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.

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‘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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Slugs – three strategies for acceptance

I walked out the other day to find this:endives munched late Aug 17

Endives seedlings munched to bare soil, despite being carefully tucked up in a pot with copper tape around the edge.  I chose endives, rather than lettuce, because I thought it would be tougher and less attractive to molluscs.  Not so.  I spent the rest of the morning feeling frustrated and helpless, as no matter how hard I try to find edible plants that can survive slug damage, no matter how many precautions I take to try and protect plants, this still happens.  My dream of lime green livening up the winter garden started to dissolve.  I’m a rubbish gardener, I thought.

But.  I’m stubborn.  I have set out to garden without (knowingly) killing any wildlife, and whilst still providing food for our table.  And I will do it.  But I need to learn how to manage these feelings of sorrow and frustration when things like this happen.  So here are three strategies I use to feel better when the critters crunch my lunch.

  1. Learn about your enemy – they might turn out to be a friend.  The organic gardener and writer John Walker writes of molluscs: “These amazing, tenacious creatures are part of the dynamic,interconnected ecosystem of my garden. They beguile me, challenge me and teach me plenty …” They are detritus recyclers, clearing up debris and improving the soil, as nature writer Marlene Condon explains: “As snails and slugs become active, they will be delighted to find their favorite food (decaying plant and animal matter) waiting for them to feed upon. When these unusual organisms are provided with such a fine smorgasbord, they don’t bother your growing plants. Instead, they help to fertilize them—which is exactly what their function in your garden is supposed to be.”  They are also lunch for other garden wildlife, including frogs, thrushes, blackbirds and hedgehogs.
  2. Look at what is working.   Earlier this year, I dropped seedheads of lambs lettuce and land cress directly onto one of the beds.  From experience, these don’t tend to get eaten.  Low effort, low maintenance, and great contrasts of colours and flavours for winter salads.  These are now coming up and so far, only tiny signs of munching:lambs lettuce and land cress seedlings late Aug 17
  3. See the bigger picture – is there enough left over for you to enjoy?  And the answer, of course, is yes – plenty! Whilst the endives are munched, I still managed to harvest all this for our salad:salad late Aug 17 And the garden is not exactly full of gaps: front garden late Aug 17

So in the meantime, I’ve put the endives up on a table with its legs in water, and will let the remaining plants grow on.  When they are bigger and tougher, I will see how they fare in the ground.  If they don’t survive, then they aren’t the right choice of plant.  There are many others that are, and probably several more that I haven’t yet discovered.  But meanwhile, I feel a bit better.  Perhaps I’m not a rubbish gardener after all.