Tag Archives: Slugs

Glory of the Fruit Cage

Another long overdue post, but we’ve been busy and summer has finally arrived. Working as a professional gardener has kept me extremely busy and I’ve been heading to the plot as much as I can to keep things ticking along there.

While there have been a few spits and spats of rain, my main job has been keeping everything watered. With the late start this spring, we have lots of seedlings and young plants coming along right now. We’re very much a month behind compared to last year, but I’m hopeful this warm weather will continue on.

One area of the allotment that’s blowing our socks off right now is the fruit cage. Despite the late start, all the plants are fruiting beautifully. Both the gooseberry and currant shrubs are laden with fruit. The raspberries are forming up nicely. Just having to keep up with trimming the grass in and around it really. For no other reason than keeping the b*****d slug and snail population in check.

Red currants colouring up nicely.

Red currants colouring up nicely.

By far the best has been the strawberries. We planted them very early spring last year and they have truly hit their stride this year. In the last week we’ve harvested about 4lb of strawberries and there’s plenty more coming along. Frantic weeding and a few pinches of slug pellets* has resulted in beautiful, lush berries, some of which never seem to make it back home…

Strawbs!

Strawbs!

We built the fruit cage last summer and it has truly paid dividends. Simon did a fantastic job building the frame work, it’s sturdy and has plenty of space to move around in. Which is especially important as I am rather freakishly tall. Getting the netting, bought cheaply on eBay, was a bit off a faff to get on. When I say faff, it means I ended up using language that would have made a sailor blush. I was chatting to someone late last year and she commented on the lovely new fruit cage, “it’s always worth putting in the effort to build one of those. You really have no idea how much of your crop is lost to the birds until you build one.” Wise, wise words.

Looking good.

Newly built fruit cage

 

*Apologies to those that oppose the use of slug pellets, but they do bloody work and I can’t bear to let all that hard work go into feeding and already exploding mollusc population.

Planting Plans:Ornamental Plants

I feel like I’m being quite lazy this spring, as it seem we haven’t spent much time on the plot this month. Of course, my decision to buy in many of my plants has meant our flat isn’t awash in tiny seedlings this year. Also, given the recent weather, I’m quite happy that there isn’t anything that urgently needs doing. It’s given me far more time to make plans and work on other parts of the plot. The most neglected section was probably the ornamental beds at the top of the plot and this year I’m determined to make something of them.

Last year we cleared the top area and moved the raspberry canes down into the fruit cage. These beds are right next to the access road that cuts through the allotment site and is quite close to the main gates. We get lots of passers-by,  and lots of hellos as well, but in years past Simon noticed that these raspberry plants never produced fruit. We had a slight hunch that fruit theft wasn’t entirely down to birds, so we decided to move the more tempting fruit to the far end of our plot.

The first stages of clearing the ornamental beds.

The first stages of clearing the ornamental beds last winter.

 

In the late autumn, we planted spring bulbs galore and have done so again last autumn. The daffodils from the first year have returned in abundance, as daffodils often do. The tulips last spring were a bit stunted, so this year I’ve mulched the beds with our lovely compost we produced. The trial beds of tulips are coming on well too, I do love having fresh cut flowers in the house when ever possible, especially in the early spring.

Fresh Daffodils in the house.

Fresh Daffodils in the house.

Last year by the summer however, the beds had become a fairly weedy mess. Other than the sunflowers and sweet peas, the beds we’re really not looking like much. I had attempted to sow some wild flower seeds, but they never really took. So in the autumn, I cleared most things out in an attempt to start over and added a few perennials such as Japanese anemones and coreopsis. I’ll likely add more and include some annuals such as cosmos and corn flowers later in the early summer.

While I’m mainly after cut flowers, I can’t possibly use everything and the excess flowers will left to attract bees and other pollinators. We did have an enormous comfrey plant in one bed, which did an amazing job attracting bees. Sadly, it also did a stupendous job at protecting and feeding hundreds of slugs. So I’ve dug it out and will replace it with something else. As  I’ve also ordered some summer bulbs of dahlias and species lilies, which will need to be planted soon, they likely take up that space happily.

I’m not really planting with any real design, which is a bit of a departure from what I do all the time in my job. With this little patch of ground I can plant what I like and where I like, no client imposing any limitations on me. I find it quite liberating to plant like that and I imagine some interesting combinations will come out of it. I’m hoping I’ll finally make something of it, even without a absolute “plan.”

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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.

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

 

Life on the Allotment

While we do get our fair share of human visitors, it’s the non-human visitors I get really excited about. Whenever I’m there enjoying some peace and quiet on my own, I’m never really alone.

I often lose time watching the bees, following the beetles scuttling across the beds or trying to identify all the different birds I see. Even yesterday, I had to pause with the watering to scoop out a frog that had gotten trapped in the water cistern. As it hopped off into the tall grass, I realised I should have re-homed it under the comfrey patch, where there’s millions of slugs hiding.

Speaking of slugs, fifteen minutes of hand picking though the ornamental beds yielded nearly a half bucket of slugs…yum. Also, I never realised how much noise is emitted from a bucket of slugs. Lots of popping, slopping and the occasional plop.

Bucket O’Slugs

So far my favourite visitor has been our own Allotment Fox. Obviously very young, a year at most, it was often spotted trotting though the plots, following along as I pushed my wheelbarrow up to the  green waste bins. Recently, I was working away when I saw it standing only a few meters away from me. I then noticed that most of its tail was missing and it looked like it was a very recent injury. I could tell it was in pain and worried that it had/could become severely infected. Yesterday, I found out the RSPCA had managed to trap it and I hope it got some basic veterinary care before being released. I was sorry to hear they had been asked to relocate it, I do miss the foxy company, even if it did pee on my fleece tunnels…

Allotment Fox

There are things other than slugs and foxes of course, even rumours of badgers, but in the meantime here’s a sampling of all the life that can be found on the allotment.

(Another fantastic video from Scott)