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The year of the slug...

Posted: Wednesday 15th June 2016 by My-Wild-Garden

The Chinese have named 2016 as the Year of the Monkey, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the year of the slug!

A combination of a mild winter and lots of wet weather in May have made this year’s growing season something of a challenge, and, for me, slugs an obsession.

I’m not alone in mounting dusk raids onto the allotment to pick munching molluscs off of my young crops, with organic gardener Bob Flowerdew among those who resort to this practice when damp weather creates the ideal conditions for them to strike.

One trip to the allotment brought me into contact with a hedgehog, a particularly welcome sight as they’re particularly good at mopping up slugs but few and far between. When I got home I made sure I logged my sighting on the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s website to assist with its work to help increase numbers of this threatened native species.

It’s now a week into June and finally the weather has warmed up and things are starting to grow. The prolonged sunshine has given me the confidence to plant out the courgettes and pumpkins that I’ve been bringing on at home.

Slugs love squashes but I’ve found that keeping the soil dry around them tends to make them a less attractive proposition as it’s less comfortable for their slimy bellies. At the same time, squashes like lots of water, so ensure their roots get plenty by burying the neck of a cut off plastic bottle close to the plant and watering into it.

So far I haven’t lost any plants and hopefully they’ll grow quickly and not be as much of a target in the weeks to come.
The runner beans have also gone out into the trench of kitchen waste that I dug at the beginning of the year. The idea is that the decaying organic matter will hold on to lots of moisture that the roots of the thirsty beans can tap into as they grow.

Those peas that survived the all-out slug assault last month are starting to show a bit of promise, although I don’t think I’ll be enjoying as large a crop as I had hoped. Nevertheless, I’ll be putting in a few more seeds now that the weather has warmed up for a crop later in the year.

My raspberries, strawberries and loganberries have been flowering well, along with bee-friendly flowers such as ox eye daisy, Phacelia tanacetifolia, chives and Sicilian honey garlic Nectaroscordum siculum. The daisy is one of the first flowers to appear on the allotment and great for pollinating insects because it’s a single bloom offering easy access.

Purple flowers, such as the phacelia and chives, are good because bees see this colour more clearly than any others, and several pollinating insects have been visiting campion and sweet rocket that have appeared among the raspberries.

All these flowers mean that the allotment is positively a-buzz and it’s very tempting to stop watering, hoeing or whatever other job I’m doing and watch them on their rounds. Close inspections reveal lots of different types, all of which make different sounds.

At home we’ve been watching mining bees at work on the lawn; their presence clear from the appearance of little holes surrounded by excavated soil. These bees only sting when they’re defending their eggs and do a great job in pollinating plants and aerating the soil, which is especially good for areas of the lawn that have become compacted.

Back on the allotment, most of the carrots planted in dustbins to ensure they’re high enough off the ground to resist carrot fly are doing well.

The soil I used to fill the bins came from the compost heap and, after seeing how quickly the weeds emerged in the first batch I sowed, I’m making a conscious effort to weed out any seedlings that aren’t carrots from the later ones.

When it comes to gardening, carrots are marathon runners while weeds are sprinters that push their way past the competition and reach the finishing line in a blink of an eye. Along with the usual suspects I’m finding poppies and borage in the mix, all of which have their place on the allotment, even though I’d rather they weren’t taking moisture and nutrients from my carrots!

A more welcome sight is some purple sprouting plants, which I’m in the process of digging up and moving to a different patch of soil.

As an experiment I’m leaving one of my bins with its weeds intact to see how they affect the carrots - after all, nature isn’t one for monocrops - although I’ll be pulling them out before they go to seed to ensure I don’t get such a dense crop next year!

The autumn onions that I planted during the mild weather after Christmas have done really well and are ready to pull up, and the early broad beans are starting to create pods. Over the years I’ve found that autumn-sown beans, such as ‘Aquadulce’, tend to resist blackfly better than those sown in spring.

The ‘Longfellow’ and ‘Witkiem Manita’ beans were in earlier this year, but I’m hoping that a patch of poached egg plant – Limnanthes douglasii – will do a good job in attracting hoverflies to sort out any aphid invasions that come my way.

I’ve been using seaweed extract to feed my vegetables – especially the hungry ones like pumpkins, but soon my crops will also be benefitting from a homemade brew created from stinging nettle and comfrey leaves steeped in water for a few weeks. Comfrey is rich in potassium, which is especially important for fruiting, along with potash and nitrogen, while nettles are especially rich in nitrogen. 

Be warned that the concoction stinks after a few weeks, but is full of valuable nutrients and, unlike the seaweed extract, it’s made from plants that grow freely on the allotment and cost nothing!

Looking after the allotment is keeping me especially busy, with regular watering needed while young plants get established and the never-ending weeding, but I’ve also had a few opportunities to get out and about and get inspiration from other gardens and events, including the world famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

This year’s clutch of show gardens gave me plenty of ideas for my wildlife-friendly allotment, including Diarmuid Gavin’s Harrod’s British Eccentrics Garden, which contained a number of insect-friendly plants such as foxgloves.

The L’Occitane Garden designed by James Basson contained 250 different wild and native plant varieties found in Provence, along with plenty of bee-friendly lavender.

It won’t be long before my own patch of lavender is in full bloom and we’ll be deep into the summer – which will no doubt bring its own challenges in the weeks to come.

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