Hello. It’s been a while. Sometimes life throws a lot of bastard-things at you all at once and gardening has to stop for a while whilst you stamp on the bastards and try to throw them back. It’s been a bit like whack-a-mole.

Luckily, not much happens in the garden anyway when it’s covered in snow and not much happens in MY garden when grey skies prevail over my square of patio day after day. And, luckily, nature will carry on doing her thing regardless of whether I go out and prod at her or not.

Three months have passed in which I did nothing except make the occasional outing to put food-waste in the compost bin … and only then when the kitchen started to smell. Now, it’s getting warmer and green shoots are literally emerging so we should all be better equipped for continued bastard-thing-stamping and I have ventured out to take stock.

The inventory:

  • Leeks planted at an inappropriate time in inappropriate places continue as they were – unperturbed by bad weather, threats to the nation’s forests and public services, or the fact I heard a really great new band last week.
  • The Alpine strawberries still push out the odd speculative fruit in the hope the sun will bring ripening rays before they shrivel. Not long now, my lovelies, not long now [please insert scurrilously piratical accent].
  • Mizuna and land-cress are very handy winter salads, and Swiss Chard seems quite happy to sit in a bucket for months, if unmolested by nothing but a fat pigeon or two.
  • Artichokes (and oca)As before, Jerusalem artichokes absolutely insist on providing delicious meals in exchange for absolutely no effort.
  • Oca was fun but not terribly productive. Get out your magnifying glass and look at that Jerusalem artichoke pic again. On the left. In the glass box. Now squint. Yep, that’s my harvest from 4 oca plants. Somehow this has delighted me even more than a middling to good harvest would have and I’m very much looking forward to trying again this year.
  • The greenhouse contains a lot of dead aubergine and chilli plants and accompanying fungal growth and spores.
  • Dried beansI still have more dried beans than I planted (despite having eaten several kilos along the way). Right now, they make me smile and marvel every time I see them. In a few weeks they will start the process of making me more beans and bring succour to my soul and stomach. A damn good deal if you ask me.
  • All my chilli plants that were brought in to overwinter died through neglect. Including the  hot, fleshy and delicious,* fascinating, beautiful, furry-leaved, purple-flowered, black-seeded, and getting to be properly tree-like in its second year, perennial Alberto’s Locoto**. But I have seeds so they SHALL come again! Where I have left them, some are already shooting in the pots where they fell. Plus something entirely unchilli-like has emerged and is growing at a triffid like rate. I am so excited. What will it be? I have no idea. I wonder if I will find out before it finds me out?

* I only put these phrases into get more visitors to the blog … and then disappoint them
**Happy to share some. No exchanges necessary, though wouldn’t say no to some Oca that grows tubers as well as leaves…

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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.