Many people feel the call of the land. For some it is a home coming, returning to the place they were raised. For others it is a need to reconnect with nature and ground themselves. Many more wish to regain control of their lives, their food, even their air and water.
Knowing why you feel the call is the first step on your journey back to the land. It may change as you grow; a homecoming might morph into a return to land-based living. A small farm might slowly be regenerated back into native forest. As long as you understand why you need to go back to the land, it will be a move that is right for you.
If you are not sure why, look at your life now.
Do you make time to go camping, tramping in the bush or spend all day at the beach?
Do you visit your family home/land at every opportunity?
Do you spend your free time gardening, with animals or in the kitchen preserving or preparing homecooked food for your family?
Perhaps you hunt, fish or simply like to chill watching the birds or the stars in the night sky?
These are your interests and if your land reflects these interests, it will be home. If you try to live a life which is not right for you, chances are you will not be happy on your land. Many ‘lifestyle blocks’, off grid havens or small rural homesteads resell within a few years as people realise this was not what they wanted. Sometimes that means moving to a larger property but often it is a return to urban living. By facing up to and really focusing on what makes you tick, this can hopefully be avoided.
But there are other matters to consider, location being a very important one. Will you still have to work or be close to work? Can you find enough work near the land, work from home or make enough income from your land to not have to ‘go’ to work?
School aged children can influence this too, with proximity to school or school transport. Homeschooling is a great solution to this; a lot of parents are now choosing to educate their children themselves.
But the most confronting issue in a rural location is isolation. Can you cope with not seeing another person for days or weeks on end or do you need a more social environment like a village or closer community?
We live on a gravel road with just one other occupied house, an hour from the nearest small town. Our neighbour’s are 2.5 km away and unless the bee farm or grazing farmers have work down our road the only vehicles that travel our road are us, the postie (3 days a week) and the occasional tourist. We can go weeks or months with no visitors, our only social interaction being weekly trips town, occasional chats with neighbours (talking 15 km radius here) phone calls and social media. It suits us, it’s quiet and remotish, a haven from the outside world. But we have people who come here and they can’t handle it. No shop just down the road, no takeaways, no cell phone coverage, the moreporks are too loud… It’s just not for them.
We moved here from a village, neighbours walking their dogs, primary school across the road, dairy industry all around. While we had some good neighbours, often you felt exposed and just wanted to hide away somewhere peaceful.
Which does in fact raise another issue, noise…
We may imagine a quiet spot, the rustling of trees and the songs of the birds. But reality is often the sounds of country work, motorbikes, side by sides, tractors, chainsaws. Stock and forestry trucks rumbling by. Bulls bellowing, sheep baaing, goats can make a hell of a racket! Obviously, the further remote you are the less the vehicle noise, but the more likely you are to have the goats maaing and stags roaring. Which means the more likely you are to have hunters too. While there are rules around hunting, if you choose to live in a remote bush location chances are there will be gunshots. If this is likely to frazzle your nerves it is something to consider.
There is also the belief that living off the land and off grid will means very low bills. This is true to a point. Bit what you have to consider is fuel and vehicle costs to go anywhere, to bring materials in for building etc. Tradesmen costs become horrendous. Remote small towns are generally limited in resources and therefore it can cost more to get the things you need. But most importantly that you are responsible for your infrastructure and the repairing of it should anything go wrong. Learning basic ‘fix it’ skills before you move away from the convenience of town is probably one of the most cost saving steps you can take. There are a lot of electrical jobs you can do, learning how to wire up lighting and plug circuits etc. Understanding water collection and basic plumbing. Building, construction, making concrete and fencing. Drainage, irrigation and grey water dispersal. The more you learn the easier and cheaper your move will be. If you are aiming for simple off grid, experience not having hot water, heating your water on a gas ring or fire in pots. Try cooking just on a camp stove, gas ring or woodfire. Turn off what you don’t need, live without a fridge and a washing machine for a week or two. Give yourself a chance to experience little or no power before you take the plunge into off grid living. If you are looking at moving to a tiny house, move into your lounge and kitchen for a week, a month, see if it can work for you.
Living off your land can also throw up challenges, if you are reliant on it for food then that is your primary role on your property, to make sure that food is there. Even if that means you are stuck eating silverbeet and pork for a week because that’s all that’s around. You see all these stories of people living off the land, or working towards it and what you need to understand is we all have times when there is just not that much in the garden. It could be the season or crops have been damaged by bad weather, drought may have dried up the garden so you struggle to grow anything. Or life simply threw you a curve ball and things didn’t get planted on time. We can get around this by having food stores, preserving the gluts and creating diversity in our food sources. But sometimes we just need to buy more food, and sometimes we need to buy more livestock food.
If you are hoping to raise livestock or just have your own ‘petting zoo’, you need to understand how many animals you can have. It is easy to over stock when the grass is growing well and find yourself short of grass as the growth slows. Best way to sort this is to talk to locals with livestock or just build it up slowly. But most importantly just be prepared to sell or put in the freezer some stock if you have overestimated your grass availability. If you have never raised animals before than I suggest you read this article, https://fodderfarm.co.nz/2018/12/15/where-theres-live-stock-theres-dead-stock/
I raise all these points not to put you off making your move back to the land. It is more about increasing your preparedness so that your move will be what is right for you and your family. We have lived through many difficulties on our journey and have even had to return to urban living for a time. We have struggled with little funds to make necessary repairs and improvements to cruddy old houses. Lived with no stove, no fridge, no bathroom. Struggled through droughts on limited tank water and watched our vege garden die. But we have learnt every step of the way and will never stop learning.
Restoring pasture land following a pine forest harvest.
Our small block of pines was harvested over the winter, not ideal timing by any stretch of the imagination. But the combined factors of it only being a few hectares and a long way from anywhere meant our options were limited.
As homesteaders on approximately 6 hectares of land we have a close connection to our land, but the pine trees felt like interlopers. They should never have been part of this landscape, planted on some of the few gentle sloping areas in a steep rugged farming and bush valley. In our wet environment they were becoming hazards, with trees falling or breaking after every rain or wind event. As they were at harvest age, we decided it was better to remove them and repurpose the land for a more beneficial use.
Initially we were told the harvest would happen in late spring, but after many date changes it was not until the following winter that the harvesters arrived. The result of heavy machinery on sodden land in high rainfall country was massive track rutting which filled with water every time it rained. Branches and even whole logs were churned into the mud, often to provide footing for the machines. Numerous breakdowns and another lockdown delayed the job but by early September they were gone leaving us with the cleanup.
Unsure of how much, if anything, we would receive from the harvest and having seen the damage done to the land by the machines, David began the cleanup by hand, starting by clearing a small spring fed stream which ran across the paddock. The slash had choked the flow and the whole centre of the paddock was a sodden mess. Getting the stream flowing again allowed much of the area to dry out enough to work in it. He learnt fast that it was best to wear work gloves after getting several large splinters up under his finger nails on the first day of clearing. David then moved on to the area where the old man pines had been dropped the slash was deep on the ground, masses of pinecones spread through the debris made walking even more hazardous. We were offered the use of a tractor but it was still too wet to get the tractor in the paddock. The job was an exhausting and relentless one. Branch after branch had to be released from the tangled mass or pulled from the still wet ground. Where the harvester had sat and stripped piles of logs, the pine needles and small debris formed thick mats up to a metre deep, often with large branches or short logs buried in it. In these thick areas David built the fire stacks, better to burn it out then try to pull it apart. In areas which had become boggy, logs were squashed into the earth to create ’platforms’ so the heavy machinery wouldn’t end up sinking belly deep in the mud. Seeing all this made the plan of growing pasture in the paddock seem a very distant dream.
We had wanted to biochar as much wood as possible but the reality was to remove the large firewood and just burn anything else. Leaving the slash to break down was not an option as we are returning most of the land to pasture as it was pre pines. If you were planning on replanting in tree species this level of slash removal would not be necessary as they can be planted amongst the slash, but for our purposes it was to be cleared back to the soil. Draining the sitting water from the massive ruts and cleaning the small spring fed steam helped to get the water off the land and dry up many areas. But as the sun came out the earth dried into a solid almost concrete like mass with branches and logs sticking out. Piles of slash dotted one end of the paddock and days were spent burning the pyres and pulling more surrounding slash on top. Green piles were slow and difficult to burn, with whole days spent maintaining them. Dry piles burnt hot and fast but often tried to escape across the bark, needle and twig littered ground. Huge piles of firewood grew in the paddock, short logs and stumps cut into rings; large branches cut to more manageable lengths. It took about a week to mostly clear about ¼ of an acre and have it ready to reseed with pasture. As each area was cleared seed was spread, the aim being to establish cover as fast as possible. Partially to avoid any soil loss and further damage in our high rainfall area and also because any grass which was in these paddocks was gone and our grazing was now severely limited.
Hand clearing several hectares of pine slash is a depressing job. A whole day of slogging, exhausting labour and you look up to still see a vast expanse of mess. It gives you a true appreciation of the toil of the first settlers in this landscape, as they cleared the land for their homes and farms. But there are times of enjoyment, a cuppa in the midst of it admiring the stunning rugged views now evident all around us, talking to a small robin as it flits around finding bugs in the freshly turned pine needle litter. Listening to the river below and the quiet roar of waterfalls cascading into the ravine. The valley feels less closed in now, we can see down it to the neighbours hut perched on their hilltop 2km away and back up to the DOC land past the neighbouring bee farm.
We have left the stumps in the ground as the work involved to remove them is huge. As we get the more pressing jobs sorted, like the rest of the slash cleared and pasture and fences in place, we will look a dealing with the stumps. We have a number of options and will trial a few to see what works best for us within our environment. Those in the way of any farm tracks will be dug out but the majority will be left to rot with various methods use to accelerate the process.
With about half the big paddock cleared and pasture sown, David moved to a smaller paddock for a bit of variety and a change of view. It was here that another forestry crew approached him about access across our land to avoid using a small bridge on our narrow gravel road. We had been wary about having more heavy machinery over our land as we had witnessed the impact they can have. But the offer to clean up our final paddock and create access down the steep banks to our creek was a light at the end of the tunnel after months of hard labour. They brought in two diggers which had been creating tracks through the large forestry block opposite us. Two days later the paddock was raked with 3 mountainous piles of slash. But the majority of the paddock was now able to be sown and the next rainy day we spread a mixed pasture seed over the freshly cleared land. The creek was cleared of debris from our harvest and the steep banks replanted with natives. An old hand dug culvert cave was uncovered, hidden beneath the punga and mahoe. This is an amazing piece of history and more evidence of the hard work of the early settlers on this land. It is a cave dug through rock to divert the flow of the stream, about 20ms long. They would then full in the small ravine to push the water through the culvert and remove the need to build a bridge, how long this worked for I wouldn’t know as we now have a small bridge spanning the stream and the culvert is now home to hundreds of giant weta.
We sowed the first grass seed in late September, the cold temperatures meant a long wait to for the seed to sprout but by late December the area was covered in better pasture than before the pine harvest. Where the piles were burnt the grass is lush and dark green, the potash having boosted its growth. In other areas the endemic lotus is in dominance, but its use as a rapid ground cover in the poorer condition areas is much appreciated. The weeds are there too, inkweed, betony, foxglove, thistles, blackberry and the ferns which thrived under the pines, but David walks the land with the weed whacker taking the tops off. With no fences in place the feral goats have been grazing the land too, which is helping keep the blackberry in check. Almost the entire roadside fence line had to be removed as the skid sites had to move due to the wet ground. We had seen the tangled mess of fence left if the forestry were to remove a fence so David had gone through in advance and rolled back the wire and battens. The posts and gate were removed too and stacked out of the way, saving and reusing as much as possible will save us hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the long run.
The two main skid sites were left a mess of churned topsoil, clay, volcanic ash and pine debris. The massive metre deep ruts were full of manky water and in many places the old fence line was nonexistent. The use of a neighbours tractor for a day helped level out some areas but with bald tires it was a risky business in the slippery areas, so David abandoned that and much of the leveling was carried out with a shovel. I’m pretty sure the farmer who grazed the bee farm up the road must have thought we were crazy by now… but when it won’t stop raining and drizzling long enough to dry out, things just need to get done. We had some old crappy hay so tried spreading this over the grass seed on one of the skid sites once it was leveled and just sowed the other. The ground with the loose hay cover grew much better grass which could be attributed to the retaining of moisture within the mulch and the extra seed contained in the hay. But another area where we had been feeding out hay and silage prior to the harvest was also producing a better coverage and quality of pasture.
We believe that the use of the hay helps to change the ‘signals’ of the soil to the production of pasture species. Seeds will sprout when the conditions are right and pasture species prefer a 50/50 Bacteria/Fungi ratio, whereas trees (in our case the pines) do well in a higher fungal soil. By adding in organic matter of which you are wanting to grow our theory is you adapt the soil to your needs. In areas where these methods weren’t used, we had a more sporadic pasture and a higher occurrence of weed species, especially the woody weeds as they would naturally occur in the higher fungal areas left by tree removal. Another interesting study that we came across was that pines do not actually create an acidic soil, though it is their preferred growing condition. The acidity in the landscape is actually the result of damp shady conditions which the close planting of a plantation in a wet environment creates. This is the same effect created by our native forests. So, the theory may be extrapolated that by removing the conditions which create acidity and by supporting the earth natural processes, nature will start the process to balance the PH to suit the existing plant species, in our case pasture…
As I write this (December 2021) David has been working on the restoring the fence line on the large paddock. It has been three months since we sowed some of this area and its now grazable. While the paddock still requires a lot of work to finish the cleanup there is now much more and better-quality pasture than pre harvest. We are finally reaching a stage in this whole process where the weight of it is lifting. What have we learnt from clearing by hand? Be prepared for it to take many years if wishing to return the land completely to pasture, not because it takes that long to establish pasture but because of the shear amount of exhausting work involved. Once an area is clear pasture can be established in as little as three months. We recommend that clearing by hand is only undertaken if you have a small amount to clear (under a hectare) or a team of willing workers.
The pros and cons
Smaller piles to burn
Minimal soil disturbance
Builds lots of muscle, stamina and endurance.
Very hard work
Slow and labour intensive
Wears through lots of work gloves
Very hard on your body, need to pace yourself.
Surface is left in a reasonable tilth to sow into.
Can have landscaping done at the same time, e.g. shaping for water run off etc.
Scary huge piles of slash
Churns soil in wet areas
Compaction – affects deeper layers
Cost – can cost $1000 plus per day per machine, plus transportation costs for getting machines to and from the site.
July 2022 update
After a long hot dry summer and autumn David has been back in the large paddock clearing the slash. It has been too dry to burn anything and after a brushfire, which was possibly caused by wind blowing powerlines into an old man pine, we have been wary of fires in our remote area. But we are back into open fire season now, the dry being broken by nearly two weeks of rainy weather.
Progress has been much faster, even with David having to dig logs from the wet ground. The green needles are long gone and with them a lot of the weight he had to contend with when the slash was fresh. The soil has changed too, soon after the harvest it was a puggy sticky churned mess. But now it crumbles and the needles and smaller debris have broken down giving the soil a nice dark colour in many places. While there is still a lack of worm life evident, there is a large amount of fungi already working to break down the logs and stumps. This should mean there is a high fungal load in the soil and with the animals grazing the bacteria should be building too. Hopefully this will help balance the soil into a more suitable environment for growing pasture. That said the areas which are already established in pasture coped reasonably well with our prolonged dry summer. In the large paddock there is a high water table due to the springs which flow from the hill across the road, this has certainly helped maintain the pasture in this paddock. The paddock which the machines cleared has not fared so well, while it has a cover of chicory and plantain, the young grass did not survive the assault of the neighbours cattle and the lack of rain. This paddock is much drier as most of the hill runoff is diverted through a small gully along side the road. We will need to use pasture species which can handle a drier environment here. We also think that while the machinery left the surface in a decent tilth that the compaction layer is quite shallow and possibly the scraping action of the machines has actually worsened the compaction. The plants which have grown there this summer are all deep-rooted, mining or pioneer plants, chicory, plantain, inkweed, thistles, nightshade and seedling pines. Weed management has been an ongoing issue especially in this paddock. We are hoping as we develop the pastures and change the soil fungi/bacteria ratios that these weed species will disappear.
The area where we had fed out hay on last winter/spring are coping well under the grazing pressure. So, we are utilising the locally grown hay, which we feed out to the stock daily, on the newly cleared land. This should hopefully reseed the land with a mixture of locally adapted pasture plants. The animal’s ‘hoof’ the seed into the ground, giving it a better chance of actually germinating and developing a good root hold. The residue hay will help change the land balance towards pasture growth as it decomposes. If you were trying to regenerate pasture without animals, spreading old hay, silage or haylage should hopefully spread the mixed seed and compost matter to enable faster regrowth.
Fat is an essential part of your nutritional needs. The easiest way to produce these fats on your land is through saturated animal fats. The rise in popularity of the Keto and Paleo diets has seen resurgence in the amount of people choosing to consume highly nutritious fats. Primarily these fats are animal sourced, tallow, lard, duck, goose and chicken fat, butter, but there is also coconut oil and olive oil (Olive oil is lower in saturated fat and should be for uncooked use only). There are many studies which show that cooking with these fats is much healthier than the highly processed vegetable oils most people favour. Butter is considered a wonder food, high in fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, K and E and has many other benefits.
The emergence of many studies which are pro saturated fat has led many, many people to question the medical worlds stance on it. This includes promoting substances like margarine which many studies now show is detrimental to your health. What an upside-down world we live in…
Here’s a couple of You Tube videos to explain this further…
We will stick to our home grown natural saturated fats from animals raised in a clean environment.
Here’s a break down of the various animals fats and terms…
Lard is pork fat; it is stable and a preferred fat for frying. Lard can come from any part of the pig that has a high concentration of fatty tissue. Leaf lard is a high-grade lard which comes from the cavity fat surrounding the kidneys and loin. Often unrendered lard is added to other meats in sausage making to increase the fat content. Rendered Leaf lard is a popular fat for pie crusts and lard was used in many countries as a spread on bread.
Tallow is the fat of beef and mutton, very stable and can be used for frying. Tallow is usually rendered from the suet fat of the animal.
Dripping is the fat left after roasting. It is poured into a storage container (which was often a tin can or mug) and kept for cooking other foods.
Bacon fat is often saved from cooking bacon and used to cook other foods as it imparts the bacon flavour into them.
Suet is the cavity fat of the animal which surrounds the kidneys etc. it has a high smoke point and is very stable. The raw suet is chopped up finely and slowly melted at low heat. Once melted it is strained and put into a sterilised jar, can be stored in a cool place for a year. Suet can be used for frying, deep frying or baking, it is traditionally used in short crust pastry, baked puddings and dumplings.
Duck and Goose fat is semi solid at room temperature, quite stable. With a high smoke point they are good for frying and sautéing and have a rich flavour. Rendering can be achieved by slow roasting a whole duck or goose and cutting or pricking the skin often to release more fat. Strain the fat and store in a sterilized jar in the fridge or freeze for up to a year.
Chicken fat or Schmaltz is widely used for frying, stews and roasts or as a spread on bread in Kosher kitchens. It is made from the rendered fat of chicken either from slowly cooking the skin and fat or pouring off the fat from roasting chicken. Another method is to skim the schmaltz from the surface of broth once it has cooled. Strain the fat and store in a sterilized jar in the fridge for up to 6 months or freeze for up to a year.
Caul or lace fat, this is the fine webbing fat which covers the internal organs of animals such as sheep, pigs, cattle and deer etc. It can be removed carefully and is then washed by placing in a colander and thoroughly rinsing with cold water. If it retains a slight ‘innards’ smell the caul can be soaked in water with vinegar or lemon juice, then rinsed again. Dry the caul before using or freezing. Caul is used to wrap meat to retain moisture and shape, often used with ground or lean meat.
Butter is made by churning cream until the fat separates from the buttermilk, it is then strained and washed to remove all trances of buttermilk. The butter fats are then salted if desired and “worked” or “patted” by pressing and kneading together. This process shapes the butter but also helps remove any residual buttermilk or water. Butter can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks, at room temp for a couple of days and for about 9 to 10 months if frozen. Make sure butter is well wrapped or in an airtight container to avoid taste contamination from strong smelling food like onions.
Ghee or clarified butter is produced by melting butter gently until the water content has evaporated and the solids have separated. The whey proteins will float and are skimmed off, the casein sinks and is left behind when the butterfat (Ghee) is poured off. Ghee has a higher smoke point than butter making it good for sautéing, it also has a much longer shelf life of approx. one year if stored under 21°C. With only negligible amounts of lactose and casein it is more acceptable to people who are intolerant of these components.
(Stable means the fat is not affected by oxidisation which is one of the main causes deterioration in food. Stable fat is solid at room temperature)
For more info on rendering fat and food preservation in fat…
We’ve been thinking about the garden a lot of late, about how it works for us, what grows well here and what do we really want to utilise the space for. Seed saving, time saving and the best plants for optimum nutrition with minimum inputs are important factors. Looking at what and how much we actually eat from it has been interesting too. All of this is coming together in a rather major change of tactic within the main vegetable garden, but also spreading out into the orchard and berry gardens. Plus having finally built our large tunnel house this too will change the growing abilities of our garden. Life is often busy and with the vege garden now reaching about 200m2 of growing space it sometimes gets a bit overwhelming. How can we simplify the food production to work with our time and energy?
A few of our key observations this year have been that brassicas have been more hassle than they’re worth. Between the white cabbage butterflies and the fact that they just don’t like growing here without a lot of pandering I just can’t be bothered with them. While our soil has improved dramatically there is still someway to go before it reaches a highly healthy alive state, so focusing on the plants which thrive here, or which will help enliven the soil makes more sense to us. The other issue I have with brassicas is the cross pollination which makes seed saving difficult. So, if we want to save true seeds, we can only have one variety flowering at a time. We like sauerkraut and fried cabbage so that means the humble cabbage leads the stakes there. Violet cauli would be a close second but I have accidentally fed our teen buggy brassicas too many times and now she won’t eat it. I’m not interested in constantly picking off caterpillars, having to buy BT (Bacillus thuringiensis a natural caterpillar killer) or having to use butterfly mesh cover the crops once they are big. We do use bird nets while crops are small, but once crops are big enough to handle the birds the nets or mesh just get in the way of weeding and harvesting etc. Cabbages tend to stay squatter and cover the ground better so nets could still work with these if necessary and once they have formed nice heads, they are less prone to caterpillars finding hiding places. One thing about brassicas though is that apparently their seed stays viable for several years so you could choose one variety to save seed from each year. You would have to not allow any other varieties to flower at the same time, therefore avoiding cross pollination. Though I’m not sure I’m that organised…
We are looking at other crops in the same way, pumpkins are notorious cross pollinators so choosing only one type from each species is necessary if we want to save true to type seed. This is fine for the Cucurbita maxima species as we are happy with just a Crown or a Triamble for our long keepers and then any Butternut for the C. moschata group it’s the C. pepo where we run into problems as this group contains courgettes, Kamokamo and the oilseed pumpkins, all of which have their place in our garden. To save true seed we need to either grow the plants a long way from each other (not really practical) or isolate flowers and hand pollenate. Other wise we will end up with mutant fruit, which could be fun or a complete waste of time and space. Still working on a plan for this issue…
Self-seeders tick a lot of boxes for us, they are self-proliferating, I don’t need to actively harvest, dry and store seed, they just appear enmass when the time is right. Because of this they are also acclimatised to our area and conditions so are less likely to suffer from pest issues. There is no garden prepping for them or planting to be done. This also leads into creating permanent growing spaces for these plants going against the crop rotation methodology and leaning more towards poly-cropping or mini ecosystems within the garden. An example would be a permanent salad bed where salad crops are allowed to set seed and apart from a bit of thinning if necessary, feeding when needed (like compost top ups or liquid feeds), removal of non-edibles and of course harvesting, the bed is left to cycle through the seasons. Miners lettuce, corn salad, and violas through the cooler months with heat loving crops like purslane, orach and magenta spreen emerging over the warmer months, but always with a base crop of lettuce and rocket and possibly some Asian greens (though these could mess with any brassica seed saving).
Rocket is a great self seeder popping up all over the garden, we also have calendula, parsnips, cutting celery, leeks, perpetual spinach, violas, parsley, chives, garlic chives and other herbs. Of course there are the brassicas, Asian greens, turnip, mizuna, mustard, Bok choy and mutants from them too. There are also wild grown potatoes and the Jerusalem artichokes which spread themselves. If we allow these plants to seed into the surrounding garden bed, they establish themselves without interference from us. This could allow for better root establishment without the disturbance of transplanting, though thinning might be needed to allow plants to reach their full potential. However, this also allows for a chop/pull and drop mulch which feeds back into and protects the soil. If need be other plants can be planted into this mulch. The less time soil spends uncovered the better it is for the soil, utilising these self seeders as a cover crop prior to planting other crops would be a beneficial practice. But just make sure you allow some healthy plants to complete their life cycle to allow for the next generation of plants.
There are some concerns about certain plants (tomatoes, potatoes, brassicas etc) growing repeatedly in the same bed but if your soil is alive and healthy and you allow other plants to establish around them there is no real reason to practice crop rotation. Diversity and soil health and life are better issues to focus on than rotation of mono crops. However, specialty cover crops can be used in between edible crops if needed as they can have different purposes. For example, mustard is said to be a fumigant, cleaning up disease issues in the soil. Or legumes which are the nitrogen fixers and are great before a heavy feeder crop. Cover crops are a great way to keep your soil covered and healthy over the winter months, they bring in more diversity and if left to flower can provide a nectar source at a time when not much is available. They can still be part of a permanent crop bed if they are cut and laid for mulch prior to any seasonal crop emerging or around any existing crops before the cover crops get too big.
The idea of utilising permanent crop beds brings us to Perennial food plants. Asparagus immediately comes to mind as a permanent crop but there are so many other Edible Perennial Plants which can be utilised in the vege garden. These are generally easy care and provide more than food in your garden. Having areas where the ground is hardly disturbed apart from an occasional weeding allows a safe place for the underground life. These soil and plant critters, bacteria and fungi are all part of the ecosystem of your garden. Allowing them safe havens within the garden protect them from the constant tilling and bare soil which many vege gardeners seem to favour. The more life you have in your soil the healthier and more nutritious your plants will be. Sure, you can grow beautiful big plants with well-manicured beds, fed with artificial fertilisers and any issues controlled with chemicals. But wouldn’t you rather care for your soil, the life within and around it and not have to buy so many inputs? What happens if for some reason you can’t get those inputs anymore? Its these issues which lead us to soil health by sourcing and nutrient recycling as much from our own property as possible. If we are to create a survival garden it needs to be able to do just that itself, survive off its own systems and not be reliant on false nutrition to grow. If left to its own devices a landscape will grow and evolve, it will move through many stages with the processes of life and death within the soil and the plants, cycling the nutrients to support growth. By allowing your garden to experience its own cycles of sprouting, growth, producing, seeding, dying and decay it creates an ecosystem. When you remove food from the garden you return the waste as compost, vermicast or manure to keep it as part of the cycle.
We also need to consider the ‘weeds’ in the garden, not the dock and buttercup they just need annihilating! (Unless you’re planning on making dock seed flour) But the dandelions, chickweed, puha, land cress, fathen, stinging nettle, purslane, plantain… these volunteer plants are also nutrient packed and super easy to grow. We really need to step away from the concept that what you buy in the supermarket are what veges you eat and grow. There are so many more options to full your tummies and many of them will grow regardless of what you do. The reality is that if you just let your backyard naturalise you could probably harvest greens all year round. Sometimes I walk through our garden and think what is ready, but there are always greens there they were just not planted by me. We delight in the massively healthy dandelions growing in the middle of a bed, there were none when we first came here. Now I see them popping up in the lawn too and the paddock with their sunny flowers and fluffy wishes. Plantain is now everywhere, but it was missing from the pastures before. We now have it throughout the garden, though more often harvested for the rabbit’s dinner, but I know if I need it its there and not just for eating but medicine too. Puha is a thriving spring leafy green and the little cress plants and chickweed make a great salad crop and ground cover under the bigger plants.
Mix low growing plants with taller plants, deep rooting with shallow rooting, climbers with sturdy support plants, highly scented plants to block pests from smelling which plants to attack. Companion planting has long been used for plant health, improved pollination and pest repelling. But I struggle to remember more than the basics, like tomatoes and basil together. I need to utilise this more as by mixing crops which support each other, such as leeks with carrots to prevent pest issues, cropping is improved while lessening our workload. Mixed plantings which are supportive of each other, and which have their own succession make a lot of sense to me. Late summer and autumn can become a muddle of trying to balance the late producing crops with the need to plant crops for winter eating. If a plant is still producing late in the season, I am loath to remove it because the space is needed for the next lot of crops. But if it can be trimmed (tomatoes) or moved aside onto the path (courgettes) then other plants can establish around it. When it has finally finished it can become mulch for the garden or be cut off at the base for composting, there is no need to remove the roots, just let them break down in the soil.
The inclusion of more beneficial flowering plants in the garden also makes for a pretty workspace. These beneficial companion plants generally fit into the self-seeding category too and can be utilised as living ground covers to support soil health, aid pollination and for their own edible or medicinal uses. Around our blueberries we have a living ground cover of violas and strawberries (both ‘normal’ and alpine) while we do have to weed it occasionally the garden generally looks good with the green of the strawberry leaves and the bright splashes of purple and yellow violas. This bed is also prolific with its fungi which is all part of the biodiversity. We actively encourage fungi in the garden with regular top ups of wood mulch on the paths and around perennial plants. We have also inoculated an area of the garden with King Stropharia mycelium an edible decomposer mushroom. While we are still waiting for the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) to appear the mycelium has spread throughout the whole area in an impressive white network of hyphae.
These fungi networks are one of the reasons why less disturbance of the soil is better for its health. Healthy soil is a thriving mass of life, tiny critters, earthworms, bacteria and fungi all entwined in the roots of the plants, the earth and the mulch surrounding them. This is another reason why we are loath to garden in a conventional way of bare soil, digging over beds and using any insecticides, fungicides or chemical fertilisers which kill the underground life rather than nurture it.
The survival garden is not just about us having a constant source of food it is about our soil’s survival too…
Perennials in the vege garden are nothing new, in fact many old gardens would have had easy care perennials and self sowers as the basis of their food supply. It is only the more modern times where we have stepped away from these foods and embraced the hybrid vege, the seeds of which no longer produce true to type. But there has been a shift back to the heritage crops, a renaissance of seed savers and the rise in popularity of food forests which has seen the perennial veges regain their place in gardens.
I thought when I began compiling this list for my ‘Survival Garden’ that I knew most of what was available in New Zealand. However, a read through Kahikatea Farm’s unusual vegetable pages soon showed me that there was much more. Jo from Kahikatea Farm has kindly given me permission to include her resources here. So, we have compiled a list of perennials, and some Biennials, many which can hold a permanent place in your garden. This means they also create a haven for the soil life, a place where no tilling takes place, like an anchor point in a quiet bay. Where the fungi can spread their fragile and beautiful mycelium. Where the underground critters can find a thriving colony of life and food.
The greater the balance of life you have in your soil the healthier and more nutritious your plants will be and the less work you need to do to have a ready supply of food. Perennials give you the opportunity to create ecosystems within your garden. They can provide shelter, support and mulch for your annuals or less hardy plants. Their established root systems pull the nutrients from deeper in the soil and the processes of growth and decay feed those nutrients back through the system in a bio available way, cycling the nutrients throughout the surrounding garden. Utilising chop and drop mulching for the more wayward growth keeps the surrounding soil covered further supporting the life beneath.
Above the soil the permanence of many of these plants provides a year-round habitat for many insects and wildlife. (Though in this regard I am still tossing up whether the Californian Quails are friend or foe in our garden. Hopefully they are helping control the slugs, but the flip side is they love to scratch in the mulch around the young plants.) But diversity should be encouraged and that includes insects and birds, all are part of a thriving ecosystem, it’s about achieving the right balance.
In our larger systems there are our livestock animals, they too benefit from our perennial plantings for fodder and forage. Many of these plants are suitable for feeding a range of creatures including ourselves. Some we grow as feed purely for the livestock, especially the pigs, the Jerusalem artichoke for example. It is a great summer shelter plant, bee plant and leaf fodder, then as it dies down the tubers become pig fodder and the stems are chopped and added to our autumn composts as carbon. The multi-use of so many of these plants is another reason to utilise them in your growing space. By utilising plants that are multipurpose we can add elements to our vege garden which go beyond just food and make maximum use of what space we have. The most common uses are food, fodder, bee plant, compost and mulch. But there are also those which are mineral accumulators, mining nutrients from deep in the soil, nitrogen fixers and some are medicinal. Many of our herbs can be included here too, rosemary, lavender, thyme, chives, oregano, French tarragon, marjoram, mint, lemon balm and so many more. There are some herbs included in the list below as they can be used more as veges rather than seasonings.
These days most of these perennial edibles are unknown, apart from asparagus and rhubarb many will not be found at the green grocers or supermarket. It may take some adjustments for us to get used to cooking and eating many of them. Perhaps more of a move back to eating seasonally. We love it when spring brings us the first shoots of asparagus and the fat tender globe artichokes covered in melting garlic butter. The fresh green tips of the NZ spinach are harvested as other veges are just popping their heads up. Summer is a chaotic mass of food, annual, perennial and self-sown proliferation. Then autumn brings an abundance of chokos for us and the pigs, plus yams and earth gems freshly bandicooted from their beds. But some, like the cutting celery pop up through the garden all year round. Add to these the ‘wild’ self-seeding greens and there will always be food in our garden no matter the season.
The world of perennial veges opens a whole new lot of possibilities for your garden. I have tried to find as many New Zealand available perennial veges as I can. But if you know of some which I have missed please let me know so they can be included here.
An ancient herb also known as Wild Celery, Black Lovage and Horse Parsley (horses love it). The entire plant can be eaten including the leaves, flowers, stems and roots with a taste somewhere between celery and parsley, though the older leaves and stems can be bitter and some people blanch (via deep mulching) to reduce this. Use the leaves and stems like you would celery and the seeds can apparently be used as a pepper substitute. The roots can be boiled and used in soups or grated in coleslaw or tossed in salads, roasted like parsnips or deep fried. All parts are also used to make syrups, wine and beer.
It is actually a biennial, producing leaves in the first year and then flowers and seed in the second, but is great at self-seeding throughout the garden so we will include it with the perennials. Alexanders can grow to 1.5 meters tall and are a lovely addition to your garden or food forest.
Asparagus is a popular spring vegetable which produces thick green or purple spears (depending on variety) with sweet and succulent tips. Asparagus prefers deep well drained soil with added sand or fine stones under crowns with annual side dressing of rich deep mulch. If starting from seed allow the first year “ferns” to grow on as these feed and help develop the roots, don’t cut them until they die back naturally in autumn. The crowns should stand a moderate cut the second year, but it is often best to leave harvesting to year 3. A well cared for asparagus bed can last for 15 or more years.
Bamboo – Moso – Phyllostachys edulis
There are over 100 different edible bamboos from which the tender young shoots are harvested for eating. The Moso shoots are harvested in the spring when they are about 8cm above the ground, cutting them about 5cm below the soil level with a sharp spade. The dormant young shoots are also eaten and are harvested in the winter before they emerge above the ground. The hard outer skin is peeled to expose the core which must be cooked before eating. Often this is done by boiling, rinsing and boiling again till tender.
The Moso bamboo reaches an impressive 15m in height and up to 20cm diameter. It is also used as building material but has a spreading habit so needs to be well managed.
Bean Scarlet Runner – Phaseolus coccineus
This attractive scarlet flowering bean produces many large flat pods before it dies back in autumn. The root system will resprout again in spring putting on rapid growth in fertile soils. A sturdy climbing structure is needed to support the runner beans growth. They tend to slow production as they age so plants may need to be replaced every few years. While hardier than most beans the runner bean is frost tender and will rot in cold, wet soils.
Upright perennial which grows year-round with broad leaves and bright blue edible flowers. The young leaves are used in salads, stir fries, fritters, pesto etc, they are bitter which is great for digestive health and full of vitamins. The root can be boiled or roasted like parsnips and is often roasted as a coffee substitute. The roots are also used in beer brewing as they are rich in the starch inulin which can easily be converted to alcohol. It is traditionally used medicinally in the treatment of jaundice, liver enlargement, gout and rheumatism, as well as to eliminate worms. Chicory is great fodder/forage for cows, deer, sheep, pigs, chooks and rabbits which find it highly palatable and nutritious. It is a mineral accumulator which can be added to compost heaps to aide bacterial activity or used as chop and drop mulch.
A rampant climber which produces avocado shaped fruit in autumn, which are a bit like a hard cucumber with no seeds. The vine is frost tender and will die down over winter only to come back with a vengeance the following year. Trimming is often needed to keep the vine in check as it can easily cover sheds and smother nearby plants. While better suited to warm climates, high night-time temperatures (20 to 30°c) will delay fruiting. The juicy growing vines are great fodder for pigs and chooks, I haven’t tried them for our other livestock yet.
Chokos can be peeled and chopped to use in stews, soup or as a stir fry vegetable. They can also be boiled, stuffed, mashed or pickled, with a very mild flavour it is best used with other flavourful foods or with a cheese sauce. While you often see mature fruit available many prefer to eat the younger fruit at about 6 to 8 cm for best taste and texture.
A very hardy perennial herb which is naturalised throughout NZ. The leaves and the tap root are harvested for eating and medicinal purposes. The young Dandelion leaves can be added to salads, green smoothies or as cooked greens, bitter flavour stimulates digestion, and they are a good source of minerals. The root is used for supporting liver function and stimulating digestive secretions, which helps with indigestion, poor appetite, constipation etc.
Dahlia – Dahlia pinnata
Plant tubers of the Dahlia pinnata were eaten by the Aztecs and are still widely consumed in Mexico. Two other varieties are commonly classed as edible D. coccinea and D. varibilis, with a 1914 cultivar ‘Yellow Gem’ classed as a ‘choice’ edible. The plant is frost tender, but in most areas the tubers can remain in the ground over winter, resprouting in the spring. If you have hard frosts, you may want to lift the tubers and store until the frosts have passed. Tubers for eating are lifted in the autumn after the plant has died back.
The tubers can roasted, boiled or eaten raw, though it may be preferable to peel them first. A sweet syrup can be made from the tubers which is made into a beverage or used as a flavouring. Flower petals can be used in salads and the leaves are also said to be edible, but it is hard to find information on that.
Daylilies – Hemerocallis fulva
A hardy perennial, tolerant of most conditions, it is most often valued for its beautiful flowers which usually open only for one day. But in eastern countries the daylily is more often utilised for food and medicine. All parts of the plant can be eaten, the young leaves, flower buds, flowers and the rhizomes. The flowers are said to be high in protein and Vitamin A. Hemerocallis fulva is the common variety and preferable if you wish to consume it as with some of the cultivar’s edibility is uncertain. Do not confuse it with other species of lilies as many of those are toxic.
This biennial herb readily self-seeds which is great as all parts are edible. In the first season the young roots can be eaten raw or cooked like potatoes. The leaves can be used in salads or as cooked greens, while the young flowering stems are peeled and eaten raw, cooked or pickled. The flowers are also edible and are often used in salads or desserts, while the seeds are a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
A very hardy, tall perennial herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. A highly aromatic and flavourful herb with an anise flavour used in cooking. Florence fennel is a variety with a swollen, bulb-like stem base that is used as a vegetable. Fennel is a useful companion plant for attracting bees, hoverflies and ladybirds. The Fennel plant accumulates sulphur and potassium, it is great for a woody mulch or cut up and added to composts. It is suited to most soil types and very drought tolerant. Fennel also has medicinal qualities, especially as a digestive aide and as part of a medicinal herbal ley for stock.
The Globe Artichoke is a stunning perennial suitable for both the edible and ornamental garden. It’s large grey-green leaves add an architectural element to the garden and the large globe shaped buds open into attractive purple blooms, which are loved by the bees. Vigorous, prolific, and hardy, this perennial is also edible and medicinal. The globes are harvested at about fist size and before they open, but the stems and fleshy leaf parts can also be eaten. Medicinally the artichoke is thought to have the one of the highest antioxidant levels of all vegetables.
Artichokes are best grown in full sun in reasonably fertile and well-drained soil. They may flower in their first year but fully mature in their second year with the plants lasting 3 – 4 years before needing replacing. However, they can continue from side shoots and dividing every 2 –3 years will keep them producing. Cut back the stems in autumn and use in the compost or as mulch around the plants returning the nutrients to the plants. In cold areas mulching the plants well in late autumn can help protect plants from the cold winter weather. Globe artichokes can reach 1.8 m and have a spread of about 1 m so give them room to grow, planting about 60 cm+ apart in a group creates a stunning mass planting.
A tall (1.5m) perennial root vegetable from the brassica family. Horseradish has long been cultivated for its spicy pungent root which is grated and mixed with vinegar to create a sauce. A reasonably hardy plant though like most brassicas it is prone to white cabbage butterfly attack. The roots are dug arfter the first frost knocks back the leaves. The main root is used to make horseradish sauce and the side shoots can be replanted for next years crop. If unharvested horseradish can spread by underground shoots and become invasive.
Hosta/Plantain lily – Hosta sp.
These shade loving herbaceous perennials are usually grown for their attractive foliage, however the leaves, stems and flowers are edible as well. Most commonly the spring shoots are harvested before the leaves unfurl, these can be eaten raw, stir-fried or boiled. The opened leaves can also be eaten stir-fried or like you would spinach. As the leaves age they develop a more bitter taste. Flowers and stems are said to be rather bland but are still edible.
Lovage is herbaceous perennial, dying back in winter then reappearing in spring. It prefers rich moist soil in either sun or part shade. The whole plant is edible with the celery-flavoured leaves used cooked in soups, sauces, stews, and casseroles. The fresh leaves go well chopped into salads, meat and fish dishes. In the garden it is considered to be a good companion plant to root crops like potatoes and swedes. Lovage was also a popular medicinal herb recognised for its use in stimulating for the digestive organs and as an inner cleanser for the body.
New Zealand Spinach is a reasonably hardy native trailing plant that covers the ground with long stems of soft fleshy foliage with a crystalline appearance. It is drought tolerant though the leaves can become bitter, and so is best to maintain soil moisture for succulent leaves and stem tips. Hard frosts will knock it back, but it will withstand light frosts. NZ spinach responds well to picking, if you pinch out the top 10 to 15 cm of a stem it will branch, and the plant will produce more leaves. Leaves contain oxalates and so should preferably be cooked or not eaten raw in large quantities though the tips are nice in salads. Steam, boil or stir fry the leaves, or add them to soups and stews.
A perennial relation of miner’s lettuce, with a similar self-seeding ground cover habit. It’s pretty pink flowers and succulent leaves are edible and it is said to have a slight beetroot flavour. Often used in salads or it can be lightly cooked, added to stirfrys etc. while it is usually evergreen the leaves may be small during the coldest part of winter.
Scorzonera – Scorzonera hispanica
A herbaceous, perennial plant often grown as an annual for its edible roots. These long black, edible roots have good nutritional value and a mild but slightly sweet flavour. The roots contain inulin which can cause flatulence in some people. The washed, unpeeled roots are cooked by boiling for 5-10 minutes, then the black skin (which is not edible) is easily peeled off. The boiled roots are often served with a sauce or eaten with other veges like peas and carrots etc. The leaves, unopened flower buds and flower petals are often eaten in salads and the young flower stems are cooked like asparagus.
Sea Kale – Crambe maritima
Sea kale is a mound forming and spreading perennial also known as sea-colewort and scurvy grass (The plant was pickled and eaten to prevent scurvy on long sea voyages)
The shoots, roots, leaves and flowers are all edible. The shoots are eaten much like asparagus though blanching/mounding is recommended to keep them tender, the younger leaves are used like spinach or kale.
A reasonably easy-care plant which does like a slightly alkaline soil and regular top ups of compost or mulch and well-rotted manure. While it is a salt tolerant coastal plant it also grows well away from the coast.
A spreading woodland plant which grows from rhizomes Solomon’s seal has sweet young shoots in spring which can be cooked like asparagus. The rhizome is also said to be edible but needs to be boiled three times or sun-baked. The berries are unfortunately considered toxic, so caution is needed if including this plant in your edible garden.
A tall herbaceous perennial plant growing to about 2 m in height. The fern like feathery leaves smell strongly of aniseed when crushed. Its leaves are sometimes used as a herb or salad green, either raw or cooked, with a rather strong anise like taste. The roots can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted and the seeds also are edible. It has a traditional use as a medicinal herb.
Rhubarb – Rheum rhabarbarum, Rheum x hybridum
This easy-care plant is grown for its red stems which are commonly used in desserts. Rhubarb likes moist, fertile free draining soil in full sun. It is a mineral accumulator, pulling up nutrient from deep in the soil. However, the leaves are toxic so save those for your compost or chop and drop mulch. Harvest the stems by gently pulling low on the stem and twisting away from the base.
Both the flowers and the leaves of the sweet violet are edible and are a beautiful addition to salads. But the fragrant violet flowers also can be candied or used to make tea, syrups, vinegars, jellies or in baking. The flowers have a sweet perfumy taste while the leaves are slightly tart. A clumping perennial the violet grows best in partly shaded areas and spreads readily making a lovely fragrant ground cover. The flowers appear in spring, though in warmer areas they will flower all winter.
Also known as Pignut, this is a hardy, easy-to-grow perennial vegetable in the carrot family, with pretty leaves and white flowers. Once cultivated widely in Eastern Europe but now not widely known, all parts are edible – the seeds can be used like cumin, the leaves can be used as a parsley substitute, and the clusters of tubers can be eaten raw or cooked and taste like chestnuts. Full sun or part shade in most soil types but prefers free draining with some humus. Height to 60cm when in flower, otherwise just an extremely low ground cover.
Earth Gem – Ullucus tuberosus
A trailing ground vine from South America, which produces small roundish yellow and pink tubers. The tuber is the primary edible part, but the leaf is also used and is similar to spinach. They are known to contain high levels of protein, calcium, and carotene. Because of its high-water content, Earth Gems or Ulluco is not suitable for frying or baking, but it can be cooked in many other ways like the potato.
An erect, rhizomatous herbaceous perennial herb, which grows up to about 3 m high. Mainly grown for its edible tuber for both people and livestock, the Jerusalem Artichoke is a high yielder with each tuber capable of producing 75 – 200 tubers a year in good soil. It also produces stalks and leaves which are highly palatable to livestock and should be fed or foraged prior to the small sunflower like flowers developing as the stems become woody. These stalks are often used as compost carbon, but the plant can deplete soils, so it is best grown with mineral accumulators or fed yearly. The stalks and leaves can be harvested for fodder throughout the growing season, but this drastically lowers the production of tubers. While the plants are hardy in most environments, they are considered frost tender, though the tubers will survive and grow back. Jerusalem Artichokes have also been used as a pioneer species on damaged ground.
Yacons produce the edible tubers and smaller reddish rhizomes, it’s the rhizomes which you need to grow the plant or a whole ‘crown’ which is the rhizomes attached to the plant base. As Yacon are frost tender wait till all frost have passed before planting or plant in a frost-free area. Otherwise, they are a very easy-care plant, reasonably well drained soil and plenty of compost and mulch should ensure a good crop. But give them a bit of room as they can get to 2m tall, 1 metre spacings are often recommended. Harvest by digging up the whole plant after frosts and when the plant dies down for maximum sweetness. You can set aside the rhizomes or crowns, which can be kept in a paper bag in a dark place or potted up in the greenhouse ready for replanting once the frosts have finished, though in warmer areas you can replant and cover mulch the crown over winter.
The edible tubers should be brushed off without damaging the skin, and air dried, before laying them in a cardboard box with newspaper between the layers and over the top. Store in a cool dark place for about 3 months, they can go wrinkly but are still edible.
Yacon can be roasted or boiled, used in stews and casseroles or in salads, juiced or used in smoothies. It has been said to treat it like a juicy, crunchy potato or a mild apple. The leaves are also apparently edible used like spinach or to wrap food and as a tea. Yacon is considered to be good stock fodder, both the leaves and the tubers, and the plant is thought to encourage healthy bacteria both in the soil and in the human gut.
Yams or Oca – Oxalis tuberosa
Yams are technically a perennial but due to their being frost tender are usually grown as annuals. But once you plant yams, being a member of the oxalis family, they will just keep coming back. Any small yams left in the ground will resprout as the soil warms again in spring. For this reason, yams are best planted in an area where you are happy for them to stay. This also makes them a reasonably easy care vege if they are in free draining soil.
The sweet colourful tubers are harvested in late autumn/winter usually after the tops die down and are delicious roasted in butter, but can also be boiled, steamed, stir fried etc
These onions produce little bulblets at the top of the flower stem which can be planted to provide the following years onions. They got the name ‘walking onion’ from the fact that if left the stem will collapse and the bulblets will root into the ground. This gives the appearance that the onions are ‘walking’ around the garden. In well drained, rich soil in full sun these onions produce and multiply very well hence the name proliferum. The onions can be harvested in late summer, and they will store well if kept in a cool dry place.
Multiplying Spring Onions/Chives – Allium schoenoprasum
This easy-care perennial from the onion family is more commonly known as chives but can however be treated as a multiplying spring onion. The whole plant including the flowers are edible, just harvest as you need it. Chives will produce most of the year but will die down over winter and return in spring. They are great self seeders but can also be propagated by division. Their mild onion flavour makes them a great addition to many dishes including salads.
Multiplying Shallots – Allium cepa
Shallots are a cool-season perennial but are usually grown as annuals over in summer. They multiply by dividing and forming several bulbs around the original bulb. If the ground is fed regularly and kept moist over spring and summer, they should provide a good crop. Harvest late summer and dry before storing in a cool dry place. Keep some bulbs for replanting in spring or if the ground allows leave some to naturalise in a permanent bed.
‘Small leeks which will grow as thick as your thumb. They multiply into clumps which can be harvested for use and/or divided up and replanted. Plants die down in mid-summer and then pop back up in autumn with more stems. Plant in full sun and feed regularly with compost.’
‘A perennial onion comprising a clump of small bulbs, each bearing long tubular leaves. Plants grow approximately 75cm tall and onions are 1.5-2cm in diameter with a mild sweet taste. Use like spring onions but harvest the leaves only to start with. Once your clump has formed up you can harvest from the base (bulb). Essential in Chinese and Japanese cooking, easy to grow and great for small gardens or pots. Allow to flower in spring and then begin harvesting again. The flowers are attractive to bees. Good companion for apple trees – said to reduce the incidence of black spot (scab).’
‘A perennial red skinned onion comprising a clump of small bulbs, each bearing long tubular leaves. Plants grow approximately 75cm tall and onions are 1.5-2cm in diameter with a mild sweet taste. Use like spring onions but harvest leaves only to start with. Once your clump has formed up you can harvest from the base (bulb). Essential in Chinese and Japanese cooking, easy to grow and great for small gardens or pots. Allow to flower in spring and then begin harvesting again. The flowers are attractive to bees. Good companion for apple trees – said to reduce the incidence of black spot (scab).’