About Carole

I'm a visual artist, writer, PhD researcher, and organic gardener. Twitter @carolekirk

Bugging me

We had a couple of sunny Autumn days lately, and I determined to get out into the garden.  The profusion of spent borage, exuberant pot marjoram and ancient alchemilla were bugging me.  It needs tidying up, I decided. So out I went, secateurs in hand.

front garden sept 17

The garden greeted me with a sunny smile and a happy hum of activity.  I was distracted by this:

hoverfly on poppy Sept 2017

and this …

bee on cosmos Sept 17

The bumble bees were rattling around noisily inside the late foxgloves.  OK, I thought, so the beds can’t be tidied up yet.  I proceeded to the front border, determined to cut down the alchemilla before it seeded itself everywhere.  I was stopped in my tracks by this:

spider sept 17

A garden spider preserving something for her larder by wrapping it in silk.  Her web was strung across the alchemilla.  Naturally I couldn’t disturb her.  Next to her was one of my favourite insects, the dapper shield bug:

shield bug sept 17

Clearly leaving the front border alone for a while had enabled the insects to move in and organise the infrastructure that they require.  It would be rude to interrupt.  So – that left the borage.  Surely I could tidy up the borage by now?

bee on borage sept 17

Bug*** off!  said the bees.  I want those last flowers.  So I gave in.  I am slowly redefining ‘gardening’ as being with the garden, rather than interfering with it.  And it rewards me.

borage and marjoram sept 17

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Bug house

The rich earthy leafy smell in the woods is telling me that we are squarely in Autumn.  So we got organised last week and furnished the bug houses.  This one is in the front garden, sited underneath the bird cherry for shade:

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All carpentry by the multi-talented Rick.  As he was hammering the mesh onto the front, apparently two bugs crawled over to have a look.  A promising sign.

‘Weeds’ by John Walker

Weeds book by John WalkerThis is a comforting little book that speaks up for ‘weeds’.  The author is keen to tell you about their finer points, before telling you how to manage them in an earth-friendly way – if you still want to.  He describes a selection of 60 weeds common to the UK Midlands.  The principles apply to many other weeds of similar habit or species, so this is not intended to be a definitive guide.  It is more of a ‘spiritual’ guide; a guide to developing a mindset that recognises that some weeds have a useful place, and others do perhaps need gently dissuading if we are to achieve our gardening goals. Continue reading

Harvest, harvest, while you still can

As I sit to type this there is a chill in the air, the sun is lower, and Autumn is signalling its presence.  Mists float through the valley, and the trees are tinged with orange.  Plants are increasingly frantic to seed, and insects and larvae have not much longer to feed.  The perennial tree cabbage is clearly being enjoyed:

tree cabbage aug 17 eaten

The borage has nearly finished flowering, but the bees tell me off when I try to remove it, even if there is just one flower left:

bee on borage aug 17

We want to invite the bugs to stay with us over winter, so they are nice and handy for the re-emergence of the garden in Spring.  Rick has built a couple of houses, which we will have fun furnishing this weekend (no trip to IK*A required).  Here’s one:

bug house unfurnished aug 17

I’m still harvesting salad:

salad early sept 17

The tomatoes are ripening now (they’re outside against our front wall which holds the heat from the sun).  I’m also harvesting red orache, nasturtium, garlic chives, chives, welsh onion, wild rocket, runner beans, sorrel, baby chard, golden oregano, lambs lettuce, mint, more runner beans … in fact, there  is more out there than I can usually remember to harvest.   (And by the way, all of those things listed do not get eaten by slugs).

So for now there is still plenty for everyone to eat.  But we’d better make the most of it while we can.

 

‘Edible Perennial Gardening’ Book Review

Edible Perennial Gardening: Growing successful polycultures in small spaces.  By Anni Kelsey, published 2014 by Permanent Publications.

annisbookcover.phpThis book sets out with a clear vision: “Looking towards a sustainable future when a polyculture of perennial vegetables is as familiar a feature of our gardening landscape as the conventional vegetable patch.”  The book clearly traces the author’s own experimental journey towards this vision, and shares the information that she’s learned along the way.  Continue reading

Slug attack – DO look back

Following on from my last post on strategies to accept slug damage, I remembered taking a photo of the polyculture bed when the kale had been munched.  This was on 12th June:

munched kale 12 June 17

What a mess.  Only two or three weeks later, on the 3rd July, it looked like this:

polyculture bed 3 July 17

And a month later, on 12th August, it looked like this:

polyculture bed 12 Aug 17

OK, so the cosmos began to dominate a bit, but … you can see that the bed did recover from a bit of early slug damage.  This is how it looked yesterday, 26th August:

kale 26 Aug 17

Still munched, but clearly managing to grow.  By the time we can harvest the kale (from November onwards) the slugs and caterpillars will be bunking down for the winter, and we should have it all to ourselves.  In theory!

Keeping a visual record and remembering to look back is a good reminder that plants and slugs have shared the same space for a long time now, and plants do manage to recover.  In a month or two, my surviving endives might be thriving.  You never know.

A tip about starting polycultures

Found this old post by Anni about starting a polyculture in a way that limits slug damage and gives plants the best start in life.

Anni's perennial veggies

I have just remembered that my first attempt at a polyculture a few summers ago was a resounding flop.  As I encourage people to grow in polycultures I had better pass on some tips regarding my mistakes so you don’t end up repeating them and getting discouraged.

My first attempt was to sow seeds a mixture directly into a prepared seed bed, just as you might for annuals, whether veggies or flowers.  However in our damp and slug ridden garden this was asking for trouble – and I got it.  No sooner had a brave seedling popped it’s little head above the ground than an army of slugs ate it.  It was a wet summer (we have had a lot of these in recent years) and the whole thing was a wash out.

My strategy now is to have plants already growing and providing cover.  These range from “weeds” to green manures to plants selected…

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