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Darwin and the vegetable patch

  • Darwin and the vegetable patch
  • Darwin and the vegetable patch
  • Darwin and the vegetable patch
  • Darwin and the vegetable patch
  • Darwin and the vegetable patch

I was on some allotments at the weekend and was struck how bare and scruffy they look at this time of year. We've passed the Spring equinox, but seedlings can't be planted out yet. The weeds are getting going. The only pleasing exceptions were the hardy perennials which had made it through the winter, such as Rhubarb, Artichokes, Mint and Kale which dotted the allotments ... and the few gardeners digging their patches ready for planting. The sight made me think, and it went like this.

For most people, maintaining a vegetable patch is something 'they'd like to do', but many struggle with the time and commitment it takes. How many plots start with a burst of enthusiastic digging in Spring, but are overtaken by weeds and bolting vegetables by mid-summer? They are hard work. And then it's start all over again next year.

Perennials by contrast are far easier and far better value. If Nature's 'survival of the fittest' held sway in the vegetable patch, we'd grow many more perennial vegetables and herbs. Indeed our ancestors did, but over 90% of heirloom vegetable varieties have now been lost, and many of these were perennials. Why? Because for the past 100 years and more seed companies have got us believing we should only buy 'high performance' annuals, which create repeating revenues for them.

Annuals are hard work every year and most of us (grafting GreenPlantSwappers excepted of course) struggle with this.

Perennials by contrast, reward every year, for longer periods of the year, with a lot less effort. You nurture and harvest them. Most out-compete weeds and resist slugs. They're good for balancing the soil and make the vegetable patch look better 'out of season'.

Let's hear it for swapping more perennial vegetables and herbs. More people would get the gardening habit and grow their own food if they realised how much easier they were.

Comments (7)

  1. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    I would love to try growing the Purple tree collard - seems hard to buy online.

  2. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    That's really kind of you - thank you!

  3. Grower

    Charlie Armour

    I've started the no-dig method of gardening using Charles Dowding as an online mentor. If you ever get the chance to hear one of his talks then don't miss it - he is very inspiring. His website has tons of info.

    The basics are that if you look after your soil it will look after your plants. That and some basic husbandry but it makes the constant battle of weeds far less onerous and it all makes so much sense. This will be my first year of it but just having a nice layer of organic matter over the top of the soil just looks good to start with. Add to that the reduction in annual weeds and you are off to a great start!

    As for perennials, it does make sense to have a selection if you enjoy them. I have some artichokes, fruit bushes and trees, rhubarb, first year after planting asparagus (hoping for good things there!), and also hopefully some kale but they are only just rooting from cuttings.

    Permaculture folk use perennials as staples and I recently saw a video with Patrick Whitefield explaining what he had in his garden.

  4. Grower

    Charlie Armour

    Another one to add to my list. I'd heard that Good King Henry wasn't too good to eat but I suppose it depends on taste. I do grow a lot of annual veg so keeping slug habitat to a minimum is my goal here - another reason for perennial veg as they are much more slug resistant.

  5. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Hi Sue - I just received a fabulous little hard-to-find Purple Tree Collard beautifully wrapped. Thank you! That's so the spirit of GreenPlantSwap. Will let you know how I get on.

    • Darwin and the vegetable patch
  6. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Clever - who'd complain about dinner at the Savoy!

  7. Grower

    C. McCombie

    Dear Jeremy - am so glad you are doing this as I have felt the same about plant diversity for some time, particularly in respect of vegetables. I am thoroughly enjoying the Victorian vegetables, like seakale and scorzonera, which no one else seems to grow around here. Many of these are delicious, completely trouble free, easy, and go on year after year. ( This matters to me as I am pushing 80.) I hope I can find someone near me who shares this interest. Thank you.

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