Shooting Blanks

August 17, 2017

I managed an hour or two in the garden today, and not a moment too soon as the sole surviving pumpkin plant appears to be mounting a bid for freedom.

pumpkin plant

It doesn’t appear to be mounting much of an effort to grow pumpkins though – the few little fruits it has produced have tended to rot off before they amount to much. This may be sheer loneliness – I planted out four squash and four pumpkin plants this spring, and it is the sole survivor of the rampant slug army that is inhabits the garden. Despite many dozens of them meeting their doom in the beer traps, there seems to be no end to them; perhaps I should stop buying them rounds …


Perhaps I should also stop providing neat little slug starter homes…

Despite the slugs, and some rampant neglect of my own, the plot has proved surprisingly fertile ground for the plants that did survive. None of my French beans made it past the hopeful seedling stage, and the curly kale just evaporated without trace but the red winter kale is looking pretty good, if somewhat slug-chewed, the beetroot has already provided several meals and is wonderfully sweet* and the peas have just gone beserk. They have resisted all attempts to be propped up so picking them involves wading into the patch and pulling out the pods before the tendrils can fasten themselves around your ankles, but for the first time in years we’ve had enough peas to cook and eat, rather than just be scoffed straight from the pod. I think this may be first-plot syndrome – they always seem to do well on new ground, and then are never quite so good again (she says, grandly, having had all of three veg plots in her entire life).


Tonight’s supper, which was, as tradition demands, delicious

My broad beans are a sad disappointment though. They are producing magnificent pods but there’s just nothing in them or almost nothing. Clearly with that and the pumpkin, there’s a lack of pollination going on. We seem to have a fair few bees about, but perhaps they’ve been distracted (or indeed held captive) by the peas. It might have helped if I’d staked them properly, or kept them a bit better weeded, but it’s definitely been a case of the survival of the fittest in the garden this year.

broad bean pods

Broad beans: all hat and no cattle

* adjusted for being beetroot and not, say, chocolate.

How Does your Garden Grow?

June 22, 2017

Well now, funny you should ask that.

The plants that just sort of get on with it, like the potatoes and the broad beans, are just getting on with it.

broad beans and potatoes

The bits that regularly have hares sitting on them have hare-shaped gaps in the planting. I don’t know whether to be relieved or offended that they aren’t bothering to eat my beetroot…

beetroot with gaps

And one thing I have learnt since moving here is that beautifully landscaped sandstone terrace walls effectively double as high-density housing for slugs. We were out enjoying the last gasp of the longest day last night when I noticed how many of them were out chewing my plants. Time for some remedial action – fortunately slug beer brews up pretty quick and they don’t seem that fussy.

slugs in slug trap

Oh and up close, clematis flowers are rather fabulous

clematis flower



May 9, 2016

That moment when you are in the greenhouse happily filling modules with compost to plant things and you look down and realise that the bit of dead vegetation sticking out from underneath your boot is in fact a mummified frog’s leg, with the rest of the mummified frog attached…

mummified frog

… and you discover that it’s possible to do an impromptu one-legged backward leap off the mummified frog from a standing start.

slugOn the whole, I think I prefer my frogs alive and hopping around eating slugs, which don’t seem in any way diminished by either the recent cold weather or the current dry spell. Time to get the beer traps going, I think

Time, Gentlemen, Please

May 11, 2015

After a spectacularly dry spring, normal weather service has resumed which means only one thing: slugs, and the re-opening of my ever popular slug pubs.

Somewhat too popular, perhaps. Nobody likes a pub where you can barely cram yourself in, especially if the other clientele have already drunk themselves into oblivion.

slug pub

Kicking out time at the Slug and Lettuce

Still it didn’t seem to be putting the slugs off. I have to admit I watched with a mixture of guilty fascination and unholy glee as a total of four slugs approached the edge of just one of the traps and proceeded to slowly immerse themselves. I just have to tell myself they die happy.

I couldn’t count the number of slugs I empted out of the traps – I did think about taking a photo of the colander-full that resulted but it was too revolting even for me (again). Certainly a satisfyingly large amount, albeit not enough to save some of the lettuce seedlings which have already gone missing. There won’t be a slug shortage around here any time soon.

Military Manoeuvres

July 25, 2012

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.

Top Tips for Gardeners…*

June 15, 2012

… before congratulating yourself on having staked your broad beans before the worst of the weather, remember that broad beans can fall over in *any* direction, not just in their rows.

Still, on the positive side, the depradations of the slugs earlier means that I have miraculously ended up with exactly the right number of cut-and-come again lettuces of different varieties to supply us with a steady harvest of salad leaves at about the rate we want to eat them. That won’t happen

*I was going to call this blog post ‘flaming June’ only to find that I’ve used the title before. Twice. Miserable weather in June is in fact normal. It’s just that we always remember June as being endlessly sunny and warm…

Lost and Found

June 11, 2012

You know you’ve been neglecting the weeding when you discover a beetroot plant has managed to establish itself right in the middle of the paths between the beds

I have absolutely no idea how it got there, unless I dropped it when I was planting them out. It’s done better than the beetroot plants that have been living a pampered existence in the actual bed which have mostly gone awol so I’m rather reluctant to move it. Hopefully this little dyke of stones will keep it from being trodden on…

Also missing in action: some of my parsnips. I think I got a bit cocky with parsnips. After the monster parsnips of 2010, 2011 saw a fine crop of ‘disappointingly normal’ parsnips so I didn’t really pay too much attention to them this year, thinking I’d got the whole parsnip thing cracked. I chitted them but just put the chitted seed out when it was convenient rather than when they really needed to go out so germination was patchy. I then re-sowed and even got around to weeding them a couple of days ago but when I went up to check yesterday some of the new seedlings had vanished. No mystery about the culprits there though:

Slugs ‘found’ (and promptly ‘lost’ in the chicken run) thanks to the latest weapon in my anti-slug arsenal, the half-orange:

Works a treat. Although the slugs are still probably ahead on points.


May 11, 2012

When I went up to check my slug traps, I discovered I wasn’t the only one interested in what was in them

It hadn’t made much progress on eating the slugs though – whether because some of them were bigger than it was, or because it was too drunk on slug beer to contemplate anything other than a kebab, I don’t know

I did decide that, other than making it easier to get pissed frogs out of the traps, I had overthought the whole slug-in-a-basket thing. It turned out that a colander* and a bit of decanting back and forth was the easiest way to separate the slugs from the beer. And you’ll be relieved to hear that, although I looked at the resulting colander full of assorted slugs and thought ‘wow, who knew there were so many different kinds of slugs? I wonder if the internet knows what they all are’, in the end, I decided against posting the resulting revolting photo, and just fed them all to the chickens.

* not one we still use in the kitchen, I hasten to add

Build a Better Slug Trap…

May 5, 2012

The downside of the mild winter we’ve just had is that the slugs have been even more rambunctious than usual, which means it’s been long past time to get going with the anti-slug measures.

Controlling slugs is simple. Everyone has their favourite method, from eggshells or coffee grounds to copper tape, beer traps and pellets so the way to go is to ask everyone’s advice and then do ALL of it. At once. At least round here, anyway. As well as all the other measures, I’ve actually always had pretty good success with my jars full of slug beer – if you measure success in terms of the number of slugs caught, anyway – but I do have a tendency to get neglectful with keeping the traps going. The problem is that brewing the slug beer is a bit of a pain, and every time you empty the traps you have to mix up a new batch. And if you leave the traps full of slugs for longer than a few days then the resulting macerated fermenting mess of festering mollusc remains is a bit, well, exactly as you’d imagine a macerated fermenting mess of festering mollusc remains to be. So emptying and refilling the traps slips to the bottom of the list and my plants get munched.

Fortunately, technology marches on and, perusing the latest edition of the Organic Gardening Catalogue, I discovered that our nation’s finest minds were onto the problem with extra fancy slug traps complete with slug baskets to enable the slugs to be removed and fed to the chickens without having to refill the bait. However, call me cheap but I need about eight or ten traps around the garden and I was buggered if I was going to pay £13.95 for some bits of plastic when up to now a collection of old salsa jars had done the trick. So it was time to rummage around in the shed for supplies and do some inventing:

(aren’t you patenting this? the other half asked as I took this photo.)

A couple of sawn-up plastic bottles, with holes drilled in the bottom by the other half using his power tools, completed my slug baskets. However, they weren’t entirely satisfactory because, for some reason, the manufacturers of plastic bottles haven’t thought to make them exactly the right diameter to fit snugly inside the jar of our preferred brand of salsa (I know, what were they thinking?). So I cut some flaps to try and guide the slugs up and over into the basket. The other half thought they might actually keep the slugs out, so in order to test this theory I have put out four traps, two with baskets and two without, and put them around my newly planted out baby lettuces to see which was the most effective.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, it turns out that instead of spending my afternoon inventing, what I should have been doing was checking the weather forecast and then earthing up my potatoes because, May or no May, last night we had a pretty sharp frost and the little green shoots which had just appeared got a bit nipped.

Still the frost has, at least, kept the slugs out of action for a bit…

Wake Up Call

April 24, 2012

Hmmm. I kind of knew I’d pay somehow for yesterday’s post, but I didn’t think it would come quite so quickly. And I certainly didn’t think it would mean that I’d wake up this morning – all bleary eyed and pre-coffee – and go to inspect my seedlings which are on the kitchen windowsill only to find a GINORMOUS SLUG in the kitchen sliming across the trays where I’d planted my peas en route for my poor Romanesco seedlings.

Will these dastardly molluscs stop at nothing?