23 August 2015

Time

Time seems to be one of those excuses that people often use for not getting into vegetable gardening, and with the Country Garden an hour drive away, time can certainly impact on my ability to tend it every week.  But I thought I'd talk about some of the aspects that make it such a low maintenance garden and therefore so manageable, even when time is of the essence.

Raised Beds
There is no doubt that raised beds that are filled with good quality topsoil, and then topped up with homegrown compost, makes gardening easier.  Weeds just don't get established in the way that they do in beds that are planted straight into the ground.  Added to this, the Country Garden beds are established on a lawn of running grass, so there is a fight with very vigorous grass for anything that is direct planted.  The raised beds require only the very occasional weeding, and it's just a matter of leaning over and pulling individual weeds out by hand.  No digging required.  I can contrast that to last weekend when I spent several hours weeding around the garlic, which is planted under the rosebushes.  Not only is the running grass pushing its way toward the well fertilised garlic plants, but the soil is a bit clayey in part, so it was a sticky task that left my back and legs aching the next day from bending over for so long.  
I love our raised beds!!

Perennial vegetables
Perennial vegetables are those that last more than one year.  These obviously save time as you don't need to prepare the soil, plant the crop, harvest and prepare and plant the next one, although the soil  health still needs to be maintained.  We haven't set out to focus on perennial vegetables in the Country Garden, but when I look around there are actually quite a few that are either technically perennials or are long-lived annuals, bridging over multiple seasons.
  • Perennial leeks - these naturally multiply year on year.  Ours seem to remain quite small (either that or I'm just impatient!) so I think of them as baby leeks and use them for special dishes, not great pots of soup.  
  • Garlic chives  - these grow on and on, just needing a serious haircut every now and then.  I gather up their beautiful mauve flowers when they go to seed and throw them into other garden beds to start new bunches.
  • Sorrel - I think this is basically a weed, or would be if we weren't growing it in wine barrels!  It grows and grows and grows.  The smaller newer leaves are the tastiest, so if it is getting too long in the tooth we just cut the entire barrel back and start again.
  • Rocket - We planted out a bed with rocket a couple of years ago and let it go.  It always grows faster than we eat it, so it inevitably goes to seed, attracting bees and providing the next lot of plants.  Every now and then I just chop it all down, or even pull it out.  There are always new plants popping up in the bed.
  • Strawberries and rhubarb - naturally multiply, both require occasional dividing and replanting but otherwise just do their thing
  • Asparagus - this has to be the slowest of all perennial vegetables, needing several years of building up its strength before you can harvest.  Ours will hopefully get to this point this year, and then they apparently go for years.
  • Warrigal Greens - I have to admit that I've never developed a taste for this, but it grows in the garden and gets eaten by others and keeps growing and keeps getting eaten!

Perennial leaks on the right with some leeks regrown after being cut off at base 

Sorrel after a recent serious haircut with new leaves growing up 
Self-sown rocket

Cut and come again vegetables
This is a mainstay of the garden.  Cut and come again vegetables are those that you can take individual leaves or sections and they keep growing.  Contrast this to growing a cabbage for example, where several months of energy (from both gardener and plant!) is put into harvesting just one cabbage.  I've talked a lot in the past about my favourite Purple Flowering Broccoli that we grow exactly for this reason - it feeds us for months.  But  there are also many other things growing in the garden that we follow this routine with:
  • Silverbeet and Kale - cut off individual leaves and the plant just keeps growing.  Our silverbeet plants usually last almost a year, we just cut off any sections that go to seed as the quality of the leaves rapidly diminishes, and they'll go on producing new leaves
  • Celery - Cut off individual stalks, starting at the lowest first and the celery will just keep producing.  What we did learn this year however, is that if the kitchen apprentice mistakes the celery for coriander and harvests lots of individual leaves when it is young, it won't grow much at all... :(
  • Leek and spring onion - harvest by cutting off just below the soil level but leave a bit of stalk and the roots in.  It will reshoot.  This also works with fennel if it's the right time of the  year.
  • Beetroot - plant as seed quite close together and harvest a few initially as delicious-tasting baby salad leaves to start to thin the seedlings, then harvest a few more as salad leaves and baby beetroots, then finally harvest full-sized beetroot

Purple sprouting broccoli harvested at different times

Baby beetroot after initial thinning harvest

Spring onions reshooting

Cavelo Nero continuing to grow as larger outside leaves are harvested

These are just a few vegetables that can reduce time in the garden.  It's quite possible to have a garden that is entirely perennial or self-seeded, but that to me would take away the enjoyment of planning and experimenting with different varieties... and actually having an excuse to spend more time out in the garden!  

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