Garlic, Bugs and Curses Galore

What’s happening with the weather gods? The rain has come too late for a bounteous crop of spuds but is perfectly timed to ruin my garlic bulbs that are desperately in need of a good sun basking.

I had a tricky decision to make this weekend. The ground was sodden and with no respite promised, the bulbs of garlic that had appeared to be drying a fortnight ago were now disintegrating into a white fluff. I decided to pull the lot up and deal with the drying task at home.

We’ve now got close to 100 bulbs of wet fresh garlic, lined up under every radiator in the house, acting as a dubious pomander. I’d put them in the airing cupboard but I don’t think the clothes would maintain their just washed, lenor freshness.

While I was despairing over the bulbs, Lynn was constructing the insect hi-rise. This has been a monster in the making – cutting hundreds of nettle and bracken stems to size has tried our patience but Lynn had the worst of it while trying to bring the whole she-bang together.

As ever with construction tasks, we start off appearing prepared, drill charged, screwdriver to hand, multiple assorted screws and so on but then the facade begins to crumble. Drill bits aplenty but they are all masonry bits, screwdriver does the job until the screw head flies out and disappears in the neighbour’s strawberry patch.

This is when the job really starts and the cursing and sweating begins.

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Stag Party

Stag Monster

This monster flew into the path of our barbeque a couple of weekends ago. Here he is, positioning himself nicely to go on the spit roast.

We were in an area of South West London where sightings of stag beetles aren’t that infrequent. Apparently there was a tract of ancient woodland nearby and as we all know stag beetles particularly like their ancient bits of decayed wood.

I reported the siting on the the “What’s in my back yard” WIMBY Tool and then headed over to the The Stag Beetle Project to see if there was anything I could do to encourage the big monsters on to my plot.
The advice seems to focus on:

  • building a loggery of discarded hardwood somewhere on the plot
  • checking ponds for floundering bugs around their flying season, May – June

Stag Beetle

According to the WIMBY tool, there have been no recorded sitings of stag beetles around my allotment site since 1998!

I better start collecting logs now.

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Maternal Pride

Frog

I was leaning over the pond this evening, trying to reach the juicy alpine strawberries, when I spotted a big adult frog eyeballing me from the comfort of the pool.

I was swelled with pride, as this strange beast had accepted lodgings in my pond. Now my eye was in though, I spotted 3 tiny frogs skittering around on the pond weed and even 1 out on the edge of the pond.

What joy.

Not really sure where these ones have come from, the tadpoles I had been watching, don’t appear to have legs let. I wonder if these are an earlier batch that I missed or perhaps they all develop at different rates.

Anyway, I’m happy. It makes it for the disappointment I felt when I discovered all my replacement cauliflowers had been eaten by the slugs.

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Murder Most Horrid

Today it was time to face facts. The local frog population have obviously snubbed my pond and the slugs that I have been saving as amphibian delicacies have been having a whale of a time in my compost bin, procreating merrily and sniggering behind my back. Something clearly needs to be done if I ever hope to grow intact lettuces.

So, today marked the first assault on the slug flotilla.

There appear to be a number of options for dispatching slugs. You can squish them, a simple option but slug slime is stickier than melted chewing gum and its not the sort of thing you want lingering on the bottom of your shoe. Slug pellets are another obvious choice but are pretty damaging to the rest of the wildlife and would probably ensure I never see a frog or hedgehog on my plot again, plus I wouldn’t want them near my food. You can also purchase special slug hating nematodes which are apparently approved of by the soil association and other organic gardening watchdogs but although I can accept that nematodes already exist in my soil I am just not going to enjoy eating my cabbage when I know I’ve just watered it with a solution of parasitic worms. That leaves me with a painless option that I read about in my magazine yesterday – death by drowning.

I wiped about 30 beasties from the side of my compost bin into an inch of water in bucket. Almost immediately the slime factories puffed up a little and seemed to turn pale. Happy with a job well done, I turned away and carried on with my mammoth digging task.

10 minutes later I happened to be passing the bucket and saw at least 28 slugs fighting for pole position at the rim of the bucket. I sloshed more water in from a height and knocked them back into the drink. 10 mins later the process had to be repeated, this time I added a dash of my beer dregs that I have been saving for months, thinking this would encourage them to linger for a bit longer.

I must have been a bit tight with the beer because, you guessed it, 10 mins later they are back at the rim. Now I’m scraping them off with my spade and stirring vigorously. Its turning into quite a frenzied killing session and I’m not feeling too good about it. Who said drowning was painless? The darn creatures just won’t play dead. Perhaps I have cultivated a specific variety of deep sea diving slugs.

After 6 hrs on the plot it was time to go but the slugs were still not finished, I sliced a couple of particularly feisty specimens with my secateurs and left the others to their own devices.

I would say the slugs won the first battle. I need to go back armed with a more humane and effective form of execution. If only the frogs would turn up, then I wouldn’t have deal with all this unpleasantness.

Pictures omitted for obvious reasons.

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Cuppa Char Anyone?

Room of Ones Own

I woke this morning with plans of allotment pottering on a slightly more sophisticated level than I managed yesterday. I still wasn’t feeling on top form so my plans centred mostly around my new chair and dreams of a hot steaming mug of tea.

My mug of choice was A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf, so apt for the shed I think, and my stirrer is a little family heirloom from my Gran.

However, these were just dreams. I actually woke to an email from a freecyclist offering me a gift of a 9ft extendable ladder. Now as I’m in need of a ladder to apply some roofing felt to the shed I was very happy to take him up on his offer, but herein started a 2.5 hour challenge to claim the goodies.

The ladders lay 6 miles to the west of me, an easy enough cycle but it was quite an ordeal to lug them back. My trusty revolution cargo trailer proved its worth again though and really took the weight off me. Most of the route was along the thankfully straight dual carriageway – it is understandably tricky to steer a rigid 9ft bike around tight bends.

06012008046

I was knackered by the time I arrived on the plot, so stopped for the first in a long line of cuppas. After this essential revival, I started on the roofing task.

Applying roofing felt is quite tricky, I made a fair old mess of it all and am choosing not to illustrate the point as its too embarrassing. I even had a barracking from someone waiting on the train platform opposite, who informed me I had put it on upside down. He’s probably right. I daubed the edges with bitumen paint so it should do the trick anyway.

Talking of bitumen, I met my closest plot neighbour today, seems we keep missing each other. Anyway she was just passing by with her kids to pick up something from her shed and popped over to introduce herself. We shook hands and I’m afraid she left covered in the black tar that had somehow spread itself across my palm. I know how to win friends and influence people!

Bird Box

Just before the day ended I started on another task. I have a stack of wood offcuts lying around that either littered the plot when I took it on, or came with the freebie shed. I’ve had my eye on one of the planks for a bird box.

Rather like the roofing task, I rather botched this one as well, cutting the base too short. Still, I was able to wing it by substituting the roof. I then fashioned a new roof with some extra thin ply, covered it in an offcut of roofing felt and bashed nails in liberally.

I was at the bashing stage, feeling rather hopeless about the future of the box when a little Robin came and settled on the doorstep of my shed and watched my progress for a while.

I hope he comes and lives there.

*UPDATE*

I’ve just found what appears to be the definitive guide to designing bird boxes for specific species and it informs me that Robins like open fronted boxes, not tiny squeeze threw hole boxes. Maybe I’ll make another one just for my digging pal. It also looks like I might need to enlarge the hole a touch, at the moment it is 22mm but it seems that even tits like a minimum of 25mm.

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Fungal Foray

For Christmas this year I got a couple of packs of mushroom “seed” or more accurately, packs of wooden dowells impregnated with mushroom mycelium.

mushroom log

I went up to Yorkshire for a few days so I split them with my Dad and we had some fun trying to bash the little plugs into some freshly cut logs. We’ve got two varieties, oyster and shitake, can’t say I’m that fond of shitake but I’m hoping to acquire a dessicator before they crop, they should be pretty useful in soups after I’ve dried them out.

Mushroom Logs

Back home I sunk them in the ground just in front of the shed, where I hope they’ll get sufficient shade to be happy. They apparently crop best in October but I can’t imagine they’ll take that long to issue some fruit.

I can’t remember which is which now.

While I was visiting my parents, I also raided their established pond and nicked some weed, pond water and a water lily. I think the allotment frog population should be jolly happy with the new residence.

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Chard Nurturing

Compost Heap

I staggered across to my allotment today, laden with compostable materials. Not sure what the heck happened on the waste front last week but I’m going to blame the veg box. I could barely carry the bag of peelings, vacuum crud and shredded paper and by the time I added my friends sack of grass clippings to the load I was really struggling.

Still, it’s got to be done. Compost is my new passion of the moment and as I have three bins to fill I can’t slack on the waste production front. I was even tempted to pick up a few discarded pumpkin heads on my way but that was just too much.

It was practically dark by 3pm today so I had to light my way by a rather impressive bonfire. It was my best so far and actually managed to make an impact on my mountain of couch grass roots. It’s also provided a good heap of high potash ash that should give my fruit trees a good spurt for next year. I’ve been building the fire on the site I’ve earmarked for the Spartan tree due next month.

Lacewing Hotel

I’m really enjoying the preparation stage of this allotment and am just a tad worried about what I’m going to do when I’ve got everything sorted. I have a low attention span and get rapidly bored by tasks so the new plot is ideal for me – every 5 mins I can hop to a new job. Today I did bonfire building (which is actually quite hard to get bored of), lacewing hotel making, weeding (doh!), transplanting, manky chard nurturing, cloche making and compost stirring.

I was fortunate to find my broad beans pretty much in one piece but I wasn’t going to risk it with the pigeons and chose to knock up a protective fleece cloche with my last bits of blue piping. The fleece turned out to be the perfect size, something like 8m by 1.5m and it only cost £2.99 from Wilkinsons. Wish I’d got another pack at that price.

I mentioned last week that my first delivery of plug plants had got lost in the postal strike. Well my little chard plants and assorted brassicas finally turned up after 3 weeks locked inside a cardboard box. Most of the plants were complete mush as you’d expect and went straight into the compost pile but a few of the chard plants seemed to have a few leaves still in the land of the living. I’ve nurtured them on my windowsill for a few days and stuck them in the plot next to their more vibrant brothers today. I’m not holding out too much hope but fingers crossed.

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Infinity Pool

Infinity Pond

I acquired a few off cuts of pond liner from the amazing freecycle group and after using them to suppress weeds for about 2 days, I decided I may as well get on and build a pond. I took a fairly haphazard approach to the design and was lucky that my sheet of rubber just about fit the hole I dug. I didn’t spend enough time contemplating levels though, the water is tipping over the sides and I’m either going to have to do a little repair job or plant up an impromptu bog garden in the resulting swamp.

I’m chuffed to bits with the plot progress over the last month, thanks are due to the good digging help from my mum and dad and Shakti.

Overview 20th Oct

I spent 6 hours there today, pottering around, reading my latest book and waiting for the pond to fill. It wasn’t all laid back of course, I did have to clear the space for the pond and then dig it out, and I dug up the strawberries and transplanted them for a second time in a month, this time under a mulch of excess pond liner, and I finished off my raspberry hedge. Phew, I feel the need to sit down again.

What am I going to do when its all clear?

My current allotment read is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our Year of Seasonal Eating by Barbara Kingsolver of The Poisonwood Bible fame. Its about her families year long experiment to eat only locally sourced produce, which in the most part means food they grew themselves. It’s very interesting so far and poetically written. I was a bit ashamed to be reading it on my barren plot eating a packet of crisps and a bottle of ginger ale sourced from Sainsburys. I’ll make amends soon enough and with any luck I’ll be drinking my own ginger brew next weekend – although thats dependent on me finding a source of muslin so that I can filter the yeast out of my gloop.

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