Wow, I'm just looking at our two plots and am amazed at the two totally different gardens we have created in such a short space of time. Nature surely is a mighty force and by gently working with it, one can enjoy wonder, beauty, simple pleasures and food on a daily basis.
Now, I'd be lying if I said that there isn't a few garden woe's and foes aswell, namely in the form of pest and diseases but thankfully I'm the type of person who can live with a few losses in my garden and holes in my lettuce, safe in the knowledge that the said same garden and lettuce isn't dripping in insecticides and fungicides. Saying that, there are a few real baddies in the garden and it does hurt to see a plant suddenly collapsed or to dig up a riddled inedible vegetable because some grub or larvae has been gnawing voraciously on it's roots.
'Prevention is better than the cure', is a mantra as true for organic gardens as it is for human health. I truly believe that a healthy happy plant growing in good soil and the right conditions will be less succeptible to attack and disease. Companion planting, rotations, disease resistant varieties and good garden hygiene all help the cause and a vigilant eye and your own shadow in the garden is paramount to successful growing.
In theory, there is a wide range of pests and diseases that could be lurking around your vegetable plot, but in practice only a handful will pose a serious threat in any one season. Some of the commonest could include:
The Garden Thugs - Slugs.
Gardeners could swop slug slaughtering strategies for hours. For me keeping egg laying khaki campbell ducks as predators is the ultimate but as that isn't practical for most people, hunting at night with a torch comes next and I will leave it up to your own imagination to decide on the fate of the collected thugs! If this isn’t an option, I would use organic slug pellets called Ferramol which are harmless to all other forms of wildlife and humans. These are particluraly useful to get germinating crops over their tenderest seedling days until they are strong enough to withstand a few slug bites. Failing that you could use beer traps, sharp deterrent materials, physical barriers such as plastic bottles or copper strips, salt, biological control etc.
For winged attackers, such as the common Carrot Root Fly, horticultural nets and fleeces are brilliant. They provide shelter, raise temperature and protect from winged ladies laying their eggs. I’ve invested in some bionet for my carrot bed and see last weeks blog for my other attempts to thwart this arch carrot nemesis under the guidance of Joy Larkcom.Soil pests such as leatherjackets, wireworms and cutworms are a real nuisance. These are the larval form of insects which live in the soil and unfortunately feed on roots. These are often a problem in new gardens where grassland has been converted into veggie plots such as mine and yes I’ve had a few wireworm attacks on my transplanted lettuce. Indications being - a lettuce looking wilted and on the way out. If this happens, pull up the plant and hunt for the culprit and destroy. One suggestion to get rid of these is to bury a scooped out potato or carrot on a stick as a bait and pull it out every out odd day and destroy larvae.
It's a bit early for Caterpillars yet but they are another familiar foe that have a hankering for brassicas. I have a rule that once l transplant brassicas I put up a barrier netting to prevent moths and butterflies landing and laying eggs which hatch into hungry caterpillars. This barrier also keeps the birds off, just in case Seán an Fear Bréige is having a siesta!
On the bright side, organic gardening is a wonderfully educational, simple and practical entry into the world of entemolgy and trust your efforts in not reaching for nasty chemicals as there are also lots of good guys aswell. Sing hallelulia for the ground beetles which feed on slug and snail eggs, hoverflies, lacewings and ladybird adults and larvae which feed on aphids!
It's good to be prepared for a few mini attcks so to follow the old wives yet again, when sowing or buying plants, factor in a few failures and sow "One For The Rook, One For The Crow, One To Die And One To Grow!"
A Willow Wonderland
My visiting expert this week was the amazingly talented willow worker Lynn Kirkham who is a homage to living, working and creating with nature. I was very honoured to have two whole days in Lynn's company where she helped me turn my flat plot into a multi dimensional magic garden by enclosing my patio, screening off my compost area, weaving a very simple fence and building a fab teppee. And as she says herself, all with a few sticks!
Lynn is a fantastic teacher and after two days in her company I feel confident that I could create a simple willow structure, fence or teppee on my own but not completely confident that my creations would have quite the finnesse of Lynn's magic hands!
I've got some climbing runner beans and french beans to go up my tepee and I plan to interplant some sweet pea's aswell.
I was definitely having a hankering for herbs this week, so I got Peter to give me a hand to stick in some creeping thyme and marjoram in some purposely cut holes in my patio. Thankfully grass and weeds are not the only plants that can withstand foot traffic! There's a few other small, creeping perennials such as varieties of mints and camomile that thrive underfoot aswell. All are perfect for softening and offsetting stone while releasing delicious fragrant smells when trodden on and providing tasty healthy additions to your cuisine.
Next for some dependable delicous chives, which I decided to plant around my twin-fruiting apple tree. Herbs are great for softening any part of the garden, creating borders and they make excellent companion plants aswell. Companion planting is one of the oldest gardening tricks in the book. There's not much scientific back up but it's the simple old practice of growing plants together that compliment or help each other but don't compete for light, space or nutrients. Mixed crops are much more attractive than monocrops and companion planting is also a good use of space and brings about such garden benefits as enhancing fertility and handicapping pests and diseases. It also means avoiding putting known 'enemies' together. Chives are said to grow well under fruit trees, helping to redcue scab and attract pollinating bees so that's where they went in my plot.
There's a few lovely but unruly herbs that if planted in your garden, could risk being invasive. Mint and lemonbalm are two of them so I reckon it’s best keeping them contained by planting them into a bottomless container into the ground. If you buy a small mint plant, transplant it into a pot about 5 times it's size, dig a hole and then place it in your prepared container in the ground, with the edge of the pot just a couple of cm's above ground level. This allows the mint to grow happily, access water and nutrients but stops it from spreading like wild fire. You'll need to lift your pot every couple of years to divide your plant to ensure continued healthy fresh growth. Early Spring is the ideal time for this and it's lovely being able to share divide's with friends, enhancing both the health of your garden and theirs.
May is certainly one of the busiest months in the vegetable garden, and when we get a dash of rain after this amazing warm spell, the weeds will just take off! Hoe’s to the ready! At this stage the soil has warmed up sufficiently to sow and plant out nearly all vegetables but beware of late frosts and have some horticultural fleece, newspapers or old blankets ready to cover crops if needed.
Keep a good eye on all your emerging crops and be on pest alert and apart from that enjoy this fantastic month where vegetables gardens really begin to take shape and come to life and start enjoying the first of your many harvests…right I'm off to cut some fresh herbs and mixed leaves to make myself a seasonal salad!