegetative propagation of this especially nice sea beet specimen which self-seeded on the plot a while ago.

Self-seeded sea beet

Sea beet self seed with especially large glossy leaves in summer

I keep getting poor results for Chinese artichokes despite trying them with a heavy mulch to keep them moist through the year. They don’t like our clay soil so I want to try and prepare a special spot for them by incorporating masses of compost to lighten the soil.

The skirret bed could still do with more improvement in this direction too and I’m going to try planting the skirret between ridges to keep the plants moister. I cleared the skirret bed completely last year, keeping some of the more mature plants in pots to replant. They will go back in alongside seedlings yet to be grown from seed from last year’s best plants. A three year skirret rotation is planned as plants have a good crop of roots for harvest after three years. Dividing the bed into three sections will be an easy way to keep track of the age of each clump.

New plants getting established that I’m excited about growing this year include sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata), also known as cut-leaved or green-headed coneflower, a green which I’ve read is prized by the Cherokee people (sochan is the Cherokee name for it), purple tree collard, a tall growing tree kale also from America, and Taunton Deane kale from the West Country, both true perennials like Daubenton kale.

Finally, the Bath asparagus, which still hasn’t flowered but seems to be healthy……

Bath asparagus

Bath asparagus

……and I was pleased to discover Bath asparagus babies. Some seeds, sown January 2016, had germinated!

Bath asparagus seedlings

Bath asparagus seedlings

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