Sunday 22 March 2009

Perpetual Vegetating

I'm not much good with perennial beds of stuff; the weeds come in and it's difficult to get them out. I forget to feed, can't find the crops for the couch grass and before you know it my bed of everlasting veg. has turned back into a wilderness that has to be completely blitzed before anything edible will ever grow there again. Even plants that take just two years to mature like caraway are more likely to succumb than succeed. I'm simply not house proud enough.

Even so, there's no denying the lure of perennial vegetable plants. Slap them in, sit back and wait for the seasons to roll around with none of that agony of timing about frosts, drought or transplanting sizes.

Photo by Martin LaBar on flickr

And some of the perennials are of the very best quality. Asparagus properly tended can go on cropping for 15 years or more from the same crowns and can't be grown usefully any quicker than three years from seed. We had newly established an asparagus bed on our allotments just before we bought the farm. We've moved the plants and I promptly lost them amongst the weeds in the first place we planted them out. Last autumn I relocated about half of them (the ones I could find) into a new bed but it's still going to be a couple of years before we can take a proper crop. I hope I don't lose them again before then.

Rhubarb is a vegetable that is used as a fruit but more importantly for this blog entry it's a perennial vegetable and needs all the same treatment as other perennials in the veg. patch. We've established a new bed of this from crowns recovered from the garden of the Cider House. A tremendously strong grower, even these roots had been swamped by the encroaching grass before I dug them up. I'm hoping to be able to take a few stalks this spring and if I can find some good manure for the autumn a full crop next year.

Good King Henry is a new favorite perennial, one of the few 'weeds' that actually repays cultivation. Other members of the family are pernicious self seeders, providing a continual harvest for foraging but the strong root stocks of this variety allow for easy division and reliable growth in the formal vegetable garden. However, if you look closely at the following picture you can see a curl of bind weed poking up through the leaves. Once that gets into the roots the whole clump must be uprooted and cleaned up.

In the onion family my favourite perennial is Allium cepa perutile, which grows in a non-flowering clump looking a bit like flat spring onions. Very very hardy it can give a harvest in March and April when most other alliums are finished or going soft in store and will regenerate from divisions planted up in good soil as the crop is taken. Other onions have perennial characteristics. The Babington leek reproduces by bulbils on a flower stalks and root division. The leek like bottoms can be divided for a small edible crop in the early summer. Egyptian walking onions, the potato onions and shallots are all effectively perennial but are best cultivated more conventionally by lifting and replanting each year.

There are some perennial brassicas but they're not for me. In fact, I'm barely qualified to talk about cabbages at all, I find them really quite difficult but you can read more about everlasting kales and broccolis at The Perennial Platter a newish blog which I hope will expand on the subject at greater depth soon.

Do you grow any perpetual vegetables? What are they and should I give them a go?


Anonymous said...

I've got a packet of perennial Broc sitting in the shed, maybe this will be the year to give it a try. I wonder if the crop is better or gets worse each year.

Catofstripes said...

Is that the 9-Star perennial? I've often wondered about it but on an allotment riddled with club root it seemed a bit pointless to try to keep it going for more than one season. My other trouble with brassicas is whitefly so it seems better to have a break at least for part of the year to reduce pest populations.

They say it's only perpetual if you remove every single flowering head. Let me know how you get on.

joker the lurcher said...

i love seakale and perpetual spinach, although we have had to start again since moving. in our old house they didn't do that well as the soil was so sandy but the place before that they were lovely. i love the idea of walking onions! do they have to be closely fenced to stop them escaping?