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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Unexpected bonus: raspberries have established themselves in the wilderness area

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Harvest of redcurrants…

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…and of strawberries

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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.

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Sweetpeas make for an elegant vase

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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

It’s me, Sunflower!

There’s been a hiatus on Veg Patch whilst we’ve been gallavanting onboard the cruise ship Harmony of the Seas (you might have seen it on the telly). It turns out that cruise ships are actually just floating restaurants…the buffet was endless, the dining room offered up a four-course dinner every night and that’s before we even get onto the complimentary room service.

However, what goes around comes around: whilst we were enjoying the daily diet of waffles, steak and gateaux, back on the allotment the slugs and snails have been having a feast of their own. Many of my seedlings have been nobbled – this sunflower had its stem nearly bitten clean through, a similar fate befell the dahlia, and one of the borlotti beans has been nibbled to the ground.

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This was a healthy plant until the slugs got to it

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The dahlia’s stem has been chewed through

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Borlotti beans aren’t safe either

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The culprits. I think my pots are nurseries for slugs: for every large one there are about three tiny ones

Thankfully, this onslaught has come when most of the plants are large enough to withstand it, so they may pull through. Today I’ve put down a massive amount of Slug-gone wool pellets and, in a belt-and-braces approach, have hired my friend’s 8-year-old son to come slug-hunting during half-term. He will be paid 10p for every slug, snail or caterpillar he finds: money very, very well spent.

With the slugs dealt with, today brought another pressing job: the planting out of the sunflowers. Of the 25 or so that I sowed only 16 have made it through (some didn’t come up; others got scoffed by sluggy). The four Sunflower Club seeds have grown well, and given that they are meant to be TALL, they need proper staking. Canes are feeble and aren’t the prettiest, so I picked up 20 hazel poles for the princely sum of £9 from the allotment shop: just the thing.

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Hazel poles for staking

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Sunflowers planted, mulched with wool pellets and tied to stakes

The grid of 16 sunflowers against their hazel supports looks a little, well, witch-y. I LOVE THIS. If Matt can have his hopolisk May Pole, then I can grow myself a coven of sunflowers. Speaking of which – the hops are still shooting up the hopolisk, all bar one, which has simply refused to grow.

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Hops are soaring up the hopolisk

Spring is on the cusp of becoming summer. The grass on the allotments is growing like the clappers – as are the weeds – and the plants are establishing themselves in the warmer weather. We have green fruit on the strawberries, and the gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants are studded with tiny green sour-bombs.  I have a few sweetpeas in bloom, their scent pungent and delicious. The tulips have finished now and the alliums are stealing the glory with their bright, purple pompom flowers. Next week the foxgloves and pinks will bloom and then, hopefully, it will be the turn of the cosmos and calendula.

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First sweetpeas are in bloom

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Strawberries are setting their fruit

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The row of alliums is vibrant

Planted out: Sunflowers, squash, cosmos ‘purity’, dahlia
Direct sowed: Beets, carrots, parsnip, bells of Ireland, savory, parsley, cima di rapa (Note: None of the things I sowed back in March and April made it through; too cold)
Also: Potted on zinnia. Wool pellets on everything. Thinned out the frills of hex. Good watering – soil is dry and still a little cold, despite the warmer weather.