Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Unwanted guests

The creepy crawlies are making me lose the plot. A line of spinach is fair game to slugs, snails and rabbits but it is very annoying when these pesky pests take more than their fair share; for example my cabbage has been ripped to bits by caterpillars and gooy greenflies are smothering the broadbeans. 

Should I just leave the allotment untouched and a balance will establish itself with a vast range of creatures that live off and with the vegetables? No, not a bloody chance!

By definition an allotment is an ordered, unnatural place where we humans control. But to blitz all other forms of life because they eat our veg is a bit insane. 

So the pests and I need to come to some reasonable co-existance; a balanced eco-system so to speak. 
I'm no expert and I don't claim to be, but this I feel is the essence of organic farming, finding this balance. So, in descending order, here's my current list of tormentors and some of the organic farming actions I am taking. 

1. Slugs and snails: 
They eat all root crops and most leafy crops, making holes in leaves and often stripping them. Handpick, cover vulnerable veg with plastic bottles and toilet roll tubes. Slug pub bowls work great too, apparently the fermenting smell reminds the slugs of rotting fruit and they dive straight in and drown. 
2. Rabbits: 
The bigger the pest, the greater the devastation. Quick action by Jenny and Peter Young in Castlefarm by fencing and securing the entire allotment area is deterring these four-legged fiends. 
3. White butterflies:
These little fluttery angles of destruction have laid eggs on my cabbages, turnips and radishes. Best cure is prevention, cover with a fine net from the minute they are planted until harvest. I've also heard of people surrounding the plant with carpet. Daily handpicking works too. 
4. The aphid invasion of sticky goo:
Greenfly, blackfly and whitefly. These guys feed of the soft tissue of the plant and suck the sap. The best action here to to encourage ladybirds and hoverflies by planting dill and fennel. Also hand pick the aphids early, use a strong jet of cold water or nettle feed to dislodge them and cut out infested shoots. And if you think it is worth it, use a battery-powered hoover on the adult flies.
5. Birds:
Birds can completely destroy leafy crops, damage seedlings and uproot onion sets. Wire netting or a fleece helps and light reflectors such as CDs. But a good old scarecrow works too. 
6. Wood pigeons:
Other birds rob but wood pigeons are into gratuitous vandalism. Old wire baskets, wire netting and racks can be used to protect seedbed. 
7. Pea moths:
These guys will enter the pea pod and attack the pea, making it inedible. Cover peas with a fleece. 
8. Flea beetle:
The beetle eats small holes in the leaf that can check growth and kill young plants. Coat a piece of wood with heavy grease and pass it along the row of plants. The insects will jump up and stick to the grease. Also cover plants with a fleece. 
9. Humans:
Believe it or not, thieve do operate in vegetable patches. None have been spotted in Narraghmore to date. The prevention is to grow unrecognisable vegetables such as artichokes or fennel and stubborn-rooters such as parsnips and garlic that won't be lifted without a fight!

Caption: The greenfly invasion of sticky goo on my broadbeans

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Our cabbage is under attack by some very hungry caterpillars. They are speedily eating holes through our leaves and are happily laying eggs on the underside of the leaves. It's the cabbage I care about not the caterpillars and the damage is sufficiently bad that it warrants intervention. 
So I'm going to kill this pest with garlic spray (leave one bulb of garlic in two pints of water overnight, then spray the next day).
I've also invested in a green fleece from the advice of a lovely lady in B&Q Naas, so the cabbage will be tucked up and protected; yet the sun and water can still penetrate. 
Large pieces of eggshell can be scattered amongst cabbages to confuse the caterpillar aswell. The theory goes that it will mistake the eggshells for other caterpillars and leave the area looking for less populated plants to lay its eggs on. Sounds egg-cellent!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Picture perfect, kinda...

A picture progress report on the vegetables, June 7
Row D: Beetroot at the front of picture, seeds planted 12/5
Row D: Carrotts seeds planted 14/4
Row C: Cabbage at the front view, planted by seed 25/4
Row A: Potatoes planted late March
Row B: In view Broad Beans (25/4), Peas (7/4),  Mangetot (25/4), 
Runner Beans (25/4) and more Peas (12/5) all planted by seed
Row C: Cabbage planted by seed 25/4
Row B: Sweetcorn planted by seed 2/5
Row B: Peas flowers planted by seed 7/4
Row B: Onions, shallots sets planted late March
Row C: Turnip seeds planted 2/5, thinned out 7/6
Row B: French Beans seeds planted 25/4. Gone yellow, nettle feed added 
Row D: In poly tunnel courgette


The weeds are taking hold! Close the shutters, hide the children, protect the seeds and let the scarecrow fed for itself. Ok so it's not blight, but an inexorable invasion of weeds on my allotment in Castlefarm is beginning to feel like an enemy attacking. 
And the weeds, unlike my sweetcorn or beetroot, seem to be enjoying this dismal wet week with unhealthy relish. 
I have creeping buttercups, docks and the nettles are doing very nicely. The great rafts of goosegrass and thistle are also showing up. But are weeds just plants in the wrong place? Well, no. A weed is acne or hairs in food. Not the end of the world but we do not want them.
There are positives I'm told. The wider the variety of weeds you have, the healthier your soil. Also they will attract a good selection of insects, something to look forward too, lovely. 
But they do contribute to the holistic balance of vegetable growing, which is the very essence of successful organic gardening. Chemical gardening is a bore. Stop it at once!
So how do we deal with weeds? Hoe, mulch or get down on your knees and hand-pick them out. Remember though timing is of the essence. You must remove the weeds before the seed. The old adage 'one year's seeding means seven years' weeding is pretty much accurate.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Full of beans

Bean there done that!

Broad beans: The broad beans are living up to their reputation as the hardiest of the legumes. They continue to shoot up and have plenty of green foliage. While they are said to be easy to grow and ideally suited to allotment growing it doesn't diminish the satisfaction for a novice allotment holder to see them thrive.

Runner Beans: Our runner beans have been growing well over the past few weeks. However the leaves had turned a shade of yellow. Jenny Young believed this was due to some mineral deficiency in the soil and recommended a nettle feed. Within a week of applying the feed the plants are beginning to return to their natural colour.


Potato patch

Above: our potato patch today!

Potatoes remain one of the most popular allotment crops perhaps due to its longstanding tradition or because they are so gratifying to grow. The Sarpo Axona seed potatoes we put down in March are maturing nicely. We planted them around  six inches deep and plan to add an extra one inch of soil over the next two weeks. While excessive watering can bring on too much leaf growth at the expense of the tubers, they need to be kept moist. A good dousing every two weeks in dry weather is recommended and when the flowers are forming. 

As they grow, earth them up by drawing soil over them with a hoe to prevent light getting to the tubers. This will encourage a greater yield from the base. When the flowers are open, the earlies are ready, usually after 90 days. They should be eaten soon after harvesting. 

On allotment ground it is important to be extremely careful to avoid potato disease. Problems that can arise are potato cyst eelworm, potato blight, wireworm, scab, blackleg, potato common scab, rust spot and slugs. A breakthrough is the Sarpo Axona variety. It has a near-perfect resistance to blight and good resistance to slugs and wireworm. So fingercrossed for a healthy harvest.