Perennial chard – A sequel

In 2015, I published a blog post entitled ‘Perennial chard’, which has had more hits than any other. Now, I don’t know why precisely people are searching this topic, except from the occasional search term suggesting they are curious to know if indeed chard is perennial.

Unfortunately, these readers will have been disappointed in the post if that is what they wanted to know, as my post simple ponders the possibility that it is. At that time, I was doing an experiment with the first chard I had sown and was waiting for the results.

That patch of chard bolted, which I have since observed with all the chard since. In my climate it grows over the summer and can withstand the winter. Then it flowers in the next year and subsequent leaves are very small. As for the stems, they become gnarled and extremely tough – almost too tough to cut through and I imagine they would remain so when cooked.

So, in short, it seems that chard is biennial, at least here. However, it self-seeds readily, which I first observed last spring, after mulching with compost which contained the seeds from the boltings in 2015.

The upshot of this unintended event was that I named 2016 ‘The year of chard’, as the garden was full of the stuff. I ended up giving it away by the armful throughout the winter and spring. Only the guinea pigs who had the last of it never said no!

Now, I have my fresh self-sown crop, which is considerably more manageable. Just a handful of plants, which are still plenty for our needs, though not quite enough for guinea pigs as well.

Swiss chard ‘Bright lights’ 2017

I have tried not to put anymore seeds in the compost bin, although I’m not sure I have succeeded 100%. Still, it would be a shame not to have a crop next year, for the sake of a few misplaced plants. They can at least be removed and I am getting better at being ruthless on that front.

All in all, the packet of seeds I bought three years ago has been one of my best investments. This does make the lack of cucumbers and courgettes less of a let-down. If only my daughter would develop an appetite for it, too.

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The forgotten crop

I’ve been so preoccupied with the melon plants by the back door, watching as fruit after fruit has failed to germinate and then dropped off, that I completely forgot about the chilli plant on my bedroom windowsill.

Until this morning, when I pulled back the curtains and lo and behold 

two green chillies!

The rest of the flowers have fallen off, which makes a lie of the photo on the seed packet. You know the type: a massive plant dripping with fruit. Still, two is better than none – and presumably there will be new flowers in the future.

I’ve been so busy, in fact, I haven’t potted on two further plants, but now I have room on the windowsills, I may just do that. You can’t have too many chillies, as far as I’m concerned.

Quite how aphids manage to find there way indoors, I don’t know, though. The fruiting chilli plant is covered in them, so I will need to get the neem soil out pretty sharpish….

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Momentum from cycling

Last time we went to Clumber Park, off the A1, I noticed that you could hire bikes and, as we don’t currently have any of our own, this seemed an appealing way to spend a summer afternoon. It was certainly a quicker way to get round the extensive grounds and appreciate the scenery.

Clumber Park

Whilst at the park, we nipped into the walled garden so that I could see what it looked like on a sunny day in August with all the fruit and veg in full swing. However, I wasn’t inclined to linger as we’d not been able to park the bikes securely and as we later learned they cost about £300 each!

So, I headed for the pumpkins and squash to see how they might compare to my own. Fortunately, they weren’t laden with fruit on the vine, so it could be that my own have time yet to get going.

After a few days away, I was eager to see if mine had in fact picked up speed back home. Sadly no – but I was greeted by lots of ripening cherry tomatoes. 

And I decided that, in spite of my aching limbs (the sooner I get a new bike the better), I would give all the tomato plants another trim to help the fruit ripen and reduce the chance of blight. In other words, I’m not so underwhelmed with my garden as I was before I went away.

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Mowing the lawn 

Today my dad asked if I would mow the lawn for him. Now, this is a first for me and I was somewhat surprised to find that it is hard work cutting grass. Or rather scything is possibly comparably easier than pushing a machine.

Anyway, the experience of mowing the lawn this afternoon made me doubly glad that my lawns have been returned to the soil and the space is being used to grow other things. I still feel I have too much work to do for too little return but hopefully as my garden becomes filled with perennials this will be less so.

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There isn’t much to report on the garden front at the moment. We are eating tomatoes and the first runner beans are nearly ready. 

On the other hand, the courgettes, cucumber and butternut squash are struggling. Nice therefore that we got a huge courgettte (yes, it was still firm even though it had become marrow size) from Old Sleningford, which has done us for a number of dishes.

I think the cabbage white butterflies will also be happy with my generosity in leaving two purple sprouting broccoli plants. They didn’t produce last winter and I wondered therefore whether they would do anything this time round. 

One of them might but I think the other has had it……

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The final herb to be planted outside in the ground is bergamot. It can be used to flavour boiled sweets or as a hair rinse, although whether I ever use it as such or, indeed, am able to remains to be seen.

Anyway, putting the bergamot in the ground gave me the opportunity to investigate the internal structure of this particular hugel bed. Now, I had expected to meet branches of tree on the way down but, as with another bed recently, there didn’t seem to be any. 

Of course, I could have placed the wood further down than I remember but if in fact the wood has gone, it doesn’t seem to have done this bed the good I had hoped. Not least, even after rain, the soil was still very hard to dig into.

Oh well, at least the brown and green matter under the soil will have added fertility and enabled me to maintain a closed loop. A branch had fallen off the silver birch next door (before the whole tree was tree surgeoned out of existence) and helpfully landed in my garden, so a hugel bed seemed a much more fitting end than taking it to the household waste site.

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Sweet cicely

Today at Old Sleningford Farm (it was the volunteer workday), I asked if I could take some sweet cicely seeds. It is said that its leaves can be used to sweeten rhubarb instead of sugar, which would be fantastic. Rhubarb with fewer calories as well as other health benefits!

Having done an internet search, suggests that sowing the seeds directly into the soil in autumn is the best way to propagate sweet cicely. So, that is what I will do, once the butternut squash have finished.

Watch this space… 

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