No-Dig Gardening – We Are Digging It!

Happy Horticultural New Year everyone!
As you all know, us folk at Of Butterflies and Bees remain dedicated to designing and maintaining edible, as well as wildlife friendly, landscapes for you. We know that growing annual veg can be time consuming, so our New Year’s resolution was to come up with something new…

Introducing … no-dig perennial vegetables?

Just before Christmas we planted up the garden of one of our Primrose Hill clients with perennial veg. (PV) But why PVs, I hear you ask? Why grow them?

The technical definition of a perennial veg is one that lives for at least 3 years. Some of the benefits of growing PVs are as follows:

  1. Less work. You don’t have to cultivate the soil each year.
  2. Better for the soil. When you stop digging the soil and grow perennial crops that cover and protect the soil, soil structure is maintained as is the all important microbial life that lives just beneath the soil. (See blog Feb 27th, 2014).
  3. Healthier food. Most perennial plants contain higher levels of mineral nutrients as they have larger and permanent root systems.
  4. They extend the harvest season.

We have all heard of the perennial vegetables asparagus and artichoke – but we would like to introduce you to some new ideas.

How about:

  • Babingtons leek (Allium ampeloprasum babingtonii) A perennial leek which all parts  are edible with a leek-garlic flavour.
  • Sea Beet (Beta vulgaris maritima). A perennial, growing up to 1.2 m (4 ft) high when it flowers, native to the coasts of Britain and Europe. A parent of Swiss chard, the leaves are similar but with less of a thick mid-stalk and are excellent eating cooked.
  • Daubenton kale (Brassica oleracea ramosa). A perennial kale with nutty-flavoured leaves available all year round.
  • Siberian pea shrub (Caragana arborescens). A large leguminous shrub from Siberia, reaching 6 m (20 ft) high and growing some 40 cm per year. The seeds, produced in pods following yellow flowers, are edible when cooked. Bees visit the flowers and the species is a good fixer of nitrogen.
  • Perennial wall rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia). A low growing perennial whose peppery leaves are excellent in salads.
  • Caucasian spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides). A trailing perennial climber which prefers some shade and produces excellent edible leaves and stems throughout spring.
  • Really beautiful is Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum schinifolium). A very aromatic shrub growing 2 m (6 ft) or more high. The leaves can be used as a flavouring, but the main use is the peppercorn-like black seeds, which are used a spice (peppery and fragrant) A fab, pungent addition to a nice lemony cocktail!
  • … or Honeyberries which are edible forms of the honeysuckle (Lonicera). The fruits are very similar to blueberries in taste and looks, and can be eaten raw or used in jams and jellies. Like blueberries they are high in antioxidants and vitamin-C and make an interesting addition to your fruit collection.

As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recently commented about growing perennial veg, ‘We are not just missing a trick, we are missing a feast!’

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