Written by: Hamish
Published: 9th March 2019
A Guide To Growing Vegetables All Year Round in Scotland
One of the things that Scottish gardeners love to complain about is our short growing season. But though it may seem a little surprising, you can grow and eat food from a Scottish garden all year round. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your garden, prolong your growing season and eat well all year round from your permaculture paradise:
Covered Growing Spaces
While some parts of Scotland do offer the chance to grow food outside and unprotected over the winter months, in most of the country, extra protection will be needed. A polytunnel or greenhouse is a fantastic addition to a permaculture garden and you may even be able to find one second hand – or even to built one yourself using household rubbish or reclaimed materials.
There are a wide range of ways to create covered growing spaces, from large polytunnels to tiny pot-sized cloches. If you do not have space for a large polytunnel or greenhouse, you can still create smaller growing areas by covering containers with small row-covers, or even creating a winter-protected vertical garden by covering some shelves with plastic or glass screening.
Even inside a polytunnel or unheated greenhouse, some crops may still need extra protection in Scotland when the winter is a cold one. Permaculture practise is all about making the most of resources at hand and renewable resources such as garden leaves that fall in autumn are perfect for laying as mulches around overwintering crops, such as onion sets that are overwintering in a polytunnel or outside. Horticultural fleece (or even old fabrics from your home) can also be used to keep frosts from leaves.
Winter protection is also about choosing the right location for your growing efforts. Try to choose a location that is somewhat sheltered, and protected from the worst of the winter weather. Make sure it is not in a frost pocket, and gets enough sunshine each day.
While traditionally, gardeners tend to do almost all of their sowing in the spring, year round growing and eating means thinking beyond the late summer and autumn harvests. In permaculture growing systems, gardeners make the most not only of the space they have in the garden but also the time.
This may involve planting a fast growing crop between slower growing plants, so that it can be harvested before the slow-growing crop needs the space and resources. It can also involve successional planting – second and even third sowings of certain crops throughout the year to prolong the season when it can be eaten and enjoyed.
With the right cover, winter protection and planting plan (and with a little luck and judgement) you should be able to harvest something from your garden every month of the year – even in a climate such as ours. The ‘hungry gap’ which usually occurs in spring should not be a problem.
If spring is a bit of a lean time – remember that there are wild additions to your diet that could plug the gap perfectly. In many Scottish gardens you will be able to find weeds such as nettles, ground elder, chick weed, fat hen and dandelions, all of which can be used in a range of recipes. Wild foods will also help us to eat well year round in Scotland.
Growing Perennial Vegetables in Scotland
Growing food for your own table is one of the most rewarding things anyone can do. Whether you have a large garden or just space for a few pots, you can grow a wide range of edible produce across Scotland. In permaculture, there is an emphasis on obtaining a yield and this is often (though not always) in the form of things we can eat.
Permaculture, in theory and in practise, helps us to grow that food in a way which makes sense – which helps us to become part of the solution to the world’s ills rather than part of its problems.
While there is nothing at all wrong with growing some annual crops in a permaculture garden, permaculture also places an emphasis on plants that can form a resilient ecosystem and will not need to be re-planted each year.
These perennial performers are the real stars in a permaculture garden and make it even easier for anyone to give gardening a go.
There are far more perennial vegetables to grow in Scotland and other cool temperate climates than you may imagine. Think beyond rhubarb, asparagus and globe artichokes. You can grow these to get an abundance of leafy greens year after year.
There are several perennial members of the brassica family which can provide cabbage-like leaves throughout the year, such as ‘ewiger kohl’ (everlasting cabbage) and Daubenton’s Kale.
Other extremely useful perennial members of the brassica family include the ‘nine star perennial’ broccoli, which produces nine or so small white broccoli heads each year. This broccoli will flourish for round 5 years before it needs to be replaced.
Another group of plants which offers a number of perennial alternatives is the onion family. There are a number of perennial onions to choose from that do well in Scotland.
Walking onions, bunching onions and shallots are examples of plants that offer the chance to harvest from one initial planting for a number of years. (By harvesting only some bulbs and leaving others in place. Ramps, ramsons or wild garlic is another great perennial choice and is ideal for shady forest garden areas.
A range of perennial plants that we think of as ornamental also offer edible choices to the permaculture gardener. For example, did you know that young hosta leaves are edible – some especially tender and tasty in a spring stir fry, for example. There are plenty more examples – though of course you should always take care and should not eat anything that you cannot positively identify.
Growing perennial food can be a real doddle. Often, these plants will more or less look after themselves for most of the year and harvested for food during the leanest times of the year.
So, even if you also want to grow some annual vegetables, think about also giving some of your garden over to perennial crops – some perennial vegetables can do well in open shade below fruit trees and fruit canes or bushes and so make the perfect additions to the herbaceous layers of a forest garden, or included in a mixed perennial flower and vegetable bed.