Tag Archives: Darn!

The Pest Philosophy

It’s the peak of September and we’ve been enjoying the full flush of harvesting this month. While we’ve been enjoying the fruits and veg of our labours, we’re certainly not the only ones. While our rather brave Allotment Fox got relocated a little while back, there are new residents about. Mainly the two young fox cubs I’ve spotted several times dashing between plots.

Spot the fox!

Usually the magpies start making the most horrific racket when they’re about. I haven’t thought much about it until I arrived at the plot one morning and found our corn crop nearly gone. My parents are visiting from Canada at the moment and I was really looking forward to serving them some lovely fresh sweetcorn.

Smooshed corn stalks

As I surveyed the damage, a plot neighbour came over and commiserated at our loss. She told me she had long given up on growing corn and it always happened each year. The foxes seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing when you were just about to pick the corn, nabbing it before you could get it. She also told me that the Old Boys at the allotment would insist that it was badgers that did it, but the delightful gift of fox poo in the corn bed told me otherwise. I still did have one Old Boy insist that it was badgers nonetheless.

Munched!

Between netting and the odd handful of slug pellets, that was one of the few major losses we’d suffered. The slugs only really started to get an upper hand on us when we fell behind on the weeding. However, keeping the beds clean and a bit of sunshine was a fantastic means of slug control, I kept finding lots of “cooked” slugs in the midst of the clear beds. Something to remember for next year.

Crispy slug

It may seem strange, but I wasn’t really that bothered about the loss of the corn and a few other things that have been eaten. I feel we’ve gotten off fairly lightly when it comes to animal pilfering. The netting over the brassicas and fruit has been doing wonders at keeping the birds off. Of course, other than the Blue Tit that somehow managed to get itself trapped inside the fruit cage the other day.

Generally, I don’t blame the various pests for eating the odd thing, I can’t really blame them for just trying to survive. I just try to take in stride and learn how to best to minimise any loss next year. I’m a bit of a softie when it comes to wildlife, which is why I’m so chuffed the sunflowers I planted have been such a hit with the bird life. Maybe next year, I’ll grow a special patch of corn just for the foxes…the rest will be protected by a ten foot high electric fence.

Happy birds

 

Hits and Misses: The Misses

While we’ve been partaking in the great British tradition of complaining about the weather, has it really been a complete disaster? For a start, we haven’t suffered the terrible flooding that has affected most of the country, so I’m thankful for that and my thoughts are with those that have.

I’ll take a slightly more selfish perspective for a moment and take stock of what’s been happening, or rather not happening, on our plot. I did lose quite a bit of things over June, which I mainly blamed on my failure to get timings right  and not providing enough protection for newly planted things. I do now know though others that I’m far from alone. I had a plot neighbour stop by for a chat the other day. He was curious about what we had growing and what had completely bombed (my words, not his). It seems the failures and successes vary across the site and I was told one ol’ timer of thirty years declared this summer, “the worst summer of living memory.” For myself, I think that this is simply not the year for some things, but a time to really go for other things. With that in mind here’s a run down of what’s going on:

The Misses

I always believe in giving bad news first and I’ll try not to make this into a list of epic proprtions.

Firstly, the cucumbers, tomatoes and chillies, basically everything that needs hot weather, toast. I diligently started them all indoors, thought we were going to have a great bout of hot weather, which turned into heavy rain and wind, which lead to virtually no plants. A few tomatoes are struggling back, but unlikely to fruit at this rate. I did buy a few new chilli and cucumber plants and have collected some large plastic bottles to turn into makeshift cloches. I’ve definitely learnt my lesson with these!

Surviving tomatoes and new cucumbers.

We haven’t dug them up just yet, but the foliage of the early potatoes has also been looking worryingly patchy. I don’t know if it’s blight, but the foliage seems to be slowly dying back and has been very thin. It’s a sharp contrast to the main crop potatoes in the next bed, which look full and healthy. I’m wondering if we’re going to get many salad potatoes this round, we’ll soon find out I guess. I’m wondering if going for a second round of late season “earlies” might be worth trying for?

Patchy potatoes.

Germination can be hit and miss at the best of times, but my herb seedlings are really suffering. We’re very lucky in that the soil in our plot never really gets waterlogged. We have a nice sandy/loam mix with very little clay. Perfect for herbs really. I had visions of a nice full herb patch to compliment my herby window boxes at home. I thought the beds may have been drying out too quickly for the wee seedlings, but I’ve become more convinced that the cold temperatures are the main culprit. All the herb plants have been fine, but I think my dream of fresh dill this summer will have to wait until next year.
While most legumes have been chugging along, my peas have been a real disappointment. I love fresh peas, frozen peas have nothing on the delicious sweet, crispness you get with freshly shelled peas. As a child, one of the summer tasks for the kids was sitting with a big bowl in your lap shelling pea pods. Until I bought some from the local farmers’ market last year, Scott had never had fresh peas before. I really wanted to have some of our own to pick this summer, but after three rounds of sowing, only a tiny handful have sprouted. Ah, well, thank goodness for the French beans doing well.

A few sprouts out of the many, many peas sown.

Running Between the Rain

Oh goodness, this weather has just been, well, depressing. Along with numerous setbacks recently, either seedlings dying on me, weeds getting the better of me, everything has been just poo. It has been the first time I’ve really had doubts about this allotment lark. Thank goodness for other blogs and Twitter, I’m relieved to read I’m far from alone. At least I know it’s not entirely due to me being utterly useless…

Sadly the cucumbers, chillies, most of the squash seedlings and virtually all the tomatoes are gone. Yes, the wet weather didn’t help, but I mostly blame myself for these losses. My vague attempt at hardening off by leaving the kitchen window open day/night was clearly not enough. Also, my lack of protection when the weather turned for the worse didn’t help. I clearly need to invest in making cloches and mini-polytunnels. I also found myself browsing cold frame kits on eBay, though I’m a bit unsure where we’d put it…

Dead cucumber.

Our War on Weeds has finally been making progress. Armed with shears, forks and a grim determination, things are looking much tidier. Paths, ornamental beds and fruit cage are looking much better. We’re slowly getting the mounded beds cleared out and sown with seeds. Carrots, kale, cabbage, sprouting broccoli and pak choi are finally in the ground. I also finally remembered to mark the seed rows with string so I can find them later when the weeds make their inevitable come back!

Clearing beds

Sowing seed

Another setback, mainly due to a lack of weeding, has been the demise of our herb seedlings. Germination has been pretty disappointing anyway and the disappearance of the few seedlings I had, I just decided to clear out the bed and start again. If the seeds fail again, I think I may just resort to ordering plant plugs and going that route instead.

Round 2 of the Herb Bed

I bought a few more seeds and have more ordered, but today while the sun was shining, we headed down to do yet more weeding. My cousin Robert is visiting from Toronto and expressed great enthusiasm to go and visit the allotment. I took him for a quick tour and I wanted to do a quick weed through while we were there. Before I knew it, he’d nabbed some gloves from the shed and was helping weed the potatoes! Being a gardener himself, he was compelled to help with the weeding. Too bad he lives 3500 miles away…

Robert helping out

Robert’s encouragement and enthusiasm has given me a great push forward, which I dearly needed. So while the weather is better for now, I’m hoping to get back on track. Even when it turns back to rain, Wednesday apparently, I’ll continue to run out there and weed between the rain drops.

Setbacks

So far I’ve been feeling rather pleased with how much progress we’ve made with the plot. From a mass of weeds, we’ve cleared and organised the plot amazingly. However, just to make sure I don’t start feeling too smug, there have been a few setbacks. Swings and roundabouts as they say.

I posted in mid-March about my Seed Anxiety, a worry that hasn’t really gone away and I imagine never really will. The sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seedlings I planted out have all succumbed to recent late frosts and hail storms. They had struggled on for a while but the torrential rain/hail in the last week may  have been the final blow. It was nearly the final blow for me as I got caught in it on Friday, which resulted in a rather soggy drive home.

The rain has also given the weeds and snails a lovely kickstart, which I think will need to be tackled today. I do have to admit though, when I made a quick visit yesterday to pick some more rhubarb, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Still, plenty to do nonetheless.

I also planted up my window box with lots of lovely herbs, but a naughty starling has discovered them recently. The little fecker has nearly annihilated my mint, one thyme and a sizeable chunk of my chives.  I caught the blighter early one morning as I was drinking some motivation (aka tea). I banged the window thinking that would be the end of it, but he’s been sighted more recently by my flatmate. Dawn raids seem to be the main tactic. I find it particularly irritating as we had a bird feeder out there for two years with no takers. Now that it’s gone, why suddenly start on my herbs!?

Thyme, Chives & Mint. @%$&%$!?!!

Mint. @^%#@^&^$!!

I’ve also noticed that my chilli and tomato seedlings, which started out really well, but seem to have “stalled” over the last couple of weeks. I’m assuming their growth naturally slows down as they get bigger, but any advice, input or reassurance from anyone would be very welcome.

Lovingly watched over by Sparkly!Jesus.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things these things aren’t all that bad, I’m fully aware there will be more to come. I pride myself in being a good problem solver, so I will directly plant out some more sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seeds. Hunt snails, weed and rake beds until my back hurts. Most of all, I’ll get up extra early and sit by the kitchen window boxes, armed with a sturdy broom.

Seed Anxiety…

…we all get it. What to start, when to start, where to start and how long until we plant it out. No matter how much reading you do, it seems, rather annoyingly, that the only way to really learn is through trial and error. Lots and lots of error.

I’ve seen a slew of posts recently from other bloggers reporting their success and even failures when it comes to starting seeds. I envy those that are lucky enough to have a greenhouse or a polytunnnel in which to start their seeds. At the moment all I have at my disposal is the spare room and a bit of space on the kitchen table. The spare room is unheated, I’m planning to start most things there, with the chillies, tomatoes and peppers started in the kitchen.

I made the mistake of getting impatient and turned the heat on in the spare room for two days. Whoops! The sunflower seedlings shot right up to the moon and are looking dangerously leggy. Everything else, to the best of my knowledge, looks okay but may soon follow suit.

The chillies are doing nothing so far. I’m thinking it’s not warm enough for them, but now I’m worried that they’ve rotted sitting in moist compost for the last week. So for now I hover over the trays, wringing my hands, hoping they’ll make an appearance soon.

Hello? Anyone growing?

I also keep wondering what is going on with the weather. Last year in Southern England it was 30°C in April. On Thursday I was working in a t-shirt and driving with the windows rolled down. Friday, I was wearing a lined jacket and a scarf… In desperation, I even tried to find a Farmers’ Almanac online to consult. The best I found for March 2012 was, “a  mix of weather types.” Very helpful, not.

This morning I looked at my floppy sunflowers and decided to take a chance and plant them out. I did the same with my sweet pea seedlings, which went out with some sweet pea plants I had to plant anyway. I figure if worst comes to worst, I can always sow some seeds outdoors later if needed. So I’ve set them loose to manage without my constant, erm, pampering.

Sweet pea Tee-pee.

This morning we met our new plot neighbour Tom, who confessed to being a complete amateur. I confessed to being a professional gardener, to which he immediately started requesting advice. I offered up suggestions for transplanting shrubs and tips on watering. He then asked me if it was okay to plant out his broad bean seedlings…I laughed and told him he was suffering classic seed anxiety, he just looked confused.

Edit 23/03/2012:  YAY!

Hello!