Category Archives: Annuals

No dig?

A sign of a fertile soil are the weeds. Being a bit late at planting my chicories and swiss chard, the weeds had already formed a green carpet over the bed I’d intended to use (nature’s plaster!). I hand weeded this area yesterday, harvesting edible plants as I worked!
Most of my vegetable production is by way of what I call the  no dig  self-mulching gardening (ultimate no dig)…as perennial vegetables form a long-term vegetation cover that requires little energy and no digging to maintain. Below soil surface the earth is full of roots, binds more carbon than other vegetable growing systems and fungi are now known to play a bigger role than we realised only a few years ago.
However, I still grow a significant amount of annual crops, both leafy greens like swiss chard, potatoes, carrots and parsnip. If I was to use no dig methods, where the undug soil is covered with compost, hay or similar, I would need to produce much more compost and import hay (non-organic). I therefore choose to dig and some of the healthiest plants are weeds like Sonchus oleraceus (my most important vegetable from August to September!
In any case, any nutrients which are washed out from my annual beds ultimately end up in my forest garden and perennial plantings below, so are not lost!

Perennial puha, Sonchus kirkii in Malvik

Sonchus kirkii is the original perennial sow thistle (puha) of the Maori which I’ve long wanted to try (see the account in my book Around the World in 80 plants of this species and annual super(healthy)weed Sonchus oleraceus which replaced it in Maori kitchens! Probably not hardy here, I overwintered it inside having finally layed my hand on some seed! Variously known as  puha, shore puha or New Zealand sow thistle (syn. Sonchus asper var. littoralis), its habitat is described by the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network as “Coastal. Usually on cliff faces in or around damp seepages where it often grows with the blue green alga Nostoc and fern Blechnum blechnoides. This species has a distinct preference for base rich rocks such as basalt, calcareous mudstones, siltstones, limestone or apatite-rich greywacke faces. On some offshore islands this species extends up into coastal scrub and herbfield. It occasionally grows on stabilised sand dunes. Indications are that this species once occupied a wider range of habitats but has retreated to those less suited to other faster growing introduced weeds.”
I will hopefully eat it for the first time next summer!
NZPCN states that “Easily distinguished from all the other naturalised Sonchus species by the very large, glaucous, non-spinose leaves” (this includes S.arvensis –perennial sow thistle and annuals S. asper and S. oleraceus)
Meanwhile, here are a few pictures:

A 2012 visit to the Århus CSA near Skien, Norway

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of a memorable visit to the Århus CSA scheme and Tom Harald Eckell’s magical vegetables with Rita AmundsenMargaret M. Meg Anderson and Veronica Samycia!
Never have I been so impressed by a field of vegetables (organic too), the astonishing diversity, many of which I’d never seen before…..and above all Tom Harald’s gentle modest manner in the midst of brilliance….my life changed that day…
We all sensed that we’d passed into a parallel universe for the duration of the visit and we all sensed simultaneously on the journey home our return! My life changed that day 


From Malta to Japan and back again

The article below, published in Grobladet in 2006 is the story (in Norwegian) of how one of the commonest spring flowers in the Mediterranean countries became one of the most important vegetables in Japan, yet was completely forgotten at home…this is the story of shungiku, the edible-leaved Chrysanthemum, Glebionis coronaria.

Download (PDF, 2.69MB)

Grobladet was the magazine of Oikos, Norway’s biggest organic organisation.

Garden pictures 24th-25th September 2016

A collection of pictures from last weekend in the garden!


A Sonchus oleraceus variety?

It would be a great project to select Sonchus oleraceus…for new improved yielding and special forms like was done with wild chicory aIt would be a great project to select Sonchus oleraceus…for new improved yielding and special forms like was done with wild chicory and other vegetables… Last winter somebody found seed of an amazing frilly sow thistle being sold in an on-line chinese vegetabe catalogue….too good to be true…I should have noticed that the seed weren’t Sonchus when I sowed them…it seems it’s just an endive :( Lost in translation?

The seed packet….
The resulting plant.
The flower stem
I had seed left from the Chinese packet (right) and compared with common sow thistle seed collected in my garden…

Joke plants

From top left and clockwise: Medicago radiata, Medicago scutellata “Sava” and Scorpiurus spp. (picture from my garden on 31st July 2004)
Chorogi or chinese artichokes (Stachys affinis)








I read some 15 years ago (but would love a proper reference*) that the Victorians (and some more recent jokers too) were fond of practical jokes and would add various plant parts that resembled caterpillars, snails, worms etc to their salads. I call them collectively joke plants. I should grow them again…I love humour in the garden :)

Scorpiurus muricatus and S. vermiculatus (Prickly caterpillars, prickly scorpionstail / skorpionurt), Medicago scutellata “Sava” (snail medick), Medicago radiata (ray-podded medick) and chorogi or chinese artichoke (Stachys affinis) are examples. Pictures below (yes, I’ve grown them and smuggled them into my salads for the entertainment of unsuspecting visitors!)
*I find the following reference in Google Books:  A Joy of Gardening by Victoria Sackville-West (Harper, 1958). On pages 184-186, there’s a section called “Joke plants” which I’d love to get hold of! Anyone have this book?
Add 050916: Thanks to Alison Tindale who mentioned joke plants in her great blog  The Backyard Larder having seen a reference in the classic book by Fearing Burr The Field and Garden Vegetables of America Containing Full Descriptions of Nearly Eleven Hundred Species and Varietes; With Directions for Propagation,Culture and Use”  (1863). See (at the bottom)