Friday, 10 May 2013

Everything in the garden's rosy

After yesterday's upsetting experience with the Blackbirds' Child I was keen to focus on more positive things that are happening in the garden.

M is undisputed Vegetable Head Gardener in our house. He comes from a long line of vegetable growers, all of whom seem to have passed on their skills and distilled them into him. He is adept at producing masses of luscious leaves, roots, tubers, seeds and sprouts which he sows and nurtures with tender care and we then live off for the rest of the summer and well into the autumn.

It is understood between us that his remit is the veg and the veg patches, whereas mine are the flowers and the patio. The greenhouse (new last autumn and put up with much scratching of heads, frustration over indecipherable instructions clearly written by someone who had no intention of ever putting a greenhouse up themselves, and the occasional unrepeatable word by M and his dad) is shared territory. There are occasional grey areas within this otherwise harmonious and simple division of horticultural labour (such as sun flowers which for some reason M has always done despite the fact they clearly come under the bracket "flower", and herb growing which comes perilously close to flowers but we share it anyway). On the whole we have very few ruffled feathers over who does what where.

Last year was an unmitigated Slug Disaster for M's vegetables, and to a lesser extent my flowers. They began their onslaught early and kept it up late. The buggers went through virtually his entire crop of everything, often in one single night. And they ate my Hostas. :-(

He was very upset. I was pretty cross.

M is a person of contented equilibrium generally. It takes a great deal for something to prod him into a display of unleashed fury, but slugs will do it. We gritted our teeth against despair and retaliated. 

On one particular evening we collected over a hundred in half an hour (M armed with a trowel, I for some unaccountable reason with a teaspoon). We chucked the contents of the bucket over the fence and felt some satisfaction, which quickly turned to disbelief an hour later when the entire patio seemed to be moving with slugs. We later found out that they have a strong homing instinct. Say no more. 
M took to cycling over them on his way to and from work. It seemed that bisecting them with a bicycle wheel was the only way to ensure they didn't come back. It afforded him some grim satisfaction.

We did attempt to control them with natural methods last year- beer (they just ended up getting drunk and singing rude songs loudly in a hiccuping sort of way beneath our window), copper wire (they took great delight in sliming over it in broad daylight to demonstrate it didn't hurt them remotely), porridge oats (it made them fat), organic slug killer (took a few but not nearly enough and melted away whenever it rained). None of these methods worked effectively, so this year we decided, after much discussion, that we had no alternative but to put down SLUG DEATH. 

I'm keen to try nematodes and apparently you can make your own by putting vegetation in water and leaving it for a few days. However, we didn't have enough time to get this ready before the salad leaves etc needed to be planted out last weekend, so slug death went down and I have to say we have both taken a rather ghoulish delight in inspecting the veg patches every morning and seeing the night's casualties expired in their own slime while the plants remain untouched. It is very satisfying.

Ha! Take that, slugs!

The packet assured me there is no danger to wildlife once the slugs are dead  and we have been careful to try and protect the birds etc as much as possible. I do worry about the earth worms so we will sort out some nematodes and give them a try as soon as we can.

M has been moaning at me to get round to planting the flower seeds he bought me for my birthday. I finally did this at the end of last week then the lurgy grabbed me and I hadn't had a chance to catch up with them and see how they were doing until yesterday. It was thrilling to discover lots of green shoots poking up out of the compost. I've sown trays of mainly cottage garden plants, all bee-friendly because I love bees. I spend much of my time in the summer scooping them half-drowned out of water and reviving them with honey, and love watching them fly off in that wonderful purposeful way bees can have, strength recovered.

Talking of which I caught the tail-end of a fascinating bee story on Radio 4 this morning when driving back from the school run. It explained how many of the hybrid plants that have been developed for their colour and early blooming in our gardens are next to useless for bees- the structure of their petals often means that the bees can't get in to them and some of these plants have no nectar. The ones that are best for bees are old fashioned cottage garden varieties like hollyhocks and lupins and herbs such as lavender and sage. They ended the piece quoting from someone (I forget who) who said if men were eradicated life on earth would flourish, eventually going back to the rich abundance that was here 10,000 years ago, but if insects die out we won't long outlive them. It bares considering, no?

 Here are some pics of the nursery (greenhouse), apple blossom which has burst out of the branches since Monday, and our regular garden visitors. I have named the female Blackcap Beth, no idea why, the name just popped into my head and got stuck there, so Beth she is.

My cottage garden flower seedlings

M's beloved chilli seedlings


Lettuce and cucumber

Spinach and rocket

Apple blossom

The goldfinch in the apple tree

"Yes we do quite like this tray..." 
They furiously defended it against two other goldfinches who had the nerve to try and land on it with them yesterday. Can you imagine?! They were extremely affronted.

"I think you are watching me...."

Female blackbird complete with recently-caught worm in beak

Beth the female Blackcap enjoying the fatballs

A great tit

Long-tailed tit just about to take off

Can't believe it's Friday already. Have a good weekend all. I have a meeting at college next Monday about the Ecology Degree. Will let you know how it goes....

CT x

Oh, and BTW- the bicarb of soda and cornflour deodorant is working a treat!


  1. I have begun to notice a bit of nibbling now around the salad leaves and the bottom leaves of the peas, but (so far) nothing like on the scale of last year. I expect any slugs that are left are moving round after the rain. My next load of double strength nematodes is due to go on next Wednesday. Maybe I'll bring it forward a day or two.

    The RHS advice is to back up the nematodes with the organic slug pellets, so I will try this too.

    Today I had a hit on the website via a google search for 'can nematodes escape in the fridge'.. made me laugh anyway!!

    1. Oh how funny! I bet they loved reading your blog. I had one from someone searching "how to get a Jackdaw out of a room" which also made me laugh.

      Be very interested in hearing how the nematodes progress. We will definitely try them. I hate the idea of using poisons but at least it's short term and the plants haven't all disappeared.

  2. We have tried everything over the years to combat the slugs and snails. I think there is a big sign directing them all into our garden! We too can get pick up over 100 in less than 15 minutes. I hate killing things but last year I turned to collecting them and killing them with salt as I was so frustrated with the what damage they had caused. I will be interested to hear yours and Rusty Duck's results with the nematodes we tried it once but didn't notice much of a reduction.
    Sarah x

  3. It is so depressing for gardeners to lose all their hard efforts to slugs. I will definitely update on the nematode experience. It would be great to find a more natural solution. CT x

  4. Love the story about the greenhouse. My hubby was shocked I think when I said the greenhouse was moving with us to Devon. It was easy to take down but not so easy to re-assemble. Luckily I followed some advice and photographed it before and wrote on each part what it was-this really did help. Slugs-part of nature but such a pest-it was the same for everyone I think. At night my garden looked like an episode of Dr Who, which could have been called 'Slugs take over the world' They came from everywhere and were uncontrollable. I gave up!

    1. Smart Suzie - what a good idea to photo and mark everything. Apparently there is a new variety of slug invading our islands: it is huge and has no native predators here. Great! :-)

  5. Lovely photos of your garden birds. The slugs just defeated us last year, although the chickens loved it because they regularly had a slug-breakfast after I'd picked the slugs off various leaves each morning. I was listening to the Radio 4 programme on bees, too (it was on each day in the morning book slot). I learnt some fascinating stuff.

  6. Our girls refused point-blank to eat the slugs. I think there were just too many and they were at risk of o'd ing on them! I'd love to keep bees Wendy, just not sure here is the right place. One day...


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them. CT.