Netting the redcurrant bush

It’s fairly safe to say that my next door neighbour has the largest, most unruly redcurrant bush I’ve ever seen. To my knowledge, it’s never been pruned or tidied, and each year gets steadily wilder and bigger: hence now it’s about three metres across and two metres high.

The neglect appears not to have had a negative impact, as there are absolutely oodles of unripe redcurrants growing in clumps wherever you look. As the plant borders our properties, my neighbour is quite happy to share the harvest, and this we did very successfully a couple of years ago – it was redcurrant jelly for everyone.

However, the subsequent year told a different story. Again, masses of currants appeared, and we collectively rubbed our hands in anticipation. Then the currants started to ripen, and it was a case of ‘here today, gone tomorrow’. In just a couple of days, our bird population swooped down and scoffed the lot.

So, this weekend we decided to take action beforedisaster struck, and reclaim the bush before the birds made their discovery. A rustle around in my shed produced an assortment of netting that had been used elsewhere in the garden last year. The bush was so wide in places that I had to balance precariously on a chair, and try to feed the net across the top of the plant via a long cane, to my neighbour, knee deep in nettles on the other side. After a fair bit of huffing and puffing, we stood back to admire our Heath Robinson handiwork. We’ve not managed to cover the whole plant – I’d have had to scale the shed roof to reach some parts –but hopefully we’ve done enough to stop the birds eating the entire crop. I’ve got some grand designs on redcurrant jelly and wine this year: I started off a batch of dandelion wine a week or so ago that’s currently blobbing away nicely in the shed: it would be great to expand on that.

Redcurrants protected by netting

Protected from the birds

In other news, the other half returned from work bearing gifts in the week. Whereas I used to get excited about a bunch of flowers, he now knows exactly which buttons to press… two varieties of spring onion seeds and a pack of radish seeds gratefully received. Oh yes, thank you very much.

“I’ll have a look round the patch and see where we can squeeze a space in for them,” I said.

His reply – and the fact he’s taken control of the tomatoes and strawberries this year – confirmed to me that indeed, he’s slowly succumbing to the gardening bug.

“Err… I thought they would look good in a pot,” he countered… “On the patio.”

With that, he emptied and prepared a planting trough and in no time at all we had our very own salad garden right outside the back door.

Excellent news indeed. The vegetable plot’s stretching up the garden!

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 6 June 2013

The Hinckley Times June 6 2013

The Hinckley Times June 6 2013

Bird proofing the strawberry patch

As I was swanning around in London when the mother of all storms bashed Hinckley and surrounding areas to bits, I was rather sceptical of the ‘hailstones the size of golf balls’ story on my return home. Thinking that more than a touch of exaggeration was in force, I wandered off down the garden to see the damage for myself. I was greeted with the sight of cabbages that could double as colanders, and holes smashed through the roof of the chicken coop. According to form, we got off lightly though. I know of others who need new conservatory panels, lost their entire greenhouses, and could now play steel drums on the roof of their cars.

This weekend, a few holey cabbages were the least of my worries though. A short while back, I approached the strawberry bed, to find a young blackbird blatantly chomping his way through my meagre crop. When he spotted me, he didn’t even have the good grace to look guilty. Casually having one last munch, he took flight, and I’m certain I heard him laughing as he flew away.

“I don’t think so, sunshine!”, I thought. With not a moment (or indeed a strawberry) to lose, I flashed into the shed and came out brandishing a length of netting. Draping it across the raised bed, I allowed myself a moment of smugness, knowing I’d stopped his little game.

Not so. A couple of days later, he’d actually got under the netting, and was merrily helping himself to seconds. On spotting me, he flapped around for a bit, then pulled himself together and escaped though a gap near the edge which was evidently his route in and out.

By this time I was more than a little annoyed. I deployed the help of my youngest at the weekend, and our mission was to bird-proof the patch. Reusing some slats from a single bed, we hammered one into each corner of the raised bed, and put a nail at the top of each to snag the netting on to. The netting went on, and we stretched it down all the sides, securing it to a couple of strategic nails around the base of the bed. We soon had a structure that could rival Fort Knox.

Job done, we were pleased with our handiwork, and so far so good, our visitor hasn’t been back.

Spotting the raspberries are beginning to ripen, we decided to thwart the efforts of our local birds, and draped a load of netting over them. The blackcurrant bush got some too, as we were well into the swing of things, and were not leaving anything to chance.

The garden now looks like we have shares in ‘Nets-R-Us’ but it’s a small price to pay if we manage to get a bowl of strawberries anytime this summer…

Who’s been scoffing my savoys?

Recently I noticed that something has been scoffing my savoy cabbages. They’re in a bed with some purple sprouting broccoli, and on closer inspection all of the plants had little holes in them or had been nibbled round the leaves.

I grew some purple sprouting broccoli last year, but it never actually sprouted due to the masses of snow we had. This year I’d like to at least see what all the fuss is about – apparently it’s one of the tastiest vegetable to grow – and the more you pick, the more it sprouts. Experienced gardeners tend to shorten the name to ‘PSB’ – at first I didn’t know what they were on about… I thought they’d got some new, exotic veg up their sleeve.

So… what was eating it? I’d already discovered a family of slugs had rampaged through my pak choi, but that was under the polytunnel. Surely it was too cold out in the open for slugs… would they not freeze? And it’s certainly too early for the dreaded cabbage white.

The next morning, from my kitchen window I spotted the culprit. Bold as brass, a wood pigeon was having a fine old party for one, merrily chomping through my prize veggies. I noticed that he seemed to be particularly fond of the plants in this year’s plot, having blatantly ignored the sorry offerings we’d had to eat from last year’s bed.

“I don’t flippin’ well think so, sunshine!” I hissed through gritted teeth. It’s enough of a challenge getting stuff to grow into something that looks half edible, without some bird coming along and eating it all. With not a moment to lose, I slipped on my wellies and ran down the path waving my arms madly to shoo him off. I then set about making sure he couldn’t come back for seconds. A quick rustle round the shed produced a roll of netting I’d bought cheap at the end of last year.

So there I was, in my wellies and pink spotty PJs, stretching netting across my cabbages, at eight in the morning. My poor neighbours…

Personally I’m not a big fan of netting – I prefer to see the plants growing. Plus the fact that mine was a tad small so it was so tightly stretched across, the plants looked like they were off to do a bank job.

So this week I removed the netting. I poked a cane in at each end of the bed, tied some string between them and hung two old cds from it. I was feeling pretty chuffed with my bird scarer, right up until the following morning, where I noticed the pigeon was back – not looking all that frightened. There was nothing for it – I hunted round the shed for a bigger piece of netting and that’s now protecting my broccoli – which I’m pleased to say, is starting to form sprouts.

C’mon pigeon – bring it on… if you think you’re hard enough…

Who's been scoffing my savoys?

This one was in the Hinckley Times on 15 March. Is there some subliminal messaging going on, I wonder. In a previous article I was stood atop a ‘Replace your old boiler’ ad. Now we seem to have moved on to ‘Beach body boot camp’…. ahem….