Grow your (Perennial) Veg and Eat It!

Comments very welcome!

It has been an odd day of contradictions. Our email provider phoned me about the feedback I'd left online about not wanting to communicate with them by phone. And the recipe I was loosely following to make tonight's tea instructed me to boil no-boil lasagne sheets. Ah well, perhaps it all fits together - my thoughts today were about another contradiction - growing veg and not eating it!

Of course we do eat it - but I find it quite easy to trip up on making the very most of it - due to the usual factors like lack of time or energy to pick it, or not having a recipe to mind that everyone will like, or forgetting to buy an accompanying ingredient for the dish I did have in mind. This won't do at all, I want to seriously shorten our shopping lists and eat delicious, home-grown, organic, sustainable food as much as possible.

And the food in the backyard larder is shouting to be used. The wild rocket is spilling over the path to the backdoor:

Wild rocket sprawling under bike and onto path

And the Caucasian spinach on the wall is putting forth lots of big juicy leaves :

Caucasian spinach growing up trellis on wall

I know it's all about planning really. Carl Legge has some good words on this in The Permaculture Kitchen, advice about making notes a week in advance about what you have ready to harvest in the garden or allotment or can source locally, who will need feeding and when, and ideas for what to cook. It's advice I once again committed to following today! So I made a token start with the lasagne. I picked a bunch of garlic chives and cooked them with the last of the leeks from the allotment, let them simmer in two tins-worth of chopped tomatoes from the cupboard and flavoured the resulting sauce with salt and pepper and oregano from a pot by the back-gate.

Pot of oregano

Then I collected big handfuls of Caucasian spinach, Daubenton kale and wild rocket from the backyard, steamed and chopped them and mixed them into 450g of cottage cheese I bought from the shop earlier in the day. The sauce and the cheese/greens mixture was layered up with the boiled no-boil lasagne - just 3 minutes boil - I almost dared leave out this step but thought it might be essential with the no-cook cottage cheese sauce (I did like that easy sauce!) And then the dish was covered and baked for thirty minutes. We ate it with a green dressed salad from the garden too: more wild rocket, mountain sorrel, musk mallow, apple mint, parsley, salad burnet and lettuce.

In a fit of exhaustion a few weeks ago I bought a jar of tomato sauce and a jar of white sauce to make a lasagne. It wasn't good, it was slimy and very salty - I would have been happier with marmite on toast! Tonight's meal was delicious - here's my son polishing off the last of it:

Serving of last portion of lasagne in dish

Nothing special, just an ordinary meal for an ordinary Monday - I'd love to be using home-grown tomato sauce, perhaps even home-made cottage cheese - or a home-grown vegan alternative. But this was enough for today, a small step towards a more consistent and mindful approach to sustainable eating.


Fresh Perennial Vegetable Dip


Looking for ways to use sea beet and Caucasian spinach leaves today I whizzed up this fresh perennial vegetable dip.

Into the blender went 200ml sour cream, 100ml mayonnaise, 250g of perennial greens and herbs (about equal amounts of sea beet, Caucasian spinach and garden sorrel with smaller amounts of welsh onions, bronze fennel, salad burnet, parsley, lovage, golden marjoram, oregano and parsley) with sea salt and black pepper. Once blended and in the bowl I sprinkled the dip with smoked paprika.

Vegetables and herb ingredients for a dip
Sea beet leaves at the front here
and Caucasian spinach leaves at the back

My elder son loved this. Stew would have liked a garlic flavour in there (I have green garlic, garlic cress and hedge garlic growing and could have used any of those). I kept going back for more (it was especially good with sticks of juicy red pepper) but I also made a mental note to use slightly less lovage and sorrel next time. I'd also like to try a vegan version, perhaps with creamed cashew nuts and soya yoghurt.

There are a few sea beet and Caucasian spinach plants for sale on my website and a selection of other perennial vegetable plants.


Daubenton Doubling


Yesterday I brought home cuttings material to start off a new batch of green and variegated Daubenton kale plants. Plants from the existing batches are being sent out to people on a waiting list as they become established but I'm looking forward to having some 'buy it now' plants available on my website. For anyone wondering how to multiply their own plants I describe below how I do it.

Daubenton kale
This is Daubenton kale. It's a perennial kale that forms an attractive mound of mild and nutty-flavoured leaves which are available all year around. The plant is usually propagated by cuttings. It rarely flowers and even then usually produces only a few flowering shoots which may or may not set seed.

Daubenton kale was first described by the French naturalist Louis Jean-Marie Daubenton - or D'Aubenton - (1716 – 1800). Daubenton, who was responsible for introducing Merino sheep from Spain into France, wrote, "Instruction pour les bergers et pour les proprietaires de troupeaux" ("Advice to shepherds and owners of flocks") and it was in this book in 1782 that he first describes 'choux de bouture' (cuttings cabbage):
It is a variety in the species of cabbage, unknown to botanists ; it was cultivated in small gardens, in the commune of Montbard; it throws out lateral branches, the lowest of which bend quite to the earth, while the rest of the growth is directed upwards: — the part, which touches the earth, takes root, and produces new cabbages, which are perpetuated from year to year, and which form so gross a mass, that it is necessary to destroy a part of it. It is called choux de bouture, because it is planted in this manner without sowing ; its branches are broken off and given to sheep : it does not head, but produces a great many leaves, when it grows in a good soil, well dunged.
In a latter edition he elaborates:
It is difficult to have a fairly large amount of cabbage for the numerous flocks: one must sow, transplant, watering for several days, and this care must be repeated annually; it would be too time-consuming and expensive for farmers. I would not consider that cabbage was of any advantage for the diet of flocks, had I not met a variety of cabbage that one can have without sowing, transplanting or watering, it is also unknown to naturalists and farmers: it resists frost, like kale and collards, and is better for their livestock because its cultivation is very easy. One can multiply by cuttings; just cut its lateral branches, which are in large numbers and put them in the ground, to soon have a whole field of new plants. The leaves are smaller than other cabbages; but their juice is also abundant; they may serve as food for the shepherds as well as the sheep;.....
See note below*.

Variegated Daubenton kale
Here is "le chou Daubenton panaché", variegated Daubenton kale. I believe panaché is simply French for 'variegated' but I think this plant also has panache!

I haven't been able to trace its history. I've often wondered how closely related it is to Daubenton kale as its leaf shape seems a little different. I haven't had mine long but so far it does seems to have a similar growth habit and a similar taste.

This is how I do Daubenton cuttings. There are other ways: woodier stem portions without leaves will root when pushed into the ground and I'm told that root cuttings work well for brassicas also.

Leafy side shoot of Daubenton

Take a leafy side shoot.

Cutting with heel

Cuttings taken with a heel may root more quickly....

Cutting with some of its leaves removed

(...but as I'm trying to make plants of a suitable size to send in the post I usually shorten the cutting). Removing most of the leaves helps the cutting retain moisture whilst it is establishing roots.

Prepared cutting.

One prepared cutting.

Rooting hormone

Rooting hormone may help but is not necessary.

Cutting inserted in compost

Insert the cutting in a pot of compost (I use a general purpose peat-free compost).

Pot covered with plastic bag

Cover the pot with a ventilated plastic bag. (As I usually propagate kale in batches of pots I place the pots in a tray and use a plastic tray cover.) Ventilate the bag more - or remove it altogether - if you notice mildew growing on the cutting.

Older leaf wilting on cutting

Don't worry if at first older leaves wilt, yellow and drop.

Leaves turning brighter green

When the roots start to grow the leaves turn a brighter shade of green.

Roots emerging from base of pot

The cutting is ready to plant out when roots start to emerge from the roots of the pot.

Daubenton kale growing in a half-barrel

Daubenton kale growing in a half-barrel in a semi-shaded situation.

*[In later editions of the book there are notes added by other botanists to the effect that propagation by cuttings is not unique to Daubenton's kale (most brassicas can be propagated in this way).

Before delving into the history of Daubenton kale I'd been assuming that it is perennial because it rarely flowers (so instead of setting seed and then dying it just keeps leafing up year after year). But it is the way that it flops to the ground and roots by itself that seems to earn it the description of 'vivace' (perennial) in the nineteenth century (it is not unique in this either but rather belongs to a group of branching bush kales, Brassica oleracea ramosa, cultivated since antiquity).

I've read recently that, because of accumulated mutations, plants tend to lose their ability to reproduce by seed if they are propagated vegetatively for a long period. So does Daubenton kale need to be reproduced by cuttings because it rarely flowers or does it rarely flower because it is reproduced by cuttings?! Perhaps its perennial nature may not be greater than that lurking in the genetic make up of many flowering brassicas - except in its 'flop and root' tendencies. Anyway I will make sure I don't stake my allotment plants in future.]


Plants for a Shady Backyard Larder.


The shredded bark has just had its annual renewal in our backyard so whilst things are looking tidy I've taken a photograph.

Photo of The Backyard Larder backyard

Despite the sunlit scene above it's basically a shady garden. It is overshadowed on three sides by two or three storey brick walls with slightly lower walls to the south (right hand side of the photo). So sunlight visits this space patchily and fleetingly as the day passes. It lights the area close to the house first and slowly spreads down the path, arriving late and promptly pulling its tail behind it during the winter months but lingering for a while after lunch in the summer before leaving by the garden gate. At the summer solstice sunlight reaches the front edge of the bed on the right for a short time at midday. But at the start and end of winter it may illuminate the shelves on the left hand wall but will not reach ground level anywhere in the garden.

Perennial vegetables that I've found will grow here so far are:

In the narrow left-hand bed

Salad burnet
Garlic chives
Wild rocket
Garden sorrel
Caucasian spinach
Garlic cress
Babington leek
Tree onion

In pots or raised beds in the centre

Daubenton kale
Pink purslane
Red-veined sorrel
Mountain sorrel

In the bed at the back and right-hand side

Dwarf golden hop
Solomon's seal
Apple mint
Musk mallow
Ostrich fern
Sweet violet
Good King Henry

I want to add at least Welsh onion and everlasting onion to the mix. And, having recently had our first taste of hosta shoots (excellent eating!), we're looking forward to having a hosta collection here too.


Spring in the Perennial Vegetable Garden 2015


I've been adding to my collection of perennial vegetables as I learn about more of them. There are photos below of some of the ones that haven't been covered in my previous photo roundups. (Photos here from 2013/4 and 2014/5).

Some of the plants shown below are still too immature to harvest so I haven't tasted them yet but will blog about them when I eventually do! I've given them their common names but you can find specific names at the bottom of the page.

There is a photo of a plant I bought as "giant chives" amongst the 2013/4 photos. Although this is a robust plant it only grows to about 35cm, not much taller than my other chives. I don't have a record of its Latin name so to be surer of what I am growing (and potentially selling) I bought another (or possible the same!) plant sometimes known as giant chives, Allium ledebourianum, from the German nursery Deaflora (photo below). The notes in the nursery catalogue estimate its mature height at 70cm (probably the height of the flower stalks) although other sources give lesser heights. So I'll be interested to see if this one proves to be a true giant.

Oyster Plant
Oyster Plant
Giant chives
Giant chives
Pearl onion
Pearl onion
Variegated Daubenton
Variegated Daubenton
Ewiger kohl
Ewiger kohl
Wild hyacinth
Wild hyacinth
Bladder campion
Bladder campion
Golden garlic
Golden garlic
Three-cornered leek
Three-cornered leek

Oyster plant - Mertensia maritima
Pignut - Bunium bulbocastanum
Giant chives - Allium ledebourianum
Pearl onion - Allium ampeloprasum ssp. ampeloprasum
Asparagus - Asparagus officinalis
Horseradish - Armoracia rusticana
Variegated Daubenton - Brassica oleracea var.'Daubenton Panache'
Ewiger kohl - Brassica oleracea (translation 'ever-lasting cabbage')
Quamash - Camassia quamash
Wild hyacinth - Camassia leichtlinii
Bladder campion - Silene vulgaris - known as 'carletti' in Italy
Golden garlic - Allium moly
Three-cornered leek - Allium triquetrum
Grass nut - Triteleia laxa


Time for Hablitzia tamnoides


I've asked Stew to cook us a Caucasian spinach omelette tonight.

Hablitzia tamnoides
Hablitzia tamnoides

Caucasian spinach is a common name for Hablitzia tamnoides, an extremely useful, shade-tolerant, climbing, edible plant that has been brought to the notice of the unusual-edible-eating public by Stephen Barstow, author of "Around the World in 80 Plants". (I've been feasting on this book ever since Stew gave it to me for Christmas - not that it is at all heavy going but there is a lot in there! I'll finish reading it and review it properly when I have - but it is excellent. Travel broadens the mind; letting Stephen take me around the world in eighty plants is both broadening and deepening my understanding of perennial vegetables.)

Hablitzia has been growing in our backyard for a few years now, climbing up a trellis to a height of about seven feet. At first I left it alone to grow in peace and then it started to grow a little strangely and didn't look so appetising. (I thought it might have a virus. I don't think this is common for Hablitzia - I've never heard anyone else mention any problems with it at all. But to be on the safe side I replanted with fresh stock this year and the new plants have been growing well so far.)

Hablitzia tamnoides

Hablitzia tamnoides

I have had a few leaves in salads and steamed a few too but I still don't feel very familiar with its taste. Stephen seems to favour the very young shoots as in the photo below - I've missed the moment for those but the leaves stay edible and mild in flavour all year.

Young shoots of Hablitzia tamnoides

So tonight we'll have these not quite so young shoots in our omelette.

Shoots harvested for cooking


I wasn't very sure of the best way to cook Hablitzia but I'd read that softening the shoots in oil worked well. Stew is cooking them here with some Babington leek.

Shoots being softened in oil

Then he went on to do the usual omelettey thing.

Omelette cooking

Cooked omelette

The verdict? Well it was a lovely omelette but it was hard to really taste the individual flavour of the Hablitzia with the other ingredients. I'd thought it might be so I'd made a salad with some of the raw leaves along with other perennial salad leaves.

Plate of Hablitzia omelette and Hablitzia salad

We picked out Hablitzia leaves and decided that whilst their flavour isn't very distinctive it is pleasant and mild. And this I think is one of Hablitzia's several virtues. Many other perennial vegetable leaves are on the bitter side but here is a plant which will give you plentiful mild shoots and leaves from very early in the year (Stephen has harvested shoots in the middle of winter in his garden in Norway and has a mature plant which produces some 250 shoots) and which will clad the walls even in a shady situation. I feel it earns its place in the perennial vegetable garden several times over and I'm sure we're going to be using a lot of it in the years to come.

N.B. I've got plenty of Hablitzia plants for sale at the moment.


Perennial Pizza


I went foraging on the allotment today! Inspired by Carl Legge's nettle pizza in his great book, "The Permaculture Kitchen" ("How to cook no faff, seasonal & sustainable food"), I had a pizza made with perennial greens and herbs in mind. Lots to choose from! I picked a few of each.

Starting from the top left above are wild garlic, scorzonera, Babington leek, day lily, Welsh onion, nettle, variegated Daubenton kale, thyme, sea beet, Portuguese kale, rosemary, bladder campion, salad burnet, Siberian purslane, Caucasian spinach and garden sorrel.

The pizza was easy to put together. I just needed to wash and chop the leaves, season them, toss them in oil and pile them on the pizza dough round on a bed of cubed cheese. But you can follow Carl's instructions here for the all important details.

pile of collected perennial vegetable greens

chopped, seasoned perennial vegetable greens piled on pizza dough

piece of perennial vegetable pizza

Perennial pizza. Absolutely!