Saturday, 31 August 2013

Die, sawfly, die!

So there I was, in the garden taking photos. An interesting orangy-brown insect sitting on the herb fennel caught my eye.

It flitted from one floret to another and I managed to capture a side view of it, reminiscent of Alien.

'Alien' it isn't but what it's offspring do to brassicas is devastating. I later identified from the photos that it is the turnip sawfly (Athalia rosae). Sawflies are very, very bad news. There are numerous species  - gooseberry sawfly, rose sawfly, apple sawfly, turnip sawfly - and their larvae can strip the leaves from a whole plant or bush in one overnight feeding frenzy.

This is what a single larva did to one of my broccoli seedlings.

 I squished the larva but too late to save that seedling :-(.

The garden shed

I repeated last year's experiment of growing runner beans up against the side of the garden shed, and it does seem as though the beans like it there. I attached some netting to the shed on either side of the door and planted the beans a couple of inches in front of it. They didn't need much encouragement to start winding their way in and out, and up through the netting. In front of the beans is a rampant rosemary bush that is now obscuring a comfrey plant (also rampant). The comfrey is regularly chopped back and the leaves are rotting down nicely in my improvised fertiliser bucket.

The rest of the ground is smothered in lemon balm, chives and oregano, and there is Greek basil, spring onions and Moroccan mint in the pots. Nettles keep popping up and are regularly picked for making tea and adding to our green vegetable mix for lunch. In spring there is also a patch of ramsons. Ramson flowers and leaves have a lovely, mild garlicky flavour and are wonderful in a salads or as an alternative to chives on scrambled eggs or in omelettes. Hairy bitter cress also likes this spot although it does better in the spring before the other herbs take over. I once regarded it as a weed but I now use it to add a peppery zing to salads. You can even make hairy bitter cress pesto! ( And, of course, there are the inevitable dandelions. Like the bitter cress, I treat the dandelion leaves and flowers as salad vegetables but don't let them run to seed. Plenty come in from adjacent gardens without our own plants self-sowing. There is no point trying to pull them up; a tiny piece of root always seems to remain in the ground ready to regenerate an even bigger and stronger specimen! My past experience is that weedkiller is not always effective - even if I were still in favour of using it - and not really an option in such a densely populated herb patch.

In the tiny patch of ground to the left of the shed door are runner beans at the back (again winding through netting), another comfrey plant going beserk, and herb fennel in front (about 3ft high). A foxglove struggled valiantly for a few weeks and managed to produce a few flowers, but in the end just couldn't handle the competition.
The shed itself was homemade in the late 1940s, or so we were told by our elderly neighbours when we moved here in 1982. The sides and roof are corrugated iron and the door is made from reused planks of wood. The cast iron framed windows finally came away from the main body of the shed about 10 years ago and now form part of a portable cold frame for spring sowings. Our neighbours hinted that they would be glad to see it come down and we did consider it for a while. Apart from the fact that it is a good size with plenty of room for storage of pots, garden tools etc., it is very solidly built (apart from the windows that fell out). It would require serious brute force, or a stick of dynamite, to demolish it. For much of the year vegetables hide it from view and, in any case, we have grown to love it.

Long live our garden shed!

Saturday, 24 August 2013


At last. The tomatoes are ripening and it looks as though we are going to have a bumper harvest this year. Today's salad was made with varieties Noire Charbonneuse, Gardeners Delight and Idyll, and a sprinkling of Greek basil. We also have Purple Russian, Rose de Berne and Cavendish Cordon in the garden. They are all ripening fast so it looks as though it will be a good year for chutney.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Keeping the slugs and snails at bay

The kohlrabi is doing well this year and it looks as though we'll have a good crop of  both leaves and roots. I am growing both Luna (the greenish white variety) and the purple skinned Azure.

I've not had much of a problem with cabbage whites this year, although I have seen them fluttering around the garden. There have been a few patches of eggs on the leaves but I check morning and evening and rub off any that appear. More of an issue are the tiny snails that seem to have taken a liking to the brassica leaves, more of which later.

Keeping them well watered during the recent hot weather was a challenge as the bed is on a slope. I'm slowing creating a raised bed that will level off the surface but for the time being the water flows towards the lower end of the bed. Also, in hot weather the water evaporates and doesn't really get down to the roots where it is needed.

The method I've used over the last few years is the old water wizard and plastic drinks bottle trick. I received the green plastic, conical water wizards many years ago free of charge along with some hanging flower pouches from Thompson and Morgan. You can purchase them separately if you wish ( They are marketed as a means of ensuring that hanging baskets and containers are thoroughly watered. They work just as well, though, in the main part of the garden. Simply cut the bottom off the plastic bottle and screw the top on to the water wizard. Then push the water wizard into the ground and fill the plastic bottle with water. The water then slowly flows through the holes in the wizard into the surrounding earth. A lot of people have found, though, that you don't need to use a water wizard. Just bury the neck of the bottle in the ground. 

A bonus of this technique is that there is far less surface water that could encourage slugs and snails onto the vegetables. There have been very few slugs this year and I put this down to having used Nemaslug last year. The main problem is that of snails. Crushed egg shells around the plants don't work and I try and use slug pellets as little as possible, even the iron phosphate ones. So I am currently trying out a combination of beer traps and garlic wash.

Garlic wash is supposed to deter slugs and snails and the recipe is very simple, if disgustingly smelly (and I like garlic!). Crush two bulbs of garlic and boil in two pints of water for about five minutes. Strain the mixture and top up to two pints. Leave to cool and bottle. Add one tablespoon of the concentrate to one gallon of water and apply to the plants you want to protect. I pour the mix into a hand spray so that I can easily cover both sides of the leaves. It is recommended that you reapply the wash every two weeks.

The trouble is that I'm not really going to learn which mollusc deterrent works best as I am deploying several at once. I will know, though, if none of them work!

Update: I'm beginning to think that the eggshells do deter the molluscs as I have one group of plants where I have not used any other method and there has been minimal damage to the leaves. It could be, though, that some of the local bird population have been treating the area as a restaurant!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Invasion of the mint moths

At least a dozen of these gorgeous little moths were on the oregano flowers by our garden shed. I didn't notice them at first as I was looking at the more obvious bees that were buzzing around the same plants, but once I had spotted one a lot more came into focus. These little beauties fly both at night and during the day.

The mint moth (Pyrausta aurata) has a wing span of just 10-15 millimetres and feeds off mint, lemon balm, marjoram and oregano. They really are gorgeous and worth looking out for.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Lunch from the garden

After a soggy start to the gardening year and a few weeks of very hot, dry weather the garden is now flourishing.

Yesterday's lunch was gathered mostly from our garden. Apart from the flour, eggs and cheese the only two vegetables that were not home grown were the red cabbage and the asparagus. (Both were heavily reduced in a local shop and I couldn't resist!).

Yesterday's menu was:
  • flan containing yellow and green courgettes, onions, asparagus, swiss chard, spinach, garlic, cheese, eggs, chives
  • potato and spring onion salad
  • cucumber and herb fennel
  • tomato, onion and basil salad
  • red cabbage and celeriac leaves
  • courgette, feta cheese, rocket, mustard leaves and mint

The potatoes in particular have been fantastic this year. All have been growing or are still growing in containers of one sort or another and taste infinitely better than shop bought ones. We are, though, suffering from a surfeit of courgettes so I shall have to get creative with the recipes this week.