June 2009


Renewed vigilance seems to have got the molluscs under control, with peas and beans finally clambering, unmolested, over one of my bodged constructions on the back-fence.

I have blasted a million aphids with the power of vegetable-based soap product, before the ladybirds turned up in the nick of time – a bit like all those scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies: just when all hope is lost (but the heroes are still fighting the forces of evil until their dying breath) dawn breaks and reinforcements appear on the hill-crest to save the day. (Note: though dramatically satisfying, it’s not much comfort to all the casualties of their tardiness, the deceased elves and peppers that would have preferred the said reinforcements to get going a bit earlier).

But I digress. The point is it seems that all that this effort has achieved is to free up space for a predator previously reluctant to pass within my borders, the pigeon. At least that’s my assumption, after my luscious basil babies turned to tatty stems in the course of one sunny day.

Though I wouldn’t expect a pigeon to choose basil over the juicy pot of pea-shoots sat alongside, I cannot think of another culprit.

How to proceed? Do I have to net everything, until my garden looks like a giant cobweb has landed on it? And could there be something worse than a basil-loving pigeon? If I deter them with some device or other, what will move in to take their place? Orcs? Vegetarian golden eagles? 6ft slugs?

A trip to Kew Gardens yesterday. I’d like to claim I went round making notes on Latin names, but I didn’t. I just gawped at weird and wonderful things.

I’ve been working long hours lately, so had planned a quiet Friday night in to recover myself. Instead, I have been on a murderous rampage.

Rest in peace, little bastards

Rest in peace, little bastards

When we moved here, back in February, the owner had left their beer-traps in the garden for us. That should have been a sign.

I gave it a go for a bit of fun, though father-of-frugilegus has always been cynical about their effectiveness. The first morning I checked the traps I counted 50 corpses before I concluded the total was ‘a lot’. That should have been a sign.

Despite that body-count, every seedling I planted in the beds disappeared overnight, the only indication it had ever existed a memorial trail of slime. I took that as a sign.

I ordered nematodes after that, and I have to say they were pretty effective. After a week, some seedlings survived. They certainly didn’t thrive, but the old nibbled stalk was actually visible here and there.

I kept up the slug-traps, trying old orange juice that had been lost in the back of the fridge instead of beer, and shook a few bodies into the compost bin once a week. I sprinkled some coffee grounds around seedlings every now and then. Though nematodes are only effective for about six weeks, I thought I must have taken out the hordes, and could control the rest with various fermented juices.

So, I planted out borage and strong cucumber plants. I positioned a climbing frame for the cucumbers to play on and, that night, dreamt of their fruit. The next morning, I went to welcome them to their first new day, and found just a few slimy stalks. That should have been a sign.

Friends or foes ... or utter bastards?

Friends or foes ... or utter bastards?

Still,  I was distracted by compost. The bin in the garden is not a good one, and when we moved in was full of organic matter that showed no interest in decomposing. I had given it a stir, added lots of brown matter and the contents of a bokashi bucket, then later a few worms, in the hope of getting it going. Things were looking good. An ecosystem developed: woodlice, wriggly things, beetles and the odd snail. I smiled on it benevolently, thinking that a wriggling bin is a healthy, decomposing bin.

Just as a weed is only a plant in the wrong place, I decided a snail is only an evil murderous bastard when it is in the wrong place.

Pah!

A compost bin is no more than a base from which vast hordes are unleashed under cover of darkness. It provides a mollusc with snacks during the day, but one mustn’t eat too much in the bin – one must save oneself for the night raids on pots of beans, tender cucumber shoots, and if one’s feeling adventurous, following the trails of shelled-scouts and slimy outriders into the herb bed.

Tonight it rained. Though the young basil I put out might find it a bit of a shock, on the whole it was welcome because the water butt is empty and the lawn is sulking (the lawn is a whole other story). I wandered out with the torch, thinking vaguely that I could check whether it was snails nibbling at the runner bean bucket.

But, upon finding a full-scale attack underway I was overtaken by bloodlust. Arming myself with a plastic bag on my hand, I grabbed and dropped, grabbed and dropped, each victim clunking into my bucket of water. Haha!

For the pernicious fault of gluttony, as you can see, I'm prostrate in this rain.

For the pernicious fault of gluttony, as you can see, I'm prostrate in this rain.

I can’t kill beetles, but it seems I can kill molluscs.

Though apparently not that easily. Putting snails in cold water doesn’t work. They squirm about and take turns to crawl on each other and then crawl out. It seems I should have used very hot water. An hour ago, I’d have said I wouldn’t have the stomach for it, but seeing as I’ve spent much of my Friday night sprinkling salt on antennae as they break the surface like little periscopes I don’t know if that is true any longer. I’ve never fancied salting slugs before, and it was expensive salt too, but none of that bothered me for a second when I found a speckled slug making a break for freedom. Later, overtaken by guilt, I poured in a can of beer too. So some died horrifically, but hopefully others died happy.

Tomorrow, more nematodes. And a new zero-tolerance policy. They had their chance with the compost bin and they’ve blown it.

Arrrrr!

Arrrrr!

Sorry: another crap photo… Night was falling and the sky was drizzling, and I’m too tired to fiddle about trying to take a proper picture and too excited to wait. Because it’s already been a whole two days since I salvaged my new plant pots! Pre-weathered (you can pay a lot for that look you know), and ready to go.

I’ve been sniffing around local skips in search of new containers for weeks now, but West London is near the bottom of the skip league, and facing relegation. Then, across town,  I came across this pirates’ treasure! I now feel under pressure – I don’t feel like I can just stick any old homeless plant in these pots, but instead will have to find a planting plan that does my bounty justice.

In the murky background lurks a recycled plastic delivery container, now holding chickpeas with radish lodgers, and peas growing in toilet roll planters.

The wild Bee reels from bough to bough with his furry coat and his gauzy wing,

The wild Bee reels from bough to bough with his furry coat and his gauzy wing,

The little bee helps the vegetable bear fruit so he would be our friend however he appeared. But when the little bee is so blessed with such a furry bottom, who can resist his charms?

And below, an old picture, used gratuitously for the arse shot.

"Does my bum look big in this?"

"Does my bum look big in this?"


"Virtually all of the world's fertile land has passed many times through the gut of earthworms"

"Virtually all of the world's fertile land has passed many times through the gut of earthworms"

Worm Towers is a new-build project offering accommodation across three floors to an initial quarter kilogram of worms, situated in the borders of Kitchen Door and within easy reach of local composting facilities. This eco-friendly development is created entirely from reclaimed materials, and boasts a thriving roof-garden.

Worm Towers offers a significant expansion of local organic waste disposal capacity, with the additional benefit of the rapid generation of a nutritious growing medium.

Project components

(1) Blue delivery tray
Previous work: Supporting the transfer of goods from wholesaler to grocer.
Current position: Facilities support – Raise worm towers above ground level, allowing the operation of (2).

(2) Hummus pot
Previous work: storage of chickpea-based product.
Current position: Distribution executive – collection of nutritious worm fluids and transfer to plant-feeding delivery apparatus.

(3) Cafetiere filter (over drainage hole inside bottom tray)
Previous work: Sifting coffee; made redundant when company disbanded after industrial accident.*
Current position: Security – Facilitating exit of excess fluid while barring descent of stray residents.

(4) Polystyrene food delivery containers
Previous work: transporting mackerel from Cornwall to Frugilegus’ fridge, courtesy of veg-box scheme.**
Current work: Drainage tray, accommodation and catering floors, rooftop garden. It is hoped that the materials selected will help to keep worms cool in summer and stop them freezing to death in summer. Easy to install ventilation and elevator shafts (poke a hole of appropriate size in walls and between floors).

(5) Furnishing
Shredded newspaper presoaked in rain-water, handful of compost to help residents settle in, damp cardboard covering. Residents are then supplied with food-waste and the occasional portion of ground down eggshells as they dislike acidic conditions. For this reason, onions and citrus fruits are also avoided.

(6) Caretaker
Residents start life on the bottom floor, remaining there until they have filled it with poo. They will then continue their work on further floors. The caretaker of Worm Towers provides regular food and fresh bedding at a rate tailored to residents’ appetites and clears up after them, replacing cleaned floors at a higher level in the building for their continued use. Luckily the worm casts provide a fertile growing medium for use in the surrounding garden.

(7) Roof garden
The stark modernist design of Worm Towers may not to be everyone’s taste, but its impact on the landscape is softened by the fragrant flowering plants that adorn its top floor. While the plants require some watering in hot weather, any excess water is not wasted, as it drips through the building maintaining cool and damp conditions on lower floors.

* Yes, it was dropped

** I know, I know, I’m supposed to return them for re-use. But I forgot to put them out, and then stopped ordering after a succession of vegetable disappointments.