Tag Archives: Living Field garden

The Garden’s vegetable bounty

A vegetable bounty this year – leaves, flowers and ‘roots’ of all shapes and sizes have appeared in the Living Field Garden. Gladys and Jackie have nurtured a fine array of eatables, which many long term Garden observers say is the best yet, and that’s from a year which has not been ideal for crops.

Here are just some of my favourites (writes Geoff).

This red cabbage (sometimes called blue) matured late and kept well, outside in the shade, for at least a month after being cut. Half was pickled, and sat on a shelf with the others. The rest was eaten as a raw or cooked vegetable.

The cabbage shown above was cut in half with a big kitchen knife and photographed. It is shown as a ‘reverse image’ to bring out the structure of the folded leaves.

The cauliflower, below, was football sized and too large to show its halves side by side. One half went the same day as it was cut, eaten as cauliflower cheese – a strong brassica taste with a milder cheddar-type cheese sauce, in this case Mull (but Anster is also good for this), sprinkled with grated parmesan, and then paprika to give it spice and colour.

The other half was cut into small pieces and pickled with wine vinegar, onion seed and peppercorns, to be eaten over the winter. It is now waiting in a jar.

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The carrots (below) grew into complex shapes this year. They are not deformed, just natural.  Some of this year’s carrots looked like an octopus, orange tentacles clasping the main body. Others reclined languorously on the table top, waiting to be peeled and cut. Still others were more or less straight with lumps in strange places.

But  there’s no reprieve whatever the form. Roasted or boiled with herbs, very tasty, real carrot, soon eaten.

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The onions looked a bit ragged on harvest, but were unblemished inside their protective leaves. The smell when cut is definitive, to be savoured and remembered. The layers of leaves, filled with winter storage, are distinct, all white near the centre but with red outers towards the edge of the bulb.

The onions that came to our kitchen from the garden this year were all pickled with seeds and spices in wine vinegar. They are also waiting in a jar, next to the cauliflower.

 

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The beet went the same way as the cauliflower – one half pickled, this time in red wine vinegar, the other half eaten. But the revelation for me – not a great fan of beet – was the chunks of it, coated in oil (try cold pressed rapeseed) then roasted in foil and eaten with Maris Piper. What a taste – fresh cooked beet like this is up there among the great vegetables of all time. Thanks to those pioneers of crop selection who managed to get these red chunks out of wild sea beet.

[more vegetables cut in half to follow, as they are harvested later in the year … ]

You can see more of Gladys and Jackie’s efforts on display at Open Farm Sunday 2017 and at Vegetables on the Garden pages.

Food for small flying and crawling things this wet year

Unremitting wet since solstice-time in late June. The field scabious Knautia arvensis offers bee-food en masse for months in most years, and in June the mauve flowers promised a fine show, already thick with bumble bees.

Since then they have been thrashed by the heavy rain and wind and grasses now dominate the meadow. Yet on the rare sunny afternoon, the insects take their feast on the Garden’s wild plants.

Legumes flowering in the garden, 3 August 2015 (Living Field)
Legumes flowering in the garden, 3 August 2015 (Living Field)

Chief among them are the nitrogen fixing legumes, offering high-nitrogen, high-protein take-away. The images (above, top left clockwise) show white melilot, the blue-flowered tufted vetch, sainfoin, alsike and lucern.

Only the tufted vetch is common in the margins and lanes here. The others have been tried as forages in the past but are now rarely found. Other legumes flowering (not shown) include red and white clover, the yellow-flowering melilot  and greater bird’s-foot-trefoil, all well attended by bees.

Insect food, in the garden 3 August 2015 (Living Field)
Insect food, in the garden 3 August 2015 (Living Field)

The other plants that most years offer months of rich flower-food fare no better.The striking, blue viper’s bugloss in the medicinals bed is almost finished bar a few, one of which is shown above right. And the remaining field scabious, bottom left above, will continue to put out their sumptuous floral parts for bees to drain and trash.

Yet again, the benefits of growing in this small space a diversity of native and medicinal plants pays, because teasel, knapweed and greater knapweed, and a set of annual composites including cornflower and corn marigold are all offering their wares in return for chance pollen.

Teasel will now flower along its bristly head for some weeks – the ladybird in the image top left above just slotting in between the spikes, jostling several aphids that may not be visible at this magnification.

Insects on corn marigold in the garden, 3 August 2015 (Living Field)
Insects on corn marigold in the garden, 3 August 2015 (Living Field)

What’s to come – the deadnettle family – the labiates – will sustain the insects through to the autumn equinox. Many are only just in flower – betony, wild marjoram, some field mints, hemp-nettles, a calamint, sage, lemon balm and hyssop.

 

 

 

Fixers 2 Restharrow

The restharrow Ononis repens is a tough plant, growing as it does at the very limits of dry, salty land around the coast. There it will fix nitrogen from the air, which finds its way through decomposition of roots and leaves into the sand and then perhaps to other plants and to soil microbes. It was also once a serious weed of cropland, as its name suggests, but a weed no longer, tamed by heavy ploughs and pesticide.

Coastal dunes, beach and restharrow flower at Montrose bay, Angus, 26 July 2015 (Living Field)

It grows well around the coasts of Angus and Moray. In Montrose bay, it grows in abundance, the main legume of the dunes. It is prolific near the south end, particularly around the car parks, binding the sand as it once slowed the harrow. To the north over the several miles of beach, it lives at the base of the collapsed dunes (images above), leaf and flower blasted by salt and sand grains.

In the images above, the line of stakes leading seaward from the dunes reaches out into the North Sea at its widest and after 650 km of rough water, meets the coast of Denmark. The restharrow is the first line of defence.

Flowering branches of common restharrow (left) in the Living Field garden and (right) at Montrose Bay (Living Field)
Flowering branches of common restharrow (left) in the Living Field garden and (right) at Montrose Bay (Living Field)

Restharrow as a weed

Grigson gives the mediaeval names of the plant, one of which resta bovis translates as ox-stop, and cites a treatise of 1578: ‘the roote is long and limmer, spreading his branches both large and long under the earth, and doth ofttimes let, hinder and staye, both the plough and oxen in toyling the ground’.

In her 1920 book, Winifred Brenchley classed restharrow Ononis repens among ‘coarse growing plants that deteriorate the quality of pasture or meadow’. And in the last century it seems to have been a problem in grass rather than in land that was repeatedly tilled.

Its decline from the community of common weeds is now so great that it is hardly found in farmland.  Yet as recently as 1938, H. L. Long wrote “If this weed is plentiful it must be attacked by thorough and regular cutting, liming, complete manuring, and close depasturing with stock. In rare instances it may be desirable to plough up the pasture, give a thorough cleaning and manuring, and again lay down to grass.”

Long placed it in the top 30+ weeds of pasture, but did not always distinguish the spiny Ononis spinosa, which has a more southerly distribution in Britain, from Ononis repens which is the one shown here in the photographs and which was described by Long as having runners, usually spineless and with a strong disagreeable scent.

Grigson relates its presence in pasture as tainting milk, butter and cheese and children chewing  its root, which gives it the name wild liquorice.

Restharrow in the Living Field garden

A few patches of restharrow remain in a remote corner of one of the Institute’s farms near Dundee.

To see what it looks like and how it grows, the Living Field garden keeps a small patch of it, originating from seed. Its luxuriant foliage and flowers grow to well over 0.5 m in height and attract a range of insect feeders. It is cut back to 10-20 cm above soil level in autumn, but is otherwise left to itself.

Its leaves and stems are softer in the garden, less wiry than at the edge of the North Sea (comparison above). There are also small variations in geometry of the leaves and sepals.

References and links

Brenchley WE. 1920. Weeds of farm land. Longmans, Green and Co, London. Grigson G. 1958. The Englishman’s flora. (Paladin, 1975). Long HC. 1938. Weeds of grass land. HMSO.

Note: on sampling the coastal plants, Euan James reports nodulation, indicating they are fixing nitrogen.

Contact/date: GS 30 July 2015.

Also on the web site:

Woadphoto

Light on woad pods, 29 June 2015 (Living Field)

Another of the garden’s unusual plants attracting attention –  NileHQ, a design company, commissioned a photographer from Dundee to take some images woad growing in the Living Field garden.

Woad flowers early in its second year. By late June, the yellow flowers  are almost gone, while the pods, hanging in masses on the pale yellow floral branches, are turning from green to brown. In the next few weeks they will turn black and then the seeds are mature.

Woad reproduces in the garden from its own dropped seed. We thin and sometimes rearrange the plants in the summer of the first year.

Photograph above by the Living Field on 29 June 2015.

 

 

 

 

Kidney Vetch and the small blue

The kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria was noted in  a recent post about nitrogen-fixers living by the shore on the east coast of Angus. But the kidney vetch has wider acclaim as host of the rare Small Blue butterfly Cupido minimus.

Flowering 'head' of kidney vetch (Squire / Living Field)
Flowering ‘head’ of kidney vetch (Squire / Living Field)

The small blue lays its eggs in the flowering heads of kidney vetch. The hatched larvae then eat the flowers and the developing seed.

However, the range of the butterfly in the north east has decreased in recent years and attempts are being made to record its occurrence. For more on the small blue and current surveys in Scotland –

In the latter can be found people to contact if you want to take part in surveys or to report sight of the butterfly.

Kidney vetch

The kidney vetch is one of the nitrogen-fixing legumes that occur in nitrogen-poor, dry and unshaded environments around the coast of eastern Scotland. 

Yet it was once considered as a sown forage – a constituent of vegetation managed for stock-feeding. Lawson and Son (1852) write that it ‘does not yield much produce, but is eaten with avidity by horses, sheep and cattle, and also by hares and rabbits, and might therefore be introduced into mixtures for very dry soils’.

In the Garden

The Living Field garden grows kidney vetch in its medicinals collection and in the raised beds that have housed a legume collection over the past few years (images below). It grows well, forming luxuriant clumps up to 30 cm in height, taller than on the coast. The flowers are usually more yellow, less red than on the wild plants.

It flowers and seeds profusely in the garden. Some plants die in the winter, but in the last two years it has regenerated freely from its own dropped seed.

Kidney vetch, a forage and wound herb, in the Living Field garden (Living Field/Squire)
Kidney vetch, a forage and wound herb, in the Living Field garden (Living Field/Squire)
The flower heads

The round ‘wooly’ heads may be confusing at first sight, but each ball consists of usually three separate heads each holding many individual flowers. The three heads do not all flower at the same time.

In the image at the top of the page, the head to the lower right is the latest to flower – some flowers are still in bud while others have the fresh yellow petals emerging from the red calyx tube (which previously enclosed the bud).  The head to the left has a mix of new and withered flowers. The largest one, at the top middle and right, has finished flowering: all petals are withered orange, the calyx tubes have turned purple and the hairs have expanded into a whitish mass, protecting the seeds that will form deep in the tubes.

Reference

Lawson and Son. 1852. Synopsis of the vegetable products of Scotland. Authors’ private press, Edinburgh.

 

New wood sculpture

Dave Roberts very kindly donated to the Garden this chain saw sculpture of a dragonfly. The sculpture was carefully installed in the meadow on 28 May 2015.

Dragonfly by Dave Roberts installed in the Garden 28 May 2015 (Living Field)
Dragonfly by Dave Roberts installed in the Garden 28 May 2015 (Living Field)

 

Images above were taken late evening on 28 May, looking north. And then squally showers  … and a rainbow.

Dragonfly sculpture by Dave Roberts (Living Field)
Dragonfly sculpture by Dave Roberts 28 May 2015 (Living Field)

His Facebook page at Dervish Carving shows some photographs of the work in progress.

Images by Squire / Living Field

 

 

Bees

In 2013, we looked for the plants in the Living Field garden that were most attractive to bumble bees and hive bees, from the first flowers in late March, to the time of the first heavy frost in October.  Most visitors were bumble bees of the commoner species, but occasionally hive bees foraged around.

Bumble bee hanging on field scabious head (Living Field/Squire)
Bumble bee hanging on field scabious head (Living Field/Squire)

 

We did not grow plants for the particular purpose of feeding bees, yet three areas were particularly active. One was the 10 year old meadow, where field scabious was the favourite; another was the legume collection set up in the west garden; and the third was a piece of rough ground in transition from a sown, annual cornfield to a more perennial community and containing tufted vetch and viper’s bugloss.

White melilot bloom and hive bee (Living Field/Squire)
White melilot bloom and hive bee (Living Field/Squire)

 

By mid summer, many of the bumble bees looked battered and ragged, hardly enough wing left to fly, the result of repeatedly navigating the tangle of vegetation. It’s in a bee’s nature to work itself to death for the hive, eventually falling to the ground or hanging under a flower head. We did not look for nests of the bumble bees to see how many were inside the garden; not did we observe the directions from which the bees entered and left, but that could be something to do in 2014.

Lucern bloom and bumble bee (Living Field/Squire)
Lucern bloom and bumble bee (Living Field/Squire)

 

Photographs and notes on these and other plants and bees can be viewed at The Garden / Bee plants. All species, including first-year plants of the two melilots, should be around in 2014.  (The melilots died after flowering in 2013.) Several plants in the medicinals bed should flower well this year, labiates such as betony, and borages and foxgloves.

[Update 10 September 2014]