July 2009

Large cabbage white laying eggs

"these are flowers that fly and all but sing"

A reminder to net the rest of my purple sprouting broccoli!

But I’m glad I haven’t got round to it; it was so fascinating watching this Large White check out my garden, using her feet to taste the different plants until she found what she was looking for: my PSB! Then she settled to lay little clusters of pointy yellow eggs, bending her tail round to pipe them out on to the underside of the leaves – a bit like icing a cake.

Two  of my four pots are already netted (incompetently, but enough to deter a casual butterfly or pigeon), and I’ve covered the soil around them to avoid cabbage root fly (just with cardboard with a slit cut around the plant stem), but I got distracted before finishing the job. As this is the first of my winter crops that I’ve managed to get in – and my favourite – I’m not prepared to hand it over to very hungry caterpillars. So now I’ll need to scrape the eggs off too: an extra  job, but a  small price to pay for the chance to admire this impressive lady.

Definitely a mouse

Definitely a mouse

I’ve been trying to work out whether the impudent rodents wandering my garden are rats or mice. It seems like both are probably visitors, but there’s no ambiguity about which this one is.  He wouldn’t sit still long enough for an in-focus picture, but he ran about near my feet quite unconcerned.  I think he believes it’s his garden, and returned to his comrades with a tale about the impudent human wandering about in broad daylight.


Wee, sleekit, cowran, tim'rous beastie, O, what panic's in thy breastie!

Wee, sleekit, cowran, tim'rous beastie, O, what panic's in thy breastie!

This fellow came to watch me tidy my square foot of lawn and patio edges (a job so long overdue that it was probably advertised in rodent-world as a once-in a lifetime experience.) I noticed him slowly make his way across the patio from I-don’t-know-where. He looked a bit dazed and as if he had bigger things to worry about than my presence or that of the growling lawnmower – I’m guessing either a recent run-in with next door’s cat or an existential crisis – and sat motionless under the sage for at least ten minutes.

I think it is a full-grown mouse, rather than a young rat, though that might be wishful thinking.  I find it very hard to tell the difference. Any rodent identification experts out there?

Last week, I found two dead rodents in a bucket that had filled up with water in the rain – but these were definitely rats, twice the size of this fellow. I don’t think there’s anything in particular in my garden to attract rats (the compost bin is well-sealed and only contain garden waste), but we’re told that you’re only ever 10 metres from a rat in London.


(Who told us this, and when they told us, I don’t know, but it’s been repeated many times, by many people, so it must be true. Except some of those that tell us these things say six feet not ten metres, which even if you’re not good at your imperial/metric conversions is clearly uncomfortably closer. Sometimes I wonder how I get to work each day without my rat-waders on…)

On the right is a glorious character I’ve never seen stop inside my garden, but I certainly hear a lot from her and her hooligan friends. Someone down the street puts out peanuts for the local gang of parakeets, and they drop the shells on my runner beans as they joy-ride overhead.

Walking onions, ready to start their trek

Walking onions, ready to start their trek

It’s always exciting to receive a parcel, and the brown envelope containing these ‘walking onions’ made my day – very kindly sent by Robert of This and that (whom this post is named in honour of.) Recently,  I read someone saying “of course, they don’t actually walk”. Well, actually, I beg to differ. They actually do walk – just a bit more slowly than we might be accustomed to. Each of these bulbils will eventually send up a long stemmed leg, on which another foot of bulbils will grow. The weight of its foot will bend the stem over a pace’s worth, and the foot will root, and grow another leg  to make the next step. I’m looking forward to their journey. (And of course it’s tasty all the way.)

“Of the tomato or love apple, I know very little. It is chiefly employed as a sauce or condiment. No one, it is believed, regards it as very nutritious; and it belongs, like the mushroom and the potatoe, to a family of plants, some of the individuals of which are extremely poisonous. Some persons are even injured, more or less, by the acid of the tomato.”

I hope these tomatoes will make me a very good dinner one day. For now, they appear to be happy as they are: they have remained the same size and colour for a fortnight. At least they look nice – especially when the evening sun is filtered through the hairy stems.

The proud chickpea

The proud chickpea

The chickpea is one of the most wonderful things to have come into being. I’ll be lucky to get a meal’s worth from my plants, but I’m growing them for joy, not self-sufficiency.

From dust to dust

From dust to dust?

My once-magnificent squash has caught a nasty case of the mildew overnight.

I’ve given it a severe haircut and am willing the little fruits to grow as quickly as they can before the whole thing crumbles to dust, and fretting and despairing and wondering if there’s any hope at all or whether it will spread and spread until all that is green and good in this world is gone.

Can anyone confirm or expand on my diagnosis,  suggest any mildew magic that doesn’t involve nasty chemicals, or just tell me that there’s still some hope while green leaves grow?

Time to focus on garden friends and to check in with my allies, the worms.

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

Worm Towers

I installed the worms a couple of months ago in a diy attempt at a tray-system wormery – the construction of which I described here. The plan was for the worms to deal with the bulk of my kitchen waste, so I could leave the bokashi bins for the otherwise uncompostable (such as cooked waste, bones, dairy etc) and the (small) compost bin for garden waste. After enthusiastically over-feeding them when first installed, I’ve been trying to leave be and let the system settle.

Last night, it was time for an inspection, and all seems to be well. They don’t really seem to have increased in number but I guess that’s probably to be expected for a small system, and those that are there are fat – and fast as they whip away from the light.

From carrot tops and teabags to glorious mud

From carrot tops and teabags to glorious mud

That was good news, but more importantly, the bottom tray is already full of rich fertile ooze. I suppose the picture to the right might not be to everyone’s taste, but to my mind it’s a minor work of art crafted by some of the most useful creatures on earth, and it’s enormously satisfying to see food scraps converted into something that will go on to complete the cycle: producing next year’s food – and next year’s food scraps.

“Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible”

“Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible”

The first picture shows a fairly finished tray; the second one is a tray still in progress. It also shows as much of a worm as I could get in shot: they move so darned quick. You can also see a little of the bedding of torn up newspaper. (They’re lefty guardian readers; I’m still trying to teach them how to do the cryptic crossword). Anyway, this progress doesn’t seem bad at all for less than three months work, especially considering there’s always so much to do when one moves into a new place. I’m told that worms take a while to settle and get into the swing of it.

The tower system is also working really well. If you don’t look at the pictures above with the same relish that I do a tray system is the sort you need. Now the worms have finished in the bottom tray they’ve made their way up to the tray above where the fresh food is being added. I can simply remove the processed tray and empty it wherever I want to use it, whereas many of the systems with just one box need some reasonably time consuming and hands-on work to extract the good stuff, separate the worms and return them to the system.

My system needed to be fairly temporary as we’re renting, so I couldn’t dig up the garden even if there were enough room to do so. I also wanted to have it near the kitchen door. There are all sorts of materials that could be used to build this sort of thing, but I was keen to recycle what I already had. This constrained the design somewhat, but I was very satisfied to see this model costs £94.45 compared to my £0. It’s a bit prettier, but not £94.45 prettier. My roof garden was basically free too – filled with leftover plants and self-seeded nasturtiums I relocated. I’ve harvested a good stock of chamomile tea and lots of flowery salads from this roof and watering the plants occasionally helps keep the worms damp. And from what I’ve read many people with some of the well-known models have had problems with worms drowning (if they forget to open the tap regularly) or being lost (when they do open the tap and the worms all wash out). Try a coffee filter over a hole – works a treat.

Smug? Yes, a little. But really just pleased to know that homemade can do the job too.

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