2020 was the Year of the Trench for me (all dug by hand, good training for digging more trenches)! I completed digging a 40m long trench along the “driveway”. 30 years after I planted many trees and bushes along the driveway, some of the trees – ash, elm, lime, beech and birch in particular – had become quite large and my annual vegetable beds were full of roots. I also dug about 60m of trench around my cultivated areas at the Væres Venner Community Garden, this time to keep couch grass (kveke) from reinvading. There’s a steady stream of runners along the path next to the community garden. I really must get round to putting up that sign: “Too much energy? Please come and help”! I’m writing this on 20th January at 11 am and in an hour from now the temperature will rise above 0C for the first time this year, in stark contrast to December when there was no significant frost until the last few hours before New Year. Unusually, I could do whatever gardening and planting I wanted to throughout December as my daily exercise in between writing. As my garden is on shallow soil and I want both to grow food and have trees around me, it is difficult to get the balance between the two. My solution has been to dig narrow trenches down to the bedrock to physically stop tree roots invading the cultivated areas and robbing water and nutrients. I cleared out some of the older trenches (they are actually useful for trapping autumn leaves which I use for various purposes):
I also dug a new trench along a bed next to the south side of the house where my oldest Hablitzia tamnoides is, filling in again with large stones and using the good soil in creating a new bed for perennial woodlanders on what used to be the “lawn” and also for filling my one and only a raised bed.
Here the trench is has been infilled with stones and the edging stones have been replaced. I also cover this bed with leaves and jute sacking as there are a few less winter hardy edibles here and there are also a number of pots underneath too.
I also use this bed along the south side of the house for storing pots with plants that haven’t found a permanent place yet or are on their way to the community garden. …and finally, I always cover the sea kale (Crambe maritima) bed with leaves and jute:
This bucket was planted in the autumn and stored until now in the cellar. Within a few days of bringing it up into my living room there are usable shoots. Garlic bulbil shoots are seen behind.
Nowadays, I LOVE the taste of dandelion although in my youth I found it so bitter that I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to eat it. I think the reason is a combination of giving up eating sugar and getting accustomed to eating bitter plants. In addition, nobody ate a dandelion salad alone. The following box from my book describes various methods og de-bitterizing dandelions if you want to benefit from one of the most nutritious and valuable plants on the planet but find the taste too bitter:
It wasn’t until the last day of December towards midnight that the air temperature finally sank significantly below zero (C), an almost frost free winter month is becoming common up here. However, since New Year it hasn’t been above zero and today was the coldest yet with “sea smoke” forming on the other side of the fjord where it was maybe 5C colder. Due to the wind blowing from the east across the fjord, the air temperature increases due to the relatively warm water. Makes for a nice view from the office now that the sun is also back now.
Apologies to all who contacted me wondering if I was alright as I hadn’t posted for a month! No alarm…I’ve been very focussed on writing a series of 10 articles on perennial vegetables, completed earlier this week! Finally, we could “bask” in sunshine again this morning after a few days of overcast and snow meant that we wouldn’t witness the return of the sun (due around 10th January). It doesn’t rise above the southern hills for 4-5 weeks here….a great time of the year as we get several hours of red skies each day. The firs(t) of many sunrises in 2021: The sun’s rays reflecting from Malvikodden: Fully risen through trees in the garden: A few pictures from when we were in the midwinter tunnel (aircraft contrails have been an unusual site):
With mild weather continuing and no significant frost so far in December and none forecast in the long-term forecast, it’s good times for Jackdaws (kaie) that feed mainly in fields. Despite the very short days with just a few hours of daylight and no sun, they still have time for “play” before flying into the roost at Vikhammer just a km from here. In cold weather they will fly low down where there’s least wind resistence straight into the roost with minimal aerial acrobatics. Here’s 3 films showing flocks of 540 and 700 birds (yes, I counted for recording purposes) flying over the house and another smaller flock that momentarily landed in the neighbour’s large copper beech tree.
I started this week sprouting the first garlic bulbils of the winter. Of the garlic varieties I grow, Aleksandra, Estonian Red and Valdres are all very similar (I suspect they may be the same) have the perfect size and number of bulbils for sprouting. I counted 90 bulbils on one typical head this evening. They are planted on ordinary garden soil (picture) and covered with a few cm of sterile soil so that seeds in the soil don’t quickly appear. The pot is put in a kitchen window to sprout and the shoots can be harvested two or three times before they give up. Some people remove the scapes (flower stems) of hard neck garlic in summer to get a better yield. I have compared the size of garlic on plants with and without removing the scapes and found little or no difference here. I therefore leave the bulbils to develop on most of my plants. For me it maybe adds maybe 50% to the value of the plants, so more than compensates a small yield decrease! The only ones I remove are harvested for the scapes which are delicious in summer stir-fries.
There are Allium species that can be harvested year round in the garden, notably nodding onion / Norw:prærieløk (Allium cernuum) which I’ve blogged about before. In autumn, new shoots of Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum (keeled garlic / Norw: rosenløk) appear and with the mild weather we’ve been experiencing they’ve already reached about 20 cm high. They are hardy and can survive to at least -20C. It’s now in the autumn that this edimental Allium is most useful. I use the shoots in a similar way to chives (Allium schoenoprasum), which died back some time ago and won’t reappear until spring (unless I force them indoors), in salads, cut and sprinkled on sandwiches, in scrambled egg, quiches etc. I use them from October to April.
There are two colour forms, pink and white which are particularly valuable as they last such a long time and are popular with pollinators:
There are also forms with bulbils which can be a bit invasive:
You’ll see the flowers used as a tasty decoration in my multi-species salads (bottom right in the picture):
Allium carinatum is also popular with pollinators:
Broad beans (favas / bondebønner) will easily cross with other varieties that are growing nearby. In order to keep a variety pure, you need to isolate them physically. I’ve chosen a different strategy and manage to maintain a mix of different bean colour and size forms by selecting for these characteristics every autumn. This automatically gives different flower colours too (broad beans are beautiful enough to be included in the edimental category and are also edi-ento-mentals as they are also extremely popular with bumblebees). Here are my selections which I made yesterday after drying the beans for storage.
Each form will be stored separately and each variety will be planted close to each other in a large block of beans containing many different forms! I think that diversity within a species also contributes to a good harvest with better bean set. I have never had a crop failure using my own home saved mix of beans. I don’t offer the different forms as named varieties, but as a mix or composite “Væres Venner* Mix” through the KVANN / Norwegian Seed Savers yearbook (kvann.no) in February so that others can also select for separate forms! *Væres Venner is the community garden where most are grown. See also this post showing the diversity of flowers that produced these beans: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=26183
Perennial vegetables, Edimentals (plants that are edible and ornamental) and other goings on in The Edible Garden