Open day

Up rather early for a Paddington / Heathrow Express run, I decided to get up to the allotment early too. Pausing only to pick up yet more bags of mini bark chips, two tomato plants and some herbs, I was in and gardening by 9am. Today was to be Open Day; two visitors from our rock climbing world. David to take photographs for an architectural project, and Kevin to console with a fellow slug sufferer and have a good look around. Nothing like the imminent arrival of guests to force you to weed a little more attentively than usual. I ‘did’ the pea beds and the broad bean plots. All this rain has softened things nicely. There were a strange creature on the broad bean tips and I’m afraid I did rather squash them before wondering whether they were beneficial insects eating into the black fly colonies. Pinching out the growing tips of the broad beans is only half the solution. You have to squash and slime your way down a long part of the stalk to get an inroad into the infestation.  Oddly, I find killing black fly quite soothing. They don’t fight back.

My rest of the garden is gorgeous if I must boast. Full of lush growth. And on the death count it’s slugs three corn plants, gardener 17.  But that’s not as bad as last year. I also think a bird pulled off one of my cucumber plants in a search for nesting material. It’s a clean break of quite a lot of cucumber plant, so I can’t blame slugs for that one. But they did eat the other one earlier this week. I only have three plants left. Must do more.

Pause there in writing up my notes as I do exactly that. Two pots of Burpless Tasty Greens coming soon to a south facing window near you.

I then started on the mess at the water butts. This is to be a newly clean area after my slime work yesterday; and I pulled out all the plastic bags that used to hold bark chips and compost, and stuffed them into a black bin bag. (They would have to go back to South Kensington to be disposed of – the allotment skip is late again.) And amazingly, the area looked transformed. Not quite worthy of a photo; there’s only the nerdy who could feign interest in the sight of two wheelie bins filled to the brim with water and a head-high stack of compost in the bins behind, all framed by a big apple tree. The big old wooden compost bins are rather rickety. God help me if they collapse under the weight of this year’s garden discards. I’ve spent way too much money already this year on compost and bark. No funds for fripperies such as decently constructed compost bins.

At 1030am I went up to the street to let in David and Kevin and the sun decided to make an appearance as well.  All three were welcome and we had fun touring about the huge allotment site – something I never do as I always make a beeline for my own patch of land.

Wildlife was, ahem, rather in abundance. Standing watching David photograph the cabbages at my Vietnamese neighbours’ plot Kevin and I saw something climb through the fence beside my plot, creep over to my tomatoes and get stuck into the oatmeal around the base of the plants. Ah, a squirrel, I thought. But no. It didn’t have a bushy tail and I think the species is actually called Big Scary Rat. Huge. It spooked quite easily, but took two stones to get rid of it and I didn’t see it again that afternoon – but I’m sure it is feasting when my back is turned.

As it came from behind the fence in the neighbouring houses, I can’t do anything about it. There are way too many holes and gaps in that fence to keep wildlife, of all varieties, out. So naturally it did make me wonder whether putting down oatmeal is a big mistake.

But then there’s the rub. Slugs or rats? What a dilemma. Everyone seems to be liberally applying the slug pellets after all this rain. Even the club secretary who I thought wasn’t a believer in poisons has the little blue pellets all over his 30 or so potato varieties. We were making our way over to his plot when we saw our next bit of London wildlife – a large fox. It casually loped away in front of us – bold as you please in the middle of the day.

It was rather fun to range about over the whole site again – lots of healthy broad beans and artichokes everywhere, and some tremendous weeds. We visited Oswaldo’s plot which is bursting with life and nesting birds. He has offered me some artichokes – and I may take him up on the offer. Rino has promised me some, but I get the feeling they are not forthcoming. Poor Rino – I hope he doesn’t think me a bad neighbour by turning down his generosity. It is probably a language barrier – but offers in January just haven’t materialised and the growing season is getting on. First it was the tomatoes from Paddy and now the artichokes. I will strim his paths for him as I know he doesn’t have a strimmer next time I’m up and the grass is dry. It may mollify him somewhat for the slight he must feel for my accepting Other People’s Vegetables.

Once the visitors left it was time to get on with planting out the celeriac plants. They are going next to the corn (I will worry about shading from tall corn stalks only if they survive their infancy slug attack). Twenty little plants all grown from seed; quite lovely things. I mulched them with bark chips and placed as many beer traps as possible around the outside. Maybe the rat is enjoying the liquid refreshment I provide after the rather mouth-drying oatmeal.

Next it was on to the messy bit at the back of my shed. Rino arrived as I was hauling the pots about. No mention of artichokes, but he has kindly given me some celery seedlings. I have planted them next to the broad beans and wished them luck. They look so lush I would have been tempted to eat them myself. Hopefully they will get a bit more growth on before succumbing to whatever will ail them.

It’s the reason why I have eschewed strawberry plants in the past; I never imagined they would survive long but I have decided to give them a try. The ones at Marsanoux are so plump and abundant, it would be lovely to try and recreate the fruity explosion here. I only planted out six of them (all in flower) so we shall see.

I had rescued a big door shutter from the skip outside the climbing centre the night before and decided it would do nicely for a potting table that I wanted to create behind my shed. Bending down and potting things at a crouch inside the shed is just no fun. And it couldn’t look any worse than some of the frankly hideous structures dotted around the plots. And besides, recycling is much more satisfying. I didn’t have any table legs, or trestles, so decided to use upturned plant pots instead. Out came all the heavy soil from the pots (hurting back in process which is rather smarting today) and I planted out the Australian clematis plant that had been sulking in one of the pots for many years. With luck it will revive and grow up onto the roof of the shed.

The table is now chest high and a perfect place for me to plant and propagate and store seedlings and generally pretend I have a greenhouse. I potted the leptospermum (an Australian tea tree) into a better compost than the one it has been in (John Innes 3, Ericaceous compost and perlite) and hope it will improve. It actually has flower buds on it for the very first time, so if the shock of being transplanted doesn’t kill it, I may even get pretty white flowers this spring.

Now the only pots left are the three healthy lily plants, a pot of pinks from Oswaldo, two pots of hellebores, and the sage. Far better than the dozen or so that were there before. Damp pots inspire slugs and I did have to kill some monsters (quickly) as I moved them about. I will use some of the empty pots to pot up more carrots. The one wine box of seedlings I have started has some lovely growth.

One may wonder why I don’t use slug pellets when I am more than happy to dispatch the creatures when I see them. But the thought of adding poisons to the plot – which may get into the food chain by birds eating poison slugs or just sitting in the soil doesn’t please me. I know a lot of people use the nematode worm to control them. I did try that rather expensive procedure last year; but it has no effect on the travelling slugs that can move over from the neighbour’s derelict plot. The worst of the slug damage is always on the perimeter.

Enough of death, onto life: I can also see tiny seedlings appearing where I planted the radish seeds; bright red just like the finished product. Beside these I planted out three basil seedlings, plus some thyme, oregano and mint. Quite the little Mediterranean garden.  I could hardly drag myself away from the now much tidier and organised plot. But there is another garden that needs my attention (on paper at least – I’m teaching myself how to map out the garden using scale and triangles and lots of colourful pens). So it was home in yet another rain shower, but felt satisfied that I’m weed free and neat for at least a week.