Tag Archives: Pests

Groundhog Days

Last weekend the weather was glorious and it enticed many a gardener out on to their plots. Like the legendary groundhog  I emerged from my burrow, but I should have known better when I saw my shadow…This weekend it’s back to frigid temperatures  and I’m huddled back in my burrow.

Even though this weekend was less than productive, last weekend we did manage to weed and mulch the fruit patch. The shrubs all got their winter pruning earlier in January and the strawberries are already starting to put on some growth. This will be the strawberries’ second year, so I’m really hoping we might get a nice little crop this year. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a difference the fruit cage makes in regards to our current and gooseberry crops. Last spring, I arrived at the plot to find two plump wood pigeons eating their way through all the red currant flowers, so no currents last summer.

Fruit cage before....

Fruit cage before….

 

...And the fruit cage after.

…And the fruit cage after.

The rhubarb & asparagus patch even got a weed and mulch. We had a rather large rhubarb plant in the middle of the asparagus half, but it has now been donated to a neighbour plot and gives the old ‘gus a bit more space. We’ve still got four rhubarb plants, but I think that will be more than enough for us.

Of course, now that area is all done, I’m itching to push on with a few other jobs before the real madness begins in mid-March. I still need to build our raised herb bed and I want to assemble our log/scrap wood bench. I know I’m not the only one dying to get on with things. Maybe I just need to get over my fussing about the cold weather, layer up and get out there. Or maybe I’ll just have another hot chocolate and wait for another week. Yeah, that sounds good.

Planting Plans: Brassicas & Squash

It’s a month like this where we’re extra grateful for the fresh winter veg that the allotment is providing us. Yes, there’s still a smattering left in our big freezer, even a giant marrow still residing in our kitchen awaiting roasting, but it’s the freshly harvested things that make you feel so good. The snow did little damage to our cabbage and kale. A touch of white fly, but that seems to be under control now. With the slightly warmer weather recently, I’m hoping for everything to “bulk up” just a bit more. The purple broccoli is just sending out the first colourful florets, the kale leafing out some more and the cabbages are forming nice firm hearts. Impatience got the better of us and a few of the cabbages have already been used. Fried up with a generous portion of pancetta. (insert Homer Simpson-like drooling noises here.)

This brings me to a quick run down of the brassicas and squashes we’re planning on in the coming year. Firstly, something we tragically missed out on last year, which is brussels sprouts. Again laziness and a lack of space has meant I doing these from ordered plants. I do love sprouts and not just for Christmas. If they do well enough, I may just not bother with cabbage in the future. I like the idea of being able to harvest a few handfuls of sprouts to cook as and when I need, rather  than contending with one huge head of cabbage. Although, given our current tiny cabbages this hasn’t posed as much of an issue for us really.

The cabbages we have growing at the moment are Tundra, a great winter cabbage. As we haven’t completely given up on cabbage yet, we’re trying out Savoy cabbage next year. I’ve had some excellent Savoy cabbage dishes in the past, so it’ll be nice to see if I can recreate some.

New this year will also be cauliflower and in keeping with our love of purple vegetables, we’ll be growing Graffiti. It’ll make for an interesting looking cauliflower cheese.

Winter crops galore

Winter crops galore

Some repeats will be pak choi, kale and purple sprouting broccoli. All grew really well, but suffered a bit due to my lack of diligence regarding pests. The pak choi was greedily munched by slugs and white fly ruined a significant portion of the kale leaves. However, the last twelve months have been all about riding the learning curve, so I am determined to not let the pests get the upper hand again this year.

Squashes were another success for us, but this year will be more about keeping a strict limit on how much we grow. We discovered that there is only so much courgette any one household can consume! Even with baking, frying and grilling in spades, we really did suffer a glut in the summer months. So with just a few plants, we’ll be growing butternut squash, Atena courgettes and one, just one pumpkin plant.

Last year's rather odd double Atena courgette

Last year’s rather odd double Atena courgette

Ultimately, I’m glad we had the forethought to grow a few winter crops this season, I never imagined we would appreciate it so much. While our decent sized plot will never make us self-sufficent, we should really up the productivity of the plot over the coldest months. We owe it to ourselves to help us get through the toughest time of the year.

One Last Taste of Summer

The other week the weather made a sudden turn and I found myself wrapping up in about fourteen layers of clothes. As I scraped a thick layer of frost off my gardening van in the morning, I thought about what was left at the plot. Mostly winter crops, but there was one last batch of carrots to be harvested.

That weekend, Scott and I launched Operation Carrot Rescue. I had covered them with a fleece tunnel to protect them from the worst of the frosts, but when we got there the tunnel was no where to be found. We had a rather windy night earlier in the week, I imagine the Wind Gods had demanded it as a sacrifice. We wandered around the site a bit, but no luck.

Despite the frost, the carrots were looking relatively decent. A few nibbles from the slugs but the most damage had been done by carrot fly larvae. Interestingly, the orange carrots were far more infested than the purple ones. Score one for the non-hybrids.

Last of the carrots

Last of the carrots

We hauled them home and gave them a good scrub. With some careful dissection, we were able to salvage most of the carrots. Five pounds worth in all, now safely stored in the freezer. This winter will be a season of stews, pies, casseroles and pasta sauces. The carrots, along with the masses of French beans we’ve got, will remind us of the warmth and abundance of this summer.

Scrubbed, packed, ready for freezing.

Scrubbed, packed, ready for freezing.

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

 

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.