Military Manoeuvres

It seems that gardeners, like generals, are compelled always to try and fight new wars using the tactics of the last. Take my brassicas. The first time I attempted to grow them they were plagued by cabbage whites. The next year I netted them against the butterflies and they were promptly munched by slugs. The year after that I planted them too close together and the broccoli bolted, not helped by a summer so grey that any right thinking vegetable of Italian origin assumed it was in fact winter. This year I have been carefully checking for caterpillars and guarding against slugs and planted everything out with reasonable spaces between them and half of them have promptly succumbed to club root. This is particularly annoying given that last year I went to the effort of testing my soil’s acidity and digging in some wood ash to bring it down a bit for the brassicas, which is supposed to help with club root. This year, I’m afraid I filed that one under too much hassle – after all, I’d never had a problem with club root – so I’ve only got myself to blame.

Of course, sometimes it works out in my favour (so far at least). Another crop which hasn’t done too well – with the exception of Seymour – has been squash. This year I decided to give my plants the best possible start in life in the hopes of raising at least one. I sowed only four seeds, paid them lavish attention, waited for a warm spell (ha!) before planting them out, put them under a cloche for extra warmth, propped them up on sticks so their leaves were out of the way of the slugs, fed them on coffee, and guarded the entrance to the cloche with a slug trap. I confidently expected perhaps one sickly infant out of all that – but all four have survived, nay thrived. One of them has even produced a female flower already. They’re crammed into far too small a space, but there’s no way I’m going to thin or move them now. They’ll just have to sprawl as best they can over the empty spaces where all my failures have been. And undoubtedly now I’ve typed all this they’ll promptly keel over from some disfiguring disease. I should probably have remembered to take a photograph before they all expire.

The slugs, meanwhile, seem to believe in taking the battle to the enemy. As I tweeted last night I was just nipping out last night to pick some spring onions when I saw this chap making a bee-line for the kitchen door.

But that was just the advance scouting party. The armoured battalions can be found lurking between the fennel and the drainpipe

I think some of them will be getting some parachute training – sans parachute – shortly.

9 Responses to Military Manoeuvres

  1. livinginabox says:

    There are two ways of getting rid of slugs and snails:
    a) Death, preferably by a method not involving toxic substances.
    b) Transportation

    While a) is always effective [at least I can’t imagine how it would not be], the success of b) depends how far they are transported. If they are deposited within their home range they are highly likely to return. Removal distance should be greater than 10 m.

    Relevant research.
    May only be relevant to snails, may not apply to slugs.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/so-you-want-to-be-a-scientist/experiments/homing-snails/results/

    Good luck! In the South-East, the wet weather was a boon for gastropods, they seem to be everywhere. I can barely imagine what it’s like North of the border.

  2. disgruntled says:

    I don’t think I can throw them that far…

    • livinginabox says:

      “I don’t think I can throw them that far…” Neither could I.
      Perhaps you could get in training for the next Olympics.

      Remember:
      a) The not-so-little buggers know where the food is!
      b) After their little vacation, they’ll be even hungrier!

      The alternative is the boot! Or to throw them very hard at a solid object. They definitely won’t come back after that.

  3. emma c says:

    So glad your squash is doing so well. I am trying pumpkins for the first time in years. I reckon they are worth it, if only because they only need the space and not much else (evidently even in Scotland!). Now I just need to go and ask the internet how to identify male/female flowers..
    But regarding slugs and snails, last year I covered everything in coffee grounds and it all got eaten, this year, I was too lazy to do anything and everything is unmolested. All I see on the roads are squashed hedgehogs, so what is the trick? I am marshaling my defences all the same…

    • livinginabox says:

      Sadly, I think that lots of dead hedgehogs on the road is a portent of bad things to come. With road-building and traffic levels, the population may or may not be capable of sustaining the losses. If not it may be a death-spiral. This is what appears to have happened in the outskirts of London. Hedgehogs used to be a common site [live] in gardens and flattened on the roads. Now I haven’t seen one in the garden for over 20 years and only seen one dead on the roads in at least the last five years. Research has shown that road mortality can reduce populations by as much as 30%. This may not be sustainable, depending upon other factors.
      This is an external cost of motoring, not paid-for by motorists. Albeit non-financial, it is a burden borne by the natural world. It is a loss for all of us. Roads cut habitat into smaller and smaller fragments. Traffic threatens anything that attempts to cross with the prospect of becoming road-kill. Of course hedgehogs would benefit gardeners by eating slugs and snails.

      This is another reason why cycling is good for the environment and cars are very bad for the environment.

  4. disgruntled says:

    Assuming some hedgehogs survive the road carnage, there must be lots of them around maybe?

    Female flowers have a bulb at the base – the thing that will grow into the pumpkin or squash if you’re lucky

  5. […] And for those asking: this is what a huge bronze fennel plant looks like. Front door shown actual size. And this despite being planted right next to the snail army HQ. […]

  6. […] just shows what a little coddling can do. If only I had time to lavish the same level of attention on the rest of my crops we’d […]

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