Hired thugs

Finally, after three and a half years, my patience has snapped. I am happy to live in harmony with the slugs and bugs provided that they limit their foraging to a few leaves only – but this year they have gorged themselves. They think that the allotment is a 24 hour buffet and I am the chief Cook and Bottle-wash, there to pander to their every nutritional need.

Enough is enough. Consider the evidence:

2016-07-02 14.14.01

The climbing beans are in a very sorry state

The beans should be at the top of their poles by now, but have either been munched to the ground or have had all (and I mean ALL) of their leaves devoured. Hopes for a borlotti or green bean harvest have faded.

2016-07-02 14.14.51

The brassicas are a lacy mess

A month ago the brassicas looks fantastic, marvellous, luscious. Then something enjoyed a midnight feast in the brassica cage and now they’ve become a lacy mess. In particular the experimental ‘frills of hex’ kale has been reduced to its skeleton, all green leaf removed.

2016-07-04 11.27.15

The bean pods are OK, but the broad bean plants have been decimated

The broad beans are actually cropping well, but the plants themselves have been shredded of all green matter. Meanwhile the chard and lettuce are covered in tell-tale green slime and even the sunflowers have got holes in their dinner-plate sized leaves.

I think there’s a variety of critters at work here. The slugs have definitely had their fill of the climbing beans and the lettuces, but the brassicas and broad beans look like they’re suffering from an infestation of some kind of flying insect, or its grubs. The damp warm weather has no doubt helped these infestations.

There’s no point stomping one’s foot and whining about pests. They are what they are, they do what they do, and the gardener has to accept the challenge. And so this week I’ve called in the help of hired thugs: nematodes. You can buy nematodes to deal with both slugs and winged insects and I’ve applied both kinds in the hope that it’s not too late. I dislike biological and chemical control methods for slugs – both are pretty violent – so hopefully one treatment alone will be enough to encourage sluggy to slope off elsewhere.

I read this week that it’s normal for gardeners to both love and loathe their gardens in equal measure, so intense is the relationship between humans and their land. That was a lightbulb moment: I’ve had low-lying anxiety for the last few months that I’m falling out of love with the allotment. The weather and the pests and the endless weeds have conspired to make it feel, well, difficult. There’s been a heck of a lot of graft with very little reward. But then yesterday the sun came out and I spent a happy hour collecting strawberries, courgettes and raspberries (the latter have established themselves from nowhere in the wilderness at the back of the greenhouse). I then spent an even happier hour podding broad beans and processing the berries into summer-scented compotes for the freezer. So there is hope.

And actually, some things are thriving.

2016-07-02 14.15.18

But on the plus side, the hops are thriving this year

2016-07-04 11.22.35

Unexpected bonus: raspberries have established themselves in the wilderness area

2016-06-28 16.48.44

Harvest of redcurrants…

2016-07-02 14.13.22

…and of strawberries

2016-06-26 11.53.09

Our first broad beans

We have to wait a long time on our chilly allotment site to get good veg, but the flowers do do well. I’ve been picking sweetly-scented sweet peas for at least a month, and the calendula are now out in shades of orange, red and yellow. Matt made me a prize-specimen-display-system for my birthday, inspired by one we saw at Sissinghurst, and it’s now anointed with lion-faced blooms.

2016-07-04 11.49.32

Sweetpeas make for an elegant vase

2016-07-02 14.46.23

Calendula in my prize-specimen-display-system

Sowed: Chicory, fennel, rocket, chard ‘lucillus’
Going over: Foxgloves, aliums, winter lettuce, true spinach
Harvest: Broad beans, courgette, last of the winter lettuce mix, lettuce ‘reine du glace’, lettuce ‘Tuscan mix’, rocket, silver chard, perpetual spinach,  nasturtium, heartsease, strawberries, redcurrants, ‘wild’ raspberries, sweet peas, calendula, first cosmos, first ammi, basil, oregano

September pickings

Summer comes late to a Birmingham allotment, the first flowers not really blooming until June. They are white, pale and gentle: cosmos, foxglove, sweet-pea, forget-me-not. Then the season slips to autumn and WHAM BAM! Colour is everywhere! The sunflowers blaze and the blueberries turn a majestic russet; there are golden tomatoes, green peppers, red raspberries and purple beans. Not to be outdone, the artichoke still lures drunk bees to its violet spikes.

2015-09-15 17.21.09

There are still drunk bees on the artichoke flowers

The colours of the autumn flowers work together incredibly well, but it’s due to luck rather than judgment. The yellow, red and orange dahlias contrast against the peach calendula, in turn providing foil for the sunflowers.

2015-09-15 17.39.50

Sunshine yellow dahlias

2015-09-15 17.38.59

One of the last calendula

Speaking of sunflowers…they’re proving themselves to be showy madams. I think there are six different varieties – can’t quite remember – and the more I pick, the more they keep coming. The issue now is height: the best blooms are a foot taller than I can reach.

2015-09-15 17.15.41

The sunflowers, frankly, are showing off

2015-09-15 17.19.03

And they’re beyond reach. This is as tall as I go!

Truth be told, I’m getting a little bored of these late summer flowers (I know, it’s a terrible thing to say). Eyes now are on the crysanthemums, which hint at blooming daily but then never quite get around to it.

2015-09-15 17.37.04

The crysanths are thinking about putting on a show

The beans are starting to fade now, or at least the purple ones are. I’ve purposefully left a load of pods on the vine to fatten up, the beans inside perfect for winter soups and stews. Meanwhile, I discovered yesterday that one borlotti plant made it through the slug assault! We have pods, slim and mottled with pink, which in a month or so will be full of marbled borlottis.

2015-09-15 17.17.04

Swelling bean pods amidst autumnal leaves

2015-09-15 17.18.24

Joy! One borlotti plant made it through and now there are pods

Next to the beans I’ve allowed the bishop’s flower (or ammi) to fade, its seed heads just as pretty as the white fluff of flower.

2015-09-15 17.39.25

Flower head and seed head coexist on the ammi

Speaking of fading: the berries are long gone, but the blueberry delivers again with a show-stopping storm of autumn colour.

2015-09-15 17.20.02

Blazing blueberry bush

I’ve been forgetting that the allotment is meant to be about harvesting, and harvesting things to eat at that. The hops are nearly ready to come down (Matt’s in charge of that bit), and that favourite autumn delight – corn – has come up trumps. 18 ears are ready to cut!

2015-09-15 17.22.32

The hops are ready to harvest

2015-09-15 17.17.39

So too the corn, 18 ears and counting

The fennel started life with promise but has now had a hissy fit and bolted. I’ll pull it nonetheless, it’s anise flavour will come in useful somewhere in the kitchen.

2015-09-15 17.21.57

The fennel is deeply unimpressed with the weather and has bolted

The chicory I thinned the other week has relaxed into itself and started to hearten up. I love the flicks of purple, as if a paintbrush has been splattered over the leaves.

2015-09-15 17.19.38

Chicory is heartening up

The chard deserves a special medal for longevity. I planted this row back in March and it’s a bit hole-y now – that’s the slugs for you – but it’s still cropping and tender. The spinach will make it through to winter and, under cover, the mustard leaves and cavalo nero are relatively intact.

2015-09-15 17.22.49

The chard is still going strong, despite slug damage

The raspberries keep coming and, weather permitting, will do so for a few more weeks I expect.

2015-09-15 17.20.16

Luscious autumn raspberries

Amidst the loot, there are the interlopers. I couldn’t bring myself to shift this weed, which has seeded itself under a brick – no soil required.

2015-09-15 17.21.28

This brave plant has rooted itself under a brick on top of plastic. No soil here. It gets marks for perseverance.

I harvest carrots (wonky but tasty), leeks, beans, tomatoes, chillies, courgettes, sunflowers and dahlias, a trug which brightens a grey September day.

2015-09-12 15.08.30

Straight leeks, wonky carrots

2015-09-15 17.15.19

Colourful pickings

Harvesting: Beans, chillies, courgettes, raspberries, tomatoes, chard, corns, carrots, leeks, dahlias, sunflowers, cosmos, last calendula

Planted under cover: chard, kale, mustard spinach, winter lettuce