Monday, 15 September 2008

Garden Up-and-Down-Date

When we got home from the US, about the first thing I did was visit the garden to see what had happened in our absence. I was well pleased with how much everything had grown and how much promise there was for food, though some of the spinach and the broccoli had gone to seed.

The nasturtiums (nasturtia?) had orange flowers, the beans had red and the tomatoes had yellow ones. It was a big change from the brown squares I'd left behind.

The potted zucchini and pumpkin plants looked happy in their refurbished laundry soap tubs (see before picture), painted red and brown.

Even the house plants were glad to see us.

I was especially pleased to see the lovely colourful chard stalks.

Unfortunately it's been pretty much downhill since then. Enter buckets and lashings of rain, making the brick wall around the garden into an escargatoire, in spite of my sprinkling little blue pellets (no, I'm not organic -- far too lazy for that) and picking at least a dozen a day to be heartlessly murdered. I've always read that snails and slugs love lettuce more than anything, but my lettuce is doing wonderfully, thank you. Our snails are apparently rather picky and much prefer the beans and the mange tout.

When we returned we had ants in our kitchen, something we've never had before. After a little internet research, I sprinkled talcum powder in strategic locations (no telling what the post lady thought of the whiteline sprinkled across the front door) for a week or two and they vanished from the house. Bill found a swarm in the spaces between the paving stones near the back gate. As soon as he sprinkled that with his weapon of choice -- ant poison -- they moved into our compost bin. These were about half crawling and half flying ants and when they were in full force on the lid of the bin, well, I let them have it.

Bill didn't seem to think the ants would do any harm to the plants, but it was about this time I noticed the cabbage leaves were quite holey and the chard looked like lace. I didn't see many snails around that end of the garden and kept thinking it was ants until one day Bill mentioned cabbage butterfly and all the sudden those pretty little white butterflies weren't so pretty any more.

I went out and looked for the caterpillars but didn't find many on the undersides of the leaves. My reading suggests they prefer brassicas, so that doesn't explain why the tomatoes are rotting on the vine. Not that I had a lot of hope for the tomatoes, they were just a bargain buy -- as were the cabbages -- at the garden centre. I regret now buying the cabbages as I blame them for attracting the white cabbage butterflies, without which the chard might have done better. It is a cut and grow crop, like spinach, which seems to survive most anything, and so I've trimmed it back hoping to have another crop. I'm hoping that the caterpillars may have done their worst and with the cooler weather might be gone -- that may be very wishful indeed!

I didn't put holes in the bottoms of the pots, only a deep layer of rocks, for drainage. One of the major deluges completely filled the pots and the zucchini and pumpkins haven't looked well since, even though Bill went out and punched out drainage holes. Snails like these plants, too, but nothing like they like the 'red hot poker' plants.

When I sprinkled blue pellets around the front garden we were astonished at the number of casualties. I'm sure there is an opportunity for a snail-shell-road building aggregate business just waiting to be exploited. I've spared you the sad 'after' pictures of the plants; they are just too awful to view.

Strangely, even though the potted plants look dreadful they don't know they are dead -- they keep producing flowers, but only tiny little courgettes. None of the pumpkins gets bigger than a ping pong ball, but the offshoot looks all set to take over Dorothy's garden, next door.

Oh well, the leeks and the parsnips still look OK and the spinach is still producing. We have the odd bean and mange tout on offer and the pepper plants on the front porch are laden, though it's anyone's guess if we have enough warmth and sunshine left to allow the fruit to ripen. One of the ladies from the sewing group has bags of beans she's desperate to unload, so we'll not exactly starve -- and of course the green markets still have lots of produce, but it's not the same, is it?

Being an optimist, I've just ordered some plants and seeds from Marshalls: strawberries, raspberries, shallots, garlic and acorn squash...

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