Give peas a chance

A couple of weeks ago I planted some broad beans to grow through the winter. While I was at it, a couple of rows of first early peas (Douce Provence) went in, and these I covered with one of those portable cloche tunnels.

This weekend I dashed down to see how they were all coming along, and am delighted to report that the beans have already begun popping through the soil, and are looking healthy and strong.

Broad beans

Uncovering the peas, I was greeted with a different story. That patch was empty. On closer inspection, I discovered that the plants had, in fact, come up, but had strangely been chopped off at about an inch long. There was a row of teeny tiny shoots, but not one of them was in the ground.

Consulting my gardening friends, the most probable explanation offered was that mice were digging them up, and eating the seeds.

“Marvellous!” I thought. After whipping my plants out of the hungry mouths of slugs, birds and caterpillars all year, we now seem to be providing an ‘eat all you can’ buffet for the local mouse population. A quick search of the shed produced a couple of traps, which I baited up with ham and set under the cloche.

The next morning, I rushed off down the garden to see what I’d caught, and would you believe, there was only a blooming slug in the mouse trap! I reset the trap, and refilled the slug pubs around the garden, as we obviously had both slugs and mice sneaking into the veg plot.

My friend informed me that apart from the beer traps, another great way rid your garden of slugs was to actually go out there at night with a torch, and hand pick the little blighters. Deciding to give that one a go, I’ve been doing nightly garden patrols, creeping up on them, and chucking them into a container with some salt in it. This has been mightily effective, if a little addictive, and over the course of a week I’ve caught 45 whoppers.

Resigning myself to the fact that the pea crop may not make the winter, I’ve deployed a back up plan. I’ve chopped the top off one of the used grow bags in the greenhouse, and have planted some peas in it. I’m hoping that they can over winter in there, and be safely out of reach of both our mouse and slug population. In spring, I’ll simply transfer them to the garden. Well, that’s the plan…

The Hinckley Times 1 November 2012

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The cabbage cull

It will soon be that time of the year when onion sets and garlic need to be planted. The onion sets are on order, and I’ll be splitting up a couple of the garlic bulbs grown this year, and planting their cloves. Onions and garlic can go in during autumn or spring, and after this year’s disaster, I was keen to get mine in as soon as possible, in the hope they’d get a good stronghold over winter.

I dug out the crop rotation plan, and discovered that they should be planted in the previous season’s brassica bed.

Slight problem there… the cabbages, broccoli and brussels are still whooping it up in there.

So this week I’ve had to make an important gardening decision. My dad used to say that if you’re umming and ahhing about something, write down the plusses and minuses on each side of a sheet of paper, and all should become clear. So off I went, and the list looked a bit like this:

The plus side:

  1. If we ignore the cauliflower disaster of a couple of weeks ago, brassicas are one of the few things that actually survive in my veg plot

The minus side:

  1. Yes, they grow, but it’s touch and go if we get a hearted-up cabbage or not, and only a handful of last year’s Brussels formed nutty balls: all the rest were like miniature baggy cabbages
  1. If there was a cabbage-only supermarket, my family would not be the first ones in the queue. Over the year, I’ve had to be pretty inventive with my culinary skills to get the stuff eaten
  1. The slugs in the garden may as well have their own bar tab, with the amount of beer that’s sloshing around in the slug pubs
  1. I could start off a caterpillar farm with the pickings from the patch

So there you have it. The cold, hard evidence. Brassicas have had their day, so I’ve decided to not grow as many next year. I’ll still plant a few, but not enough to be over-run with the stuff: just sufficient to eat now and again. With this new decisive air about me, I set about clearing some space in the brassica bed to make room for the onion sets that could arrive at any time. Anything that looked puny, holey, or had started forming flowers was swiftly whipped out, and only plants that actually looked edible were allowed to stay in.

The final nail in the cabbagy coffin happened in the week. A photo appeared on the OH’s Facebook page, depicting a slug on the grass, with an arrow behind him saying ‘cabbages’. “Hilarious!” I thought, “I wonder where he’s found that picture”. A closer look revealed the truth. The writing on the sign was his: he’d set the thing up. The message really could not be clearer…

 

Slug pub

Opening the blinds at the weekend I was greeted with a rare sight indeedy. Not only did the sun well and truly have his hat on, but rumour had it he’d be wearing it for a good couple of days.

Dashing off down the garden to get on with some jobs that didn’t involve bailing water out of the beds, I was dismayed to see that we had some visitors who had been having a fine old time in the damp conditions. Slugs. One that I pulled out of the brassica bed was so big the chickens had a job swallowing it.

If you believe everything you hear, there is more than one way to skin a cat,  50 ways to leave your lover and 50 more ways to kill a slug. One of these involves sneaking down at night time and catching them in the act, whereas others involve killing the little blighters. With the ongoing debate about whether slug pellets are harmful to other birds and other creatures, I decided to try out making a slug pub. Basically it’s a sunken container with beer in the bottom. Evidently slugs can’t resist the heady pull of the beer, and once in, find it nigh on impossible to leave; much like many of us at our local watering hole.

Peering into the fridge, I spied lager, bitter, Guinness and cider. Purely in the name of research, I cracked open a can of bitter, took a mighty swig and wondered if the slugs would appreciate this fine brew as much as I. Now to make the traps…

I enlisted the help of the youngest son, and very soon we had four jam jars buried in the soil, dotted around the veg plot. We positioned them under the canopy of leaves where possible, to stop them being flooded out when it rained. Very soon, each of them had an inch or two of beer in them.

The next morning I could hardly contain my excitement as I inspected the traps. Result! Our first haul had produced two fair sized slugs that would otherwise have been happily chomping through our cabbages.

Apparently the beer needs to be replenished regularly as slugs have a fine palate and don’t like stale ale. I may try lager next and see what success rate we have with that.

I’m happy that the slug pubs seem to be working, and that I haven’t had to resort to pellets just yet. I can also empathise with the slugs. If I could choose my method of deployment, I’d pick drowning in a vat of beer over choking on a blue rock any day of the week.