Cabbage whites – the brassica massacre

Gazing out to the garden the other week I spotted the first Cabbage Whites of the year. These innocent-looking little butterfies gently fluttered in and around the vegetable plot, but I know from past experience how much utter carnage they can create in the blink of an eye.

As I clocked them, I made a mental note to be totally ahead of the game this year. Instead of watching my cabbage patch get munched by very hungry caterpillars, I decided to be one step in front, and destroy the eggs before they even had a chance to hatch. Cabbage Whites lay clusters of tiny yellow eggs, normally on the undersides of brassica leaves. Whizzing off down the garden to execute my plan, I eagerly began systematically turning each leaf over in my search.

Imagine my dismay to find that I’d been out-scuppered by the little blighters. They’d evidently sneaked in to the patch without me noticing, and the eggs I was looking for were now miniscule caterpillars. In their droves. All over the plants. And I had not got a chance of finding them all. I then decided that the next logical course of action would be to spray the brassica plants to kill the bugs. I’m not normally a fan of insecticide, knowing I’ll be eating the end produce at some point, but in this case I had little option. But before I’d even had a chance to nip out and get some, I noticed something else was amiss. A closer look at the broccoli plants revealed not only munch-holes in the leaves, but something else was going very wrong with the actual heads that were forming. I can only assume this has something to do with the freakishly hot weather we’ve been having, but the heads that had started to form beautifully were now looking decidedly sick and wizened. And certainly not fit for the table.

Brassica slug damage

Err… I don’t fancy that for my tea

There was nothing for it, so dejectedly I cut off the manky heads and the worst affected leaves, which became free food for the chicken run – complete with extra protein. In the joins between the leaves and the stem it looks like more little heads are forming, so I’ll leave them alone for now and see if they grow into anything half-edible.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. On the up side, the runner beans have caught up marvellously, and I have the first tiny beans beginning to form. The French beans have their first flowers, and the pumpkin plant I bought earlier in the year has begun snaking its way towards the bottom of the garden. A friend gave me some pea plants a week or so back, and these too are looking fine and dandy. So if nothing else, we should have plenty of beans and peas to eat.

Goodbye greenhouse

This week I’ve made a groundbreaking discovery. I don’t actually need a greenhouse. Yes – true… after a couple of years of pottering around and potting up in my old one, my new house doesn’t actually need one at all!

When I first moved to the new pad, a greenhouse was definitely on the must-have list, so I bought a second hand one which my brother in law very kindly helped me to dismantle and bring home. This has sat in bits in the garden since, although I did spend a frustrating and head-scratching afternoon assembling all the side panels.

Then a visit with my friend to some open gardens last weekend changed all of that. The gardens were part of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) where villagers open up their pride and joys, all in the name of charity. Off we trotted to the Cotswolds, hoping to be inspired and delighted. And inspired I most definitely was. Within these gardens were riots of colour, sweeping lawns, grand water features, rambling climbers… and hardly any of them contained a greenhouse.

So I decided that that’s the way my garden would go. Old, rambly, cottagey… you get the picture. The main priority is to fill the garden with lots and lots of flowers, and the vegetables can be put in alongside them. I think it will look marvellous.

The greenhouse is now sold on to its lucky new owner, and I’m itching to dig up some big borders. I have to say at this point that when I mentioned the demise of the greenhouse to said brother in law, he fixed me with a steely gaze that could have actually burned the retinas off my eyeballs. He clearly remembered with fondness the long sweaty afternoon getting the thing down. I did a bit of emergency grovelling, and I think he’s over it now…

Meanwhile on the plot, the two surviving runner beans (out of 12) are SPRINTING up the canes, and I’ve already spotted the first red flowers beginning to form. I may plant some bean seeds at the bases of the empty canes to try their luck for a late harvest. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

However, I’m delighted to say that the French beans all appear to have avoided any slug damage, and they are looking thick, healthy and lush. An added bonus, as I’ve never had any luck with Frenchies in the past. The rows of broccoli are also doing well, as are the leeks.

French beans

French beans

On the down side, the cabbages, cauliflowers and turnips are looking decidedly sorry for themselves. Although I’ve managed to cut down the slug population a little, the ones I have left are definitely sneaking out for a midnight snack still. There lies my slight dilemma. Do I cut my losses and have all the ropey-looking stuff out, or do I leave them in to act as sacrificial veggies?

Because if the slugs are eating them, they’re staying away from my good stuff for now.

Tom Tatos

Not having a greenhouse at present, I’m growing my tomatoes in a sunny spot, in growbags outside. There are three varieties – Tigerella which should be stripy (clue’s in the name), cherry tomatoes for salads, and the one I’m most interested to see the results of – sons of Beefy. Well, OK, that’s not the Latin name, but these plants were grown from the seeds I saved from my biggest, beefiest beef tomato last year. I’m hoping for some whoppers!

So far, so good. They are all appear healthy and strong and I’ve already spotted my first tomato hanging provocatively from one of the branches. I’ve been diligently nipping out the bits that grow in the ‘V’  between the stem and the leaves, so the plants funnel all their energy into producing fruits and the air circulates more freely around them. It’ll soon be time to begin their feeding regime too. Exciting stuff.

Recently having a drink with a friend, the conversation inevitably turned to gardening, and he asked me, “What do you reckon to those Tom Tato thingies?”

If you haven’t come across these yet, they’re a relatively new type of plant where you get potatoes from the soil and tomatoes from the foiliage – all from the SAME plant. Although I haven’t tried them for myself, it’s my opinion that you can muck about with stuff a little too much in the name of scientific research. The involuntary frown and curl of my lip must have given my thoughts away.

“I don’t get them”, I replied. “Yes, I understand that potatoes and tomatoes come from the same family of plants, but it just seems a bit wrong to mix them up together. Isn’t it a bit like marrying your cousin?”

I then continued with, “Plants that grow up produce things that you chop off and eat – ie beans, brassicas and salad. Plants that grow down produce things that you dig up and eat – ie carrots, spuds and parsnips. Not many vegetables can multitask well with the up AND down approach. Except maybe beetroot – you can add their leaves to a bowl of salad.”

“Think about it. You’re merrily watering your Tom Tato plant. What’s to stop all the spuds greedily sucking out all the goodness in the soil and leaving none left to travel up to the tomatoey bit? You could end up with mahoosive potatoes and spindly little tomatoes. How does it get the balance right?” I concluded with, “To get any sort of decent harvest from both ends, I’d imagine you’d have to feed the neck out of the damn things”.

Now readers may well have had sterling results with their Tom Tatoes – and I really do hope that you have, but like I said earlier, I haven’t tried growing one. And I don’t actually think I ever will. Call me old fashioned, but I just can’t fully trust the idea

Planters from pallets

Just outside my back door there’s a tiny paved courtyard, leading down to the rest of the garden. This area looked a bit bare but being a little sun trap had the potential to be a lovely place to sit, so I decided give it a makeover, starting with making some vertical planters out of pallets.

Not actually having any pallets, I put a shout out on Facebook in case any of my friends had any knocking about. Sure enough, an old work colleague came up trumps with a couple, so we arranged collection, lugged them into the garden, and set to work.

Before I could start on the pallets, the fence behind needed a lick of paint. This was brightened up no end with a coat of sage green, and the pallets were painted up to match. Next up, I stapled strips of old builders’ bags into the gaps to make planting areas, trimmed off the excess, and poked some holes in the bottom for drainage. I then wielded my newly acquired woman-drill, and attached the pallets to the fence with angle brackets. I’d actually underestimated how heavy they’d be – even without soil and plants, so was glad of the existing little wall to rest them on.

The planters looked great, but were a bit redundant without actual plants, so off I went to the garden centre, and returned with a collection of herbs, lettuce plugs, strawberries and some flowers for the patio pots. As this is a project on a budget, myself and the youngest were canny in picking the strawberry plants: only ones with runners were allowed into the trolley. Back at the ranch, we then filled the planting areas with compost and happily planted up our purchases. The strawberry runners were planted alongside the strawberries – giving us twice as many plants for our money.

A row of lettuce went into the bottom and herbs were popped in above. I was tempted to paint the names of the plants onto the wood, but with my track record, was reluctant to create anything too permanent in case they died or got eaten by something.

I have to admit the planters look great, and the patio area is coming along marvellously: little bistro set I found in town has finished off the look perfectly.

I’m delighted with the end result, and it will look better and better as the plants fill out and begin to trail over the sides of the pallets. A lovely place to sit and plan the next assault on the garden, with fresh salad, fruit and herbs for the picking.

Right outside my back door… what could be nicer?

Planters fro

Planters fro

Results in from Op slug patrol

Results just in in from Operation Slug Patrol

  1. Slugs caught in beer traps – One*
  2. Slugs stopped in tracks by blue pellets – 10
  3. Slugs killed in the salty bucket of doom – 27
  4. Effect of coffee grounds – unproven but seems to be working

*Suspect he may have fallen in by accident


You’ll see that the slug eradication is a slow but sure process, but I’m determined they’re not going to get the better of me. The beer traps aren’t proving a huge success, but I rather suspect my slugs have a finer palate than I gave them credit for, and I may have to replace the super-cheap beer in them for something a tad more ale-like.

This week I decided to extend the veg plot, so out I went again with the rotavator, and another big chunk of the lawn came up. The area then had a good old rake over, and I removed any twitchy bits. A trip to the garden centre (I’m sure I must qualify for a loyalty card by now)  produced trays of French beans, leeks, broccoli and cabbage. The beans went in around a wigwam of 4’ canes which I’m hoping that will be tall enough for them, as I honestly have no idea how big they’ll grow.

The leeks, broccoli and cabbage were popped in next, in neat little rows. Bonus point to self: I actually read the instructions and didn’t skimp on the planting distance. After a good water in, I scattered the obligatory slug pellets and coffee grounds around all their bases. Not wanting to speak too soon, but the damage so far has been minimal, and I’m hopeful they’ll survive and thrive.

The extra planting area is great, but since turning over all my new soil, I’ve come across another slight problem. The local cats now think my garden is their public toilet. They blatantly stroll in, dig a hole, do their business and saunter off again. Having had a yappy terrier in my old life, cats have never been an issue – in fact, I’ve never seen a cat actually in the garden. With no dog at the new pad, It would seem I’ll have to try other methods to dissuade them.

My friend gifted me a curry plant, which she hinted would be a great deterrent due to its strong aroma. Into a quiet corner of the garden it went and I felt a little smug to have stopped their little game. I kid you not, the very next day I spotted a cat crouching right beside it, brazenly squeezing one out, before casually flicking some soil over and strutting off home. Curry evidently is not the answer.

Building on the smell theory, I’ve since been sprinkling even more coffee grounds around any patches of newly dug soil, and touch wood, this actually seems to be working at the moment.

The veg garden smells like a branch of Costa (other coffee shops are available), but that’s massively preferable to the alternative aroma.

Operation slug patrol

I realise it’s been a bit quiet on the old gardening front, but I have had a good excuse. I’ve recently moved house, and have a brand new garden to tackle. This one is in stark contrast to the old: a good deal smaller, with no raised veg beds or established borders. Instead I have lawn, path and well… a bit more lawn really.

Although grass does set a garden off nicely, having an entire garden of it makes me slightly uneasy. So the first job was to whip out the rotavator and turn over the bottom end, ready for my greenhouse (currently still in bits) and vegetable plot. Feeling happier seeing bare soil, I shot off to the garden centre to buy some runner beans. The extent of my ‘growing from seeds’ effort this year has been a couple of pots of Brussels and courgettes on the windowsill, which would, quite frankly, struggle to keep us in our 5 a day.

Happy with my purchase, I constructed a bamboo cane wigwam and popped the bean plants around the base. Next in went the courgettes and a couple of rows of Brussels. Standing back to admire my handiwork, I felt quite excited about the prospect of a new patch. The plants looked healthy and strong, and I’d be harvesting stuff before I knew it.

The next morning I whizzed off down the garden to check on the plants, and could not believe the carnage I saw before me. Although my garden is pretty bare at the moment, the one thing it seems to have in absolute abundance is slugs. The beans looked decidedly sorry for themselves, and seemed to be hanging in there with their last breath, and the courgettes were nowhere to be seen.

With not a moment to lose, I embarked on ‘Operation Slug Patrol’. Blue pellets were instantly scattered around the plants. For good measure, I also sunk some old bean cans full of beer into the ground, to hopefully entice them in. Feeling sure I’d nipped their antics in the bud, I relaxed and got on with some other jobs.

How wrong could I be? The following day revealed slimy trails everywhere, with even more holes in the runner bean leaves. This obviously called for drastic action. That night as darkness fell, I crept around the garden with my torch, and caught them with my bare hands. Feeling slightly smug as I dropped them into my bucket of water to drown, I felt positive that this would be the last of them. Day three told a different story. Peering into my bucket, expecting to see a sluggy sea burial, I was mortified to find that the little blighters had legged it during the night. Obviously water is no match for them. I’ve decided to venture out into the dark regularly to catch them, but will add salt to the mix.

I read somewhere once that coffee grounds can deter them, so in desperation, I contacted a friend who runs a café and has oodles of them. She duly bought me a bag round, and I determinedly scattered those around the plants too.

So with pellets, beer traps, coffee grounds and a bit of late-night hunting, If I don’t tackle my slug population, there’s something very wrong around here.

House history

The house I’ve moved into is an end terrace, built in 1888. I was keen to find out a bit about the history, with it being over 120 years old, so contacted a friendly local historian to see if he could dig up a bit of dirt on it.

For info, his name is Paul Gardner, and he runs a really good Facebook page – well worth a look – if they let you in (it’s a closed group).

Anyway, within minutes, I was sent a map…


Map of the area

Map of the area

If you don’t know the area, the trees at the top left are now Orchard Street – obviously once an orchard.

In the centre of the map there’s a straight vertical road which was called Mount Lane, but is now Thornycroft Road, and at the top of this there are two buildings – one on the left and one on the right. The right one is the exact site where my house stands.

At this point I got very excited, until Paul pointed out that the map was from 1887. Slight problem there… my house wasn’t built until 1888… and is actually the end terrace in a run of three.

So I asked him if he could turn up anything prior to the map on the census reports, and obligingly he came up trumps with this:

1871 census

1871 census

Whilst we can’t prove anything, the area on the map my house now stands on was known as Mount Fields, otherwise known as 11 acres. It seems to fit that a farmhouse stood where I am now, housing William, Catharine and Isaak Hincks, who were farmers. This also might explain that whilst digging in the garden I’ve come across great dirty chunks of red-brick concrete stuff, which I’m still undecided about whether I’ll be able to get out of the ground or not. Perhaps these are a part of the old farmhouse?

The title deeds from 1888 suggest the house was owned by William Gray Farmer and sold to John Hill, and in 1926 the house was owned by Elizabeth Smith and David England.

In any case, it’s been really interesting to find out a bit about the plot and the generations who have lived here before. I may well go to the library at some point to have a good old afternoon digging around in any old records or microfiches they may have :)


New garden, new beginning

So, I’ve moved into the new place – it’s a Victorian end-terrace – and have a whole new garden to sort out. When we moved here, it consisted of a path, a lawn, and what seemed like about a ton of dog shit nestling in the grass.  After spending the last 20-odd years tending and shaping the old garden, It’ll be a challenge to get this one up to scratch – but you all know me… love a good old challenge.

The plusses:

  • it’s a completely blank canvas
  • I have two new (still slightly skitty) chickens called Judy and Liza
  • I have a greenhouse (in many, many pieces – still to be assembled)
  • I’ve already turned over the bottom part of the garden, ready for said greenhouse to be built on, with a veg plot at the side
  • the garden will never flood or be boggy, as I’m at the top of the hill – #winner
  • cuttings from various sources are lined up on the patio, and some seem to be taking
  • I have lots and LOTS of ideas (actually maybe too many for the space I have)

The minuses

  • The ex decided to lock all my gardening stuff* in my old greenhouse and take the key, so I’ve had to get new kit.

*actually was only going to take my greenhouse caddy my son bought me for Christmas and some seeds… but hey ho – I’m sure the ex will look absolutely delightful mincing around the garden in pink gloves, weilding the mighty pink trowel and hand fork

So there you have it… the intro to the new pad… will try to update more often :)

as it is now

as it is now


All change at Chook Towers

With the winter behind us, and spring most definitely on its way, it seems a veeeery long time since I’ve been a Bloggy Blogster. The fingers are a bit rusty, the thoughts a bit fuddled… but bear with me… I’ll get the hang of it all again, you’ll see.

We’ve had a few major changes here at Chook Towers. For one, our oldest hen Maud croaked it a couple of months back. One day she was Queen of the Coop, strutting around with the best of them: the next she’d slipped away in the night. Every cloud has a silver lining though – she hadn’t laid for AGES, and since her demise, we’ve found out who the ‘Phantom Shitter in the Nest Box’ was. Our eggs are beautifully clean now!

The other big change is about to take place in… oooh… just over a week. I’m moving to a new house, with a new garden. So no more raised beds, greenhouse, and no more tales from Cluckingham Palace. The new garden comes complete with a lawn, a path, a shed… and, well, that’s about it really. Some would be daunted by the prospect, but I’m looking at it as an entire blank canvas that I can dig up and plant to my heart’s content. There. Another silver lining comes my way :)

All’s not gloomy though – I already have an Eglu (that’s a rather posh hen house to you), and a greenhouse earmarked to dismantle in a week or two.The Eglu travelled 140 miles in the back of my Mini (I kid you not), and the greenhouse actually belonged to one of the houses I looked at in my new house search.

The rest of the garden will take shape around them… pics to follow in later posts.

So off to pastures new – wish me luck!