I grow perennial vegetables. It really helps the Planet and they taste very good too.
Add in they suffer far less from “pest” problems than the stuff you usually grow, and they save you oodles of time as well as being available to keep picking over a long, long period. What’s not to love?
A big plus for me is they’re No-Dig. I’m disabled with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and three crush-fractures in my spine so digging and me don’t have a great relationship. But I do like eating my own veggies all year round, I love the freshness and that I know precisely how they’ve been grown and looked after. And it’s cheaper! In today’s horrific economic situation, with fuel and household bills going through the roof, that’s a very big plus for me.
And, you know, it’s very good to feel that a bit of me is in those veggies because I took care of them.
The old style of veg gardening, digging over the beds every year, pulling up all the weeds, worrying if everything would be eaten by caterpillars and slugs before I get a look-in just doesn’t float my boat. While rows of things may look neat and be easier if you want to hoe weeds – i.e. the plants you don’t want there – that’s not the way Nature does things and so not the way the plants really like to grow.
You’ve likely noticed that the natural world, when left to its own devices, rarely suffers from “pests”, i.e. things that damage plants badly. That’s because there’s a healthy ecosystem so everything works together, nothing gets too big for its boots, nor do plants get bullied out of existence. It’s often quite a different story in the garden … you’re fighting all the time against things you don’t want – slugs, aphids, caterpillars, drought, diseases – but you just don’t have these problems with no-dig, forest gardening and perennial veggies. And the Planet thanks you as well!
So what’s the big deal with No-Dig? Why does the Planet like it so much?
· You don’t disturb the soil-structure, so you don’t break the mycorrhiza – the fungi who carry food, water and are the communication link (like our internet) between the plants. It gets called the Wood Wide Web 😊. If you’ve got a good mycorrhizal system it does so much of the work for you.
· You don’t encourage the “ground-making” plants (what we used to call weeds, like nettles, native hogweeds, etc) so you don’t have to dig them out before they take over!
· You don’t kill beneficial insects, and their larvae, who need to live in the soil.
· You don’t need to water so frequently as soil retains moisture much better when you stop digging and letting all the moisture out.
· Fewer weeds because you stop disturbing the seeds and so encouraging them to grow!
· Fewer problems with slugs – slugs are part of Nature’s Clean-Up Squad. No-dig means you don’t make so much dead vegetation by weeding and digging that they have to clear up for you!
· You don’t have “bolting” problems because the plants live for years and go right through their cycle every year.
· You eat more healthily because you eat seasonally.
· Perennial brassicas are much, much less troubled by caterpillars and quickly bounce back when they do get infected.
· Perennial veg plants are healthier too because they have time to get a good root system going in the ground, connect to the mycorrhiza, get well fed and access to ground water. So they don’t have to sprint into life like the annual veggies.
· Less hard work, fewer sore backs, and more time for enjoying the garden 😊
Perennial Vegetables …
· Taste great!
· Are very hardy
· Available all year round
· Cover the “hunger gap” annual vegetables leave
· Much less work
· Food for insects and pollinators, birds and mammals – enough to share!
· They’re beautiful too, especially when they flower.
· Handle caterpillars really well so you can share with the butterflies.
· Mean you don’t have to buy vegetables from the shop/supermarket … So no fossil fuel needed for …
Is it hard to do?
Far from it! People often feel a bit guilty as they begin no-dig and forest gardening when they hear all the hours of hard work their friends and neighbours put in. It does mean you learn a new mind-set but there’s nowt wrong with that, likely it will mean lots of other areas of your life will be allowed more time too. You begin to see Nature in a new way, feel connected and part of it, It’s great to discover wildlife really is your friend and ally, not something to be fought, controlled, restrained and managed. Allowing Nature more freedom often means you allow yourself more freedom too, and that always feels good.
What are your basic needs to begin forest no-dig gardening?
Pretty simple actually. You can grow your own from seed in the usual way – seed trays, plug plants, potting on, etc. Or you can buy young plants from incredible people like Incredible Vegetables. I do both, depending on my needs.
You will need to do a bit of digging, to make holes for the plants, and clear around them a bit when they’re starting off so they don’t get swamped. You can see from the pictures they soon get going and make you’re garden into a beautiful and edible forest.
And you need lots of both dung and compost. Local stables are a good place to go for the dung. You just pile the dung/compost, or even do Lasagne gardening (more on that in another blog) on the soil and the worms will do all the digging for you. Darwin called worms nature’s plough😊. It’s easy to make your own compost, you may well already do that, and you can recycle everything from the garden and the kitchen.
Doing this helps the Planet enormously …
· No fossil fuel used for …
o Transport to waste disposal centre
o Electricity at waste disposal centre
o To fuel machines that sort the waste
o To fuel machines the make the compost or dispose of the waste
o To pack the waste for yet more transport to where it’s dumped
o Nor by workers to get to their jobs in the waste disposal factory
· No habitat needs to be stolen from wildlife for space for the waste disposal
This is a list of perennial veggies I’m growing this year …
· Taunton Deane perennial kale – you can eat the young leaves raw in salad
· Purple Tree Collard x Daubenton – another perennial kale, good for salad
· Hablitzia tamnoides – Caucasian spinach – good for salad too.
· Sea beet – Beta vulgaris maritima, like chard, same uses.
· Sorrel Abundance – Rumex acetosa, greens for sauces, soups and salads.
· Reichardia picroides, aka French Scorzonera or Common Brighteyes, salad leaf
· Musk mallow – Malva moschata, flowers and leaves for salads.
· Mitsuba – Japanese parsley – yummy!
· Garden sorrel – non flowering form, sauces, soups and salad.
· Lots of edible flowers, like hardy geraniums, day lilies, Lady’s Mantle, calendula.
· Lots of perennial herbs.
· I’m even having a go with perennial tomatoes from seed; they come from the mountains of Chile so are well up for cold, and they climb anything in sight.
· And last year my organic toms seeded in the greenhouse and I kept them until I accidentally let them get frosted! Shall try again this year.
· And you don’t need a big garden either.
We’ll have more blogs on Forest Gardening soon.
How about giving it a go?
The pictures all come, with many thanks, from Incredible Vegetables’ gallery.