When sitting down to write, at 5.30am on the Monday of the week of my monthly garden guide, I look back at what I have written in previous years at this time. April, more than any other, seems to be the month full to the brim with the wonderful joy of food gardening. Topics from the last few years include deep hay, garlic, self-sown winter vegetables, the 3 stages of eating beans, what to do now to keep your fennel producing, broad beans, onions, harvesting sunchokes, bio-char, picking pumpkins, fungi and your soil, lacto-fermented pickling and so much more. I would like these, and all the 5 years’ of my garden guides, to be available for everyone to peruse so I will slowly be adding them to my blog Vegetable Vagabond, where they will be easily found.
The perennial food garden, expanded
I have patches of food throughout my whole garden, for several reasons. First and foremost because many plants are social creatures and benefit from mixing it with other, complementary friends. This is called companion planting and also permaculture guilds. That is a topic in itself for another day. Second, when something dies down, why not have something else popping up there for a while? Why not have daffodils amongst your sunchokes or scatter coriander seeds amongst your asparagus as it dies down? In my garden, marigolds, rocket and the little, native Tasmanian violets pop up everywhere there is space, all by themselves.
Here are some vegetables that you only have to plant once but can harvest year after year and amongst whom you can dot some flowers or herbs or quick growing greens, for use after the main crop dies down.
· Horseradish - some people say it can become invasive but mine never has and I wish it would as there is nothing more delicious than hot, roasted vegetables, straight out of the oven, with freshly picked horseradish root grated over. Or, grate it and immediately pack into small jars, with a little salt. It keeps in the fridge for years! Don’t screw up your nose until you have tried it as fresh horseradish is so much deeper in flavour than the stuff in jars. Once you have dug, harvested and replanted your horseradish roots a bit later in autumn, you could plant a quick-growing Asian green like bok choy or mizuna or flowers such as alyssum, which will self-sow as well.
· Multiplier onions - Walking onions and potato onions – I love these because I am a lazy gardener who eats from the garden everyday and they provide all year round as well as multiplying at the same time. Lucky us! Some multiplier onions are also known as “walking onions” because they form a cluster of little onion bulbs in the summer, on a seed stalk. As autumn sets in, the stalk bends over and the already-sprouting bulbs touch the soil and root. So, after a while, your permanent onion area slowly expands! These onions make terrific spring and early summer green onions and as the patch expands, I pull some up to use as well. You could have them in your asparagus patch or you could plant some in flower beds.
Potato onions also make top-set bulbs, but the great thing about them is that they also make a “nest” of rather large onions underground. Some are as large as smaller storage onions. They taste great and store very well. You can remove the larger underground onions to store or use, taking some of the smaller ones to pickle, as well as some of the larger topset bulbs. Then, by planting the smaller bulbs, both topsets and underground bulbs, you can keep your potato onion planting going forever!
· Sunchokes – aka Jerusalem artichokes or fartichokes! Wonderful as medium to tall border plants that will grow in the toughest conditions with no care. However, you will get better bulbs for eating if you give them compost and deep mulch. I have them as a narrow hedge and backdrop to part of my garden. Once I dig them in autumn, I replant some, at the same time digging in some compost, then plant lettuce there but you could plant winter flowering annuals. Next spring/ early summer I am going to sow bush beans amongst the sunchokes, which will have started growing by then, to give them some wind protection and support, in a similar way that people sow climbing beans amongst their corn.
· Other perennial vegetables include globe artichokes, rhubarb, fennel bulbs, chives, garlic chives, asparagus….. and many more.
Plant out soft neck varieties such as Tasmanian purple, now, into damp soil but do not water until you see little green shoots appearing, or you risk them rotting. These will be ready to harvest before Christmas, when their soft stems brown off and flop over. If overwatered at this time the water seeps down into the garlic head and can cause rot or cause them not to store well.
Plant out hard neck varieties later and into May. Later they will produce tall, curly, green stems called scapes, which are fabulously delicious. I leave some to grow scapes but most I cut off so more energy goes into growing the bulbs. These will be ready to harvest in January or even February and have a hard stem, right down into the garlic head. In a wet summer, these survive better as they are less prone to rot because of the way they grow tight around the hard neck.
Sugar snap peas under cover
Winter annual flowers
Evergreen shrubs and trees