12 perennial vegetables to grow for a low-maintenance allotment

12 perennial vegetables to grow for a low-maintenance vegetable garden or allotment | H is for Home

You may or may not have noticed that we haven’t done an update about our allotment in quite a while. Yes, we still have it. Unfortunately, because of Justin’s back injury, poor weather and neglect due to time pressures, this year has been a wipe out!

In an ideal world, we’d potter about amongst the fruit and veg every day – alas, this just isn’t possible at the moment. We’ve come to the conclusion that, for the time being, we’d be much better off concentrating on low-maintenance perennial vegetables. We’ve done a bit of research online and from Eric Toensmeier’s book, Perennial Vegetables. This is our short list of 12 that we’re going to try out.

Allium fistulosum - Welsh onion

Allium fistulosum – Welsh onion

It may say Welsh on the tin, but this allium actually originates in China. We think it would be perfect for our allotment. Not only is it good for cooking and eating, it’s a beautiful ornamental when it’s in flower. It’s used widely in East Asia in miso soup, stir fries and in salad garnish.

Available here

Allium ursinum - Wild garlic, damsons, wood garlic

Allium ursinum – Wild garlic, damsons, wood garlic

Wild garlic grows… well, wild in lots of places near where we live. We have an old tin bath that we planted up with a few wild garlic bulbs a couple of years ago. It absolutely loves the dark, damp spot where we put it and its spread has already doubled. We’ll dig up a bit of it and replant it in a similar position on the allotment. We look forward to the wild garlic season every year, we use the leaves a lot in cooking.

Available here

Growing asparagus in a pot

Asparagus officinalis – Asparagus

Asparagus is one vegetable that I wish we’d cook and eat more often. It’s always so expensive in the shops – and it’s almost always thick, fibrous spears on offer. Because the soil in or garden and on our allotment isn’t at all sandy, we think we’ll grown a little asparagus in containers. Maybe one green, one white and one purple.

Lots of people say that it can’t grow in pots but we’ve seen on the internet that it can be done. Apparently, the container needs to be very deep with very good drainage – so we were thinking of using a couple of old metal dolly tubs. The downside of container-grown asparagus is that it doesn’t live anywhere near the 10-20 years that it does in open ground and the resulting spears can be a little spindly. The upside is that the taste of asparagus cut from the earth and cooked within hours is incredible – as is the feeling of knowing you’ve grown it yourself.

Available here

Brassica oleracea botrytis asparagoides - Broccoli, Nine Star Perennial

Brassica oleracea botrytis asparagoides – Broccoli, Nine Star Perennial

A broccoli that looks like a cauliflower and is a perennial? We’d never heard of it! Each head grows to the size of a tennis ball – so the perfect portion. It would be great roasted or served with a cheese sauce and a crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Available here

Cynara scolymus - Globe artichokes

Cynara scolymus – Globe artichoke

Yes, it’s a faff to prepare. Yes, there’s a lot of wastage in its preparation. But you never see it in the supermarket and rarely on a veg stall at the market. And it’s such a show-stopping, architectural plant in the garden or on the allotment; we think it earns its place on this list.

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Helianthus tuberosus - Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke

Helianthus tuberosus – Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke

Another vegetable that you don’t see in the supermarket, the Jerusalem artichoke (it’s not an artichoke… and nothing to do with Jerusalem for that matter!) is a relative of the sunflower. As such, this perennial root vegetable doubles up as an ornamental having bright yellow flowers on a stem that can grow 5-10 foot tall.

Available here

Matteuccia struthiopteris - ostrich ferns and fiddleheads

Matteuccia struthiopteris – ostrich fern, shuttlecock fern

It’s the young unfurled fronds, or fiddleheads, of the ostrich fern that can be eaten – not raw though. Neither of us have ever tried them, but they are meant be delicious sautéed in butter. They contain omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids, fibre, potassium, antioxidants… full of goodness!

Available here

Phaseolus coccineus - Scarlet runner beans

Phaseolus coccineus – Scarlet runner beans

The pods of the scarlet runner bean conceal the most beautiful beans! Eat them in their pods while they’re still young & tender, cook the shelled beans from fresh or dry and store them for a later date. Grow & train the plant up a wigwam or trellis where you can appreciate the scarlet flowers in all their glory. Even the roots are edible – a true perennial all-rounder!

Available here

Polygonatum biflorum canaliculatum - Solomon's seal

Polygonatum biflorum canaliculatum – Solomon’s seal

We’ve had a pot of Solomon’s Seal in our garden for years and never knew that it’s an edible plant. Talking of all-rounders, the starchy rhizomes of Solomon’s seal can be used to make bread and soup, the young stems can be eaten like asparagus and it’s used in herbal medicine as an anti-inflammatory, sedative and a tonic.

Available here

Rheum rhabarbarum - Rhubarb

Rheum rhabarbarum – Rhubarb

One of my favourites! I love it in pies, crumble and as a compote atop plain yoghurt. We may use it like a fruit, but it’s actually a vegetable, similar to celery.  It’s a beautiful, sculptural plant with its huge, tropical-looking leaves at the end of bright pink stalks. It’s only these stalks that are edible – the leaves are famously poisonous… but they are terrific for the compost heap, the toxic oxalic acid quickly breaks down. Rhubarb is known as a bit of a bully and can become rampant, so keep an eye on its spread. We already have a couple of varieties growing in dolly tubs in our garden.

Available here

Scorzonera hispanica - black salsify

Scorzonera hispanica – black salsify

If you live in a cold part of the country like we do, black salsify can cope with that. Another relative of the sunflower, it has lovely yellow flowers. If you’re growing carrots on your allotment, use this as a companion plant as it’s believed to repel carrot fly. Another nutritious root vegetable, it’s rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, and various vitamins.

Available here

Urtica dioica - Stinging nettle

Urtica dioica – Stinging nettle

Most people see stinging nettle as a weed, a pest. Poor thing, it doesn’t deserve that reputation! It’s really versatile. We inherited a couple of patches, which we have left alone, when we took on our allotment (their presence is an indicator of a good quality soil!).

Pick the young leaves (wearing gardening gloves) and cook with them in much the same way as you would use spinach. It’s full of protein, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. It can be used to brew tea and beer. Use the leaves and roots to make natural dyes. Even the stalks can be used to make a textile similar to linen. Soak it in a large watering can or water butt to produce home-made liquid fertiliser. Insects love it,  If you keep chickens, feed it to them and the yolks of their eggs even more yellow. If you still feel the need to uproot it, put it on your compost heap, it’s full of nitrogen which helps in the breakdown of the organic material. What’s not to love about the humble stinging nettle?

Gimme Five: Tumbling tomatoes

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Selection of 5 types of tumbling tomatoes

Our potatoes have been chitted & planted out, the first of our veg seedlings have sprouted, it’s time to start thinking about getting some tomatoes started.

Our garden (and allotment for that matter) is really shady, a definite no-no for sun-worshipping toms. The sun only hits our back garden from around 1pm, and only at a height of 4 foot and above. We have a tall south-facing fence so we’ve decided to try growing tumbling tomatoes along it. We have a couple of hanging baskets and just bought some hanging grow bags.

Mark Ridsdill Smith aka the Vertical Veg Man recommends ‘Cherry Cascade’ for hanging baskets. In a Telegraph gardening trial ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ came out tops. After some research, we’ve come up with this short-list of tumbling tomato contenders.

  1. Tomato ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow’ (10 seeds): £2.25, Marshalls
  2. Tomato ‘Gartenperle’ (25 seeds): £1.49, Crocus
  3. Tomato ‘Cherry Falls’ (15 seeds): £3.19, Mr Fothergill’s
  4. Tomato ‘Romello’ F1 hybrid (6 seeds): £3.99, Thompson & Morgan
  5. Tomato ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ (8 seeds): £3.99, Suttons

Gimme Five! Shade loving vegetables

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selection of 5 shade loving vegetables | H is for Home | #gardening #allotment #seeds

We’ve been working down to our allotment a couple of times in the past few weeks, mainly raking up mounds and mounds of leaves that fell last autumn.

In the summer, much of the plot is in dappled shade thanks to lots of big, tall beech trees. Because of this, a lot of what we planted last year such as tomatoes and peas didn’t produce bumper harvests. This year we’ve been looking into shade loving vegetables.

Vegetables and herbs with lots of dark green leaves are an indicator to shade tolerance. Spinach, kale, lettuce, parsley, coriander will all do well. There’s a saying I’ve come across which is a general rule of thumb for growing fruit & veg: “If you grow it for the fruit, you need full sun. If you grow it for the leaves, stems or sprouts, partial shade is all you need.”

Viva Vegetables

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Viva Vegetables medium tote bags

Win one of these gorgeous tote bags – they’re from the Viva Vegetables range, one of the new Spring 2015 collections from the folks at Talented.

Even if you’re a complete carnivore, you’ll love this quirky range of colourful canvas bags. They’re both attractive and versatile.

Talented is an eco-company based in Sheffield specialising in creatively driven, sustainable accessories and tote bags. The brand celebrates the bag as an art form and collaborates with upcoming British artists, designers and print makers on a seasonal rotation.

Viva Vegetables is designed by American crafter Leslie Astor who now lives here in the UK. Leslie’s four designs pay homage to a few of Britain’s favourite vegetables. Large-scale prints of broccoli, carrots, beetroot and asparagus adorn the colourfully dyed canvas tote bags. Viva Vegetables small tote bags

The collection is inspired by the farmers’ market at Grand Army Plaza in New York City. When Leslie lived in Brooklyn, she and her family would visit the market every Saturday.

Leslie said:

“A tote bag gets out and about and exposed to a lot of eyes in a lot of different contexts: the subway, the office, the grocery store, the park – maybe all of those places in a day. Given that fact, I wanted my series of totes to be conversation starters, and I think they are.”

Viva Vegetables are made and printed at a fair-trade certified factory in India and are available in 2 sizes – medium tote bag and mini tote bag. They’re available to buy from the doodle bag website.

For your chance to win one, just comment below telling us which size & design you’d like and how you’d use it. To carry your lunch to work? A school bag for your child? To pop to the shops? Something else entirely? 🙂

Viva Vegetables tote bag

Allotment Diary: Clearing up, winding down

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cabbage, apples and potatoes from our allotment

Autumn is well & truly here – and our weekend visit to the allotment certainly proved it.

ripening tomatoes on our allotment

It was a beautiful sunny day, but the unmistakable signs of nature winding down for the year were all around.

collecting fallen leaves into a wheelbarrow

We picked a few remaining crops and cleared fallen leaves & beech masts.

robin on our allotment

Within seconds, our canny little friend appeared to snack on freshly uncovered worms & insects.

chilli apple compote made from windfall apples

Justin didn’t go hungry either – he rustled up an evening meal from the last of the vegetables and windfall apples.

pork chop with veg and apple sauce made from produce from our allotment

Pork chop with an apple & chilli compote – baby potatoes & cabbage with balsamic vinegar. Ready, Steady, Cook – eat your heart out! 😉

Allotment Diary: Lots of weeds!

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old ceramic sink where we're growing salad, full of weeds

It’s been a whole three weeks since we’ve last been to our allotment. Whenever we had the time to go, it was pouring with rain; when the weather was fine, we were busy with other commitments. We entered the plot with trepidation – in what kind of state was it going to be? This old sink we’d planted with mixed salad seeds was quite typical – what’s salad and what’s weeds? This scene was repeated all over the plot.

pea seedling and sunflower seedling

Weeds were our main problem, but pests had taken their toll too. Of the half dozen apiece of garden pea and sunflower seeds we planted in this bed – once we’d finished weeding around them – only a single specimen of each had survived some phantom killer! We definitely can’t leave it 3 weeks again!

wheelbarrow of potato plants to be transplanted

We discovered some (unplanned) potato plants that had erupted in some of our beds. We dug them up and transplanted them into a big black bin that we’d inherited from the previous allotment custodian. We don’t know if they’ll produce anything, but thought we’d give them a chance.

unripe currants

One thing that we didn’t need to worry about were our fruit bushes. We certainly won’t be short of berries to pick in a couple of months time. There are about a dozen shrubs full of young fruits – red, white and blackcurrants. A bit of research into interesting berry recipes will be needed!