Friday 22 July 2016

Do slugs drink beer?

I'm not a big beer drinker, I usually prefer a glass of red wine. However, last weekend I partook of a can of John Smith's - but didn't finish it.

While inspecting the sorry butternut squash plants with munched leaves and buds I remembered someone telling me about using a dish of beer to catch slugs. Waste-not-want-not as they say - so I Googled "slug beer traps" and came up with a few suggestions. I found one website Garden Myths run by Robert Pavlis, who lives in southern Ontario. He's been gardening for many years and dedicates his website to exploring the validity of various gardening myths. In the case of SLUGS he set up various beer traps and videoed the night-time goings on. (Take a look - it's a hoot!). Bottom line - slugs like beer, take a sip and carry on with their nightly munching, occasionally one has a sip too many and falls in and dies happy. But as a serious strategy for getting rid of slugs beer is a failure. Robert recommends enjoying your beer yourself (perhaps to drown your sorrows over the depredations of your precious plants by garden pests).

Two other myths he investigated which caught my eye:
My Mum used to cut off leaves of the tomatoes on the basis that they take the goodness from the fruit. And I've read accounts of tomato growers who cut ALL the leaves off once the fruit has set. My feeling is that leaves are where the plant generates it's energy - using photosynthesis - and removing them just reduces the amount of sugar available to the fruit. Only reason for cutting off leaves is so you can actually see the fruit to harvest them. (My 9 tomato plants are a small jungle!).

Alicante tomatoes in the greenhouse
As for weed barriers - well we've tried them and they fail in similar ways to what Robert found. Weed seeds blow in and settle on the top and get established quickly, couch grass, bindweed and ground elder just run underneath and come up several feet further along. Same applies, only worse, to gravel paths and beds.

I think a lot of perceived wisdom (or myths) about gardening are perpetuated by people just following what other people say, what there hear on the TV or read in books. Those experts don't know your garden and your environment. And a lot of them are professionals. Creating an instant garden at Chelsea or landscaping for a newly built house is different from managing a productive garden yourself year in year out. Also some of the rules that farmers or commercial growers use are bound to be different. For example, cutting raspberries right down each year - it makes it easier to harvest so they don't mind losing the early crop, which this year has been amazing for us. One of the delights of gardening is working with your own patch and finding your own balance. 

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Hot harvest

Crazy hot, sunny weather!

Last Monday the temperature was 14C and raining; today 30C and not a clound in the sky.  The soft fruit bushes are producing big-time - redcurrants, raspberries, tayberries, loganberries with blackcurrants nearly ready. The gooseberries are not doing so well. The new bush is fine but the old ones under the plum trees are rather sorry. I think I should take some cuttings to get new bushes to take over in a year or two. The two jostaberries have produced a significant crop for the first time. They are like big blackcurrants but sweeter. very nice with cereal and yoghurt for breakfast!

At the weekend I lifted a couple of rows of Orla potatoes. Very nice indeed! Generally a good size (for early spuds) and just a few with worm-holes. The middle bed potatoes still look like they are swimming with standing water at the top of the bed. This heat should dry things up a bit I guess. I planted out 20 beetroot seedlings where the Orlas were and set up another batch of seeds in modules (you can never have enough beetroot!).

Broad beans are doing well. We've had several meals and I have a box in the freezer. They freeze really well and are easy to do - just shell them and pop in a plastic ice-cream box. Looking forward to some runner beans by the weekend.

With all the harvesting comes processing. As well as big pies and crumbles and raspberry trifles we've made some gorgeous redcurrant jelly. Most of the rest of the redcurrants and raspberries are in the freezer, ready for jams, jellies, whatever during the winter.

Saturday 9 July 2016

Couch grass campaign

We've been making headway with clearing the rhubarb patch of couch grass and bindweed.

Electric rotary soil sieve
A few weeks ago we started off digging up rhubarb plants and putting them in pots and fencing off the "good" bit from the "bad" bit of soil. Very hard work to clear the soil of couch grass roots, especially with the very wet weather making the ground heavy. But hubby always attempts to find a better - i.e. mechanised - way of doing things. He did lots of research on the web and eventually purchased a SCHEPPACH RS350 compact electric garden rotary sieve.  

I was a bit skeptical, but actually it does the job pretty well. There's still a lot of shovelling dirt to be done but it does a good job of separating out the stones and, importantly, the couch grass roots. It's a bit easier because we had a few days dry weather and the soil was drier. We're about half way through the first section and between sessions we're covering the un-sieved soil to prevent it getting drenched again. (Last night we had another downpour). The sieve folds up so we can store it in the greenhouse.

Remains to be seen whether the cleared soil will be completely couch grass free because from experience the wretched stuff will grow from the tiniest bit of root. And after the rhubarb patch there's the rest of the garden......

Monday 4 July 2016

Beans - and gone!

Yesterday we had our first meal of 2016 Broad Beans.

We had some broad bean tops a week or so ago, which are lovely - a bit like spinach but not so watery. Picking the growing shoots once sufficient flowers and beanlets are forming below, deters black-fly (though not many aphids this year, probably don't like all the rain), keeps the plants from getting too leggy and provides a nice meal for us humans. Yesterday I picked a dozen or so biggish pods and we had them with our roast chicken, accompanied by home-grown spuds. The potatoes are Kestrels which I planted up in big tubs back in February. They've done very well, completely bug and worm-free and very welcome before the ones in the veg bed are ready.

First Broad beans of 2016
The bad news is the climbing French beans. This year I tried a different variety - Cobra. They germinated well in their pots in the greenhouse and I was full of expectation planting them out in their wigwams - about 36 nice plants. But they just wouldn't climb. Only one threw a shoot that wound around the pole, the rest just stood there and sulked. I gave them some extra feed - chicken pellets - but no joy. I could see one or two had been eaten, the stems were bitten right through and the leaves just lay there. I came to the conclusion that slugs were the culprit. So I spread a bit of sandy ash from the bonfire, on the basis slugs don't like sharp bits on their feet. No joy - no beans, although a few mauvish flowers right down at ground level. Maybe pigeons or pheasants were to blame.

So I decided to pot up some more bean seeds in the greenhouse. After 2 weeks of warm weather nothing but one very tiny bean shoot emerged. I turned out the pots and found NO BEANS! So probably slugs, maybe mice.

On Sunday morning I woke up and decided to get rid of the French beans outside and plant Chard. Went up the garden to find - NO BEANS AT ALL. Every one of the remaining plants were cropped off at an inch high. So no French beans this year - but Chard is very nice. (Maybe with roast pigeon or pheasant - I'm watching you!)

The runner beans are climbing well and have started putting out bright red flowers, so there's hope there!

Friday 1 July 2016

Rain Rain go away!

So much rain! Serious and relentless downpours for the last three weeks. Water is pouring off the hill. The green pipe, which is fed from the drain system along the orchard, is running and feeding the waterfall into the pond. So there's a constant tinkling of splashing water as well as splattering of rain on the roof!

Water pouring from the "green pipe" into small pool in the fern garden.

The rain has not deterred the grass from growing. Unfortunately it makes it difficult to mow and long grass in the orchard and behind the rockery has got tall and gone to seed. I've been trying to get on top of weeds by grubbing up or at least cutting the heads of weeds so they don't seed. But this year, warm and wet, has made the grass lush and weeds plentiful.

However, by regular hoeing between showers, I have managed to keep the potatoes relatively weed-free. Miss those poppies!