January 10

Trialling seed containers

Rocket seedlings in Containerwise seed tray.

Judging by the posts I see on allotment and vegetable growing Facebook posts, we are all trying to reduce our use of plastic, me included. However, there are some things that are just best made in plastic, what you don’t want is for it to be one-off plastic.

I have tried many types of seed sowing trays, containers and pots over the years. I have root trainers which I find very useful for cuttings, sweet peas and broad beans but they are very flimsy and most have broken. Two years ago, I found Containerwise through Charles Dowding and bought some of their seed sowing modules. I don’t use the size CD uses but one size bigger. They are fantastic, made out of rigid plastic and said to last 10 years although I think they will probably last longer.

When I was looking for a replacement for the root trainers, I found these deep propagation trays  and these. I am going to get 1 of each to try them out this year and see what works best for my needs. I am also going to try these rubber root trainers that are supposed to last a life time.

I am also going to try these silicone seed modules that look and feel just like my silicone baking trays. They are reputed to last a life time and it is supposed to be easy to get the seedling out of the tray.

The downside might be that they are a bit floppy to carry on their own so will need a tray underneath them and they are more a transplanting rather than seed sowing size.

What do you use?

January 8

7 top tips for organising vegetable growing this year

Christmas decoration in the pond.

A Happy New Year to everyone.

I can always tell when I have too much time thanks to the rain because I try and organise myself and the coming vegetable year. I am doing this even though I have not yet got my broad bean seeds in yet. Oh dear! Anyway, there is a reason for that – my greenhouse is full of loft insulation and I can’t get in to it to do anything. So, here are my top tips which I am going to do this year:

  1. Plan how many plants I need of each sort, roughly. This year I have almost been self-sufficient in sprouts. I haven’t bought any yet and probably won’t need to until the end of February. On the other hand, I didn’t grow anywhere near enough celariac. So, I’m creating a spreadsheet where I put down when I want to eat the veg – I don’t want to eat leeks all year round – and therefore how many plants I need. You can see it here.
  2. I am not that fussed about rotating plants around the plots. I try not to grow the same plant in the same place two years running but I have done it with no loss of productivity. However, I do forget which sort of compost I have put on each bed and I would like to know because I vary my compost probably more than I do my vegetables. I put 7-10 cm of compost at the start of each year and occasionally a bit more later on in the year. I don’t dig but I do grow on sand and so it needs a lot of oomph. I’ve drawn up a rough plan of the plots and recorded on each one the year and the type of compost and pin it up in the shed in a plastic wallet so that I can always access it. I have 5 different composts that I make and 1 that I buy but I will talk about how I use them in a different post.
  3. I have been dabbling with sowing seeds according to the moon phases – biodynamic gardening – but usually lose the plot in April when there is so much to do. This year I have bought the Maria Thun diary so that I can know exactly when to sow the seeds. Does it work? I don’t know but in soil like mine you need every little bit of help you can get. I have looked at my spreadsheet of plants that I want to grow and written into the diary when I should sow them.
  4. With two plots I have quite a lot of growing space but there are times in the year when I could do with a bit more. So this year I need to try intersowing which is where you plant young plants amongst others so that when they are finished the next crop is in and ready to take off with the increased space and light. I am thinking particularly of brassicas here because we eat a lot in winter and they take up a lot of space. The lettuces seem the most obvious crop to interplant because we pick leaves off them regularly so they have spaces in between the plants.
  5. I make nettle tea and comfrey tea and have worm juice from the vermicomposting but there are a whole lot of other teas and feeds that can be made for the garden including ferments. I have bought some chamomile and yarrow seeds because biodynamic gardening uses the flowers to create specific teas for the garden and to add to the compost heaps. Chamomile supports the recycling of materials and yarrow helps connect the plant to its environment and make it adaptable to the changes. Both are going in my compost heaps as an addition.
  6. I am the sort of grower that hates spending time in the kitchen preserving, freezing and any other -ing the food that I have grown. Who wants to make tomato sauce in the hottest time of the year? Not me. If I can chuck it in the freezer with no prep I am happy. I do this with tomatoes (I cut them up if they are enormous), berries, chillies, broad beans, peas and sweetcorn (sliced off the cob) but the rest of the time I prefer to pick and eat. Steve of Steve’s seaside allotment is working on this and is writing about it in his free ebook  so I am going to read and implement his ideas.
  7. And finally, reading, reading, reading. You get the best new ideas from reading books, blogs, youtube channels and anything else you can get your hands on as well as talking to fellow allotment holders.

What do you do to keep yourself on track?

December 31

Changing my mind about ragwort

Cinnabar moth July 21

I have always pulled ragwort up off my allotment but reading Wilding by Isabella Tree made me think about what I do. What stopped me in my tracts was the fact that 177 species of insect use common ragwort as a source of nectar or pollen. That’s quite a lot on a small plot!

 

Seven species of beetle, twelve species of flies, one macromoth – the cinnabar, with its distinctive black-red-and-yellow rugby jersey caterpillars – and seven micromoths feed exclusively on common ragwort. It is a major source of nectar for at least thirty species of solitary bees, eighteen species of solitary wasps and fifty insect parasites. (Tree, 2018, p142)

I know ragwort can be toxic to horses especially and cattle but apparently they only eat it if they are in an over-grazed field where there is not enough grass for them. There are other plants that can have the same toxic effect on them: foxgloves, elder, spindle and daffodil all of which I have on the plot (although I have no horses or cattle!) and no one bats an eyelid about them.

The seed can stay dormant in the soil for about 10 years and only needs a slight scratching around it to stimulate germination which would explain how I come to have it each year on my plot and the wildlife plot. This year, however, I am going to let it grow on the wildlife plot.

And if you want more information about micromoths, this site is useful.

 

December 24

Wilding by Isabella Tree

A volunteer who works with me on the wildlife plot suggested I read Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm by Isabella Tree. I hadn’t heard of this book but it was highly commended by the 2019  Wainwright Book Prize and so there is no time like the present to get started on it.

It is a fantastic story about wilding the Knepp Estate,  a mixed farm, which through grants and lack of money became the most amazing return to nature with a little help from the owners. The one thing the book does really well is show the inter-connectedness of everything. So, rather than write the normal sort of review, I am going to record some of the elements which were new to me or amazed me.

  • I didn’t know about the relationship between oak trees and jays. Jays eat acorns but also store them. They peck and push them far down into the soil – in fact to the very distance that is most propitious for an acorn to sprout. During the summer months they leave the acorns as there is plenty of other food but then eventually return. By now the acorn has sprouted so the jay pulls it up just enough to get to the cotyledon leaves which remain underground. Because the oak sends down strong roots very early in its life, it is often strong enough to withstand this attack and will carry on growing. If that isn’t enough, the jay will bury the acorns at the edge of scrub plants and these continue to grow and eventually provide a thorny tree guard for the oak, preventing cows, deer and other grazing animals getting to it. So, not only does the jay get a carbohydrate rich food, but it plants the seeds from which the next oaks will grow. In a four week period a jay can bury about 7,500 acorns. Why aren’t we allowing jays to do this for us instead of recruiting hundreds of volunteers to plant trees that need plastic guards?
  • By not using herbcides, pesticides and any other cide on the farm the number and type of dung beetles increased dramatically. In fact the owners timed how long it took for beetles to arrive at a newly deposited pile of dung and it was three minutes. Using wormers and paratiscides on cattle kills the dung beetles or any other insect that eats the dung. Because dung beetles tunnel, this has an impact on the quality of the soil reducing the aeration, fertility and ability to soak up water. But even better, the dung beetles reduce the parasites in the dung by eating it up quickly and therefore reduce the amount of wormers needed. And of course, if you use wormers, it reduces the beetles and other insects which then has an effect on the birds and so on up through the food chain.
  • Honeysuckle provides nesting material for doormice. I didn’t know that and we don’t really have any, honeysuckle or doormice, on the wildlife plot so need to take some cuttings and grow some if only for the scent.
  • Credit – Getty images

    What comes through loud and clear in the book is something Tree refers to as ‘species-shifting syndrome’ as exemplified by nightingales and purple emperor butterflies. Nightingales are often referred to as a woodland species but left to their own devices at Knepp, the nightingales have nested in wide, prickly hedges and open-grown scrub both of which are rich in insects, not woodland. Could it be that they are seen in coppiced woodland because they are clinging on to a habitat that is present, not their preferred but the least worst thing. Time and again, Tree says that if you look in wildlife guides over a 100 years ago the range and type of habitat described in them is different to the modern guides. If we take the modern guides at face value we would be planting lots of coppiced woodlands to encourage nightingales but it wouldn’t. They cling on to these as a last hope not actively choosing them as their preferred habitat. She demonstrates the same with the butterflies and suspects the same thing with collared doves.

  • If you want to increase biodiversity allow herbivores on the land. They create a biodiverse ecosystem from a blank slate – just one species will do but if you have more then there will be an even bigger effect. One example given in the book is in Nigeria where cattle grazed with donkey’s put on 60% more weight because the donkeys graze the tough, upper portion of the grass revealing more delicate parts for cows. This also happens slightly closer to home on Dartmoor where the wild ponies eat what they like, leaving close cropped grass for other herbivores such as free-roaming cattle and sheep. What they leave behind is ideal habitat for marsh fritillary butterflies.
  • Islands of wilding are not enough. We need corridors and more, bigger and better sites.

This is such a fantastic book, jam-packed full of interesting, slowly evolving rewilding observations. The big take away from it is that nature does it best; not the big, well-known conservation groups although they have all done other good things. It is their lack of ability to take risks and to be at the forefront of different ways of working that is quite frustrating.

All I can say is the winning book of the Wainwright prize in 2018 must have been excellent.

 

November 22

Permaculture Plan part 2

Last week I wrote about all the maps needed for my Permaculture Design Certificate but they were only about 2/3 of the maps needed, so this week it is the final maps with the actual plan on it.

Having decided where the water, access and structures are you are left with some space to fit in the things that you want.

The next map is a Zone map. Permaculture works in zones with zone 0 being the house and centre of activities working outwards towards zone 5. The zones are about how often you visit the area so zone 0 multiple times a day but zone 4 you might only visit once or twice a year where the area is virtually self-managing. For example, there is a large walnut tree in the garden which does not need any maintenance other than harvesting the nuts making it a zone 4 area in this location.

As you can see from my map the zones do not have to go out in concentric circles as shown in the diagram probably because real life is not that neat!

I have to admit to drawing this map after I had completed my final plan for the garden. I am not quite sure how you can do it before hand.

And finally, we get to the plan itself. At this point you can definitely say that you know this plot of land well and so placing of the elements that you want is quite easy.

There is a small food forest planted around the swale with fruit trees, bushes and shrubs, some permanent vegetables and spreading herbs. In front of this, in pink, are the annual vegetable beds in straight lines so that they can be easily covered over winter. There is a windbreak hedge in front of the veg beds and then willows in front of that to soak up as much water as possible before it leaves the property.

In front of the house are 4 apricot trees placed to soak up the sunshine.

 

Not all of the plants can be identified on this plan, they are just too small to show so there are some planting plans to go alongside it.

The first set of planting plans shows the herb bed around the pergola and the pergolas around the house.  Plants have been identified on the plan so that everything can be seen at a quick glance.

 

 

 

 

 

The second planting plan shows the pond, the windbreak hedge and the tree guilds, again with plants identified on them. Each diagram has its own compass and also has its own scale identified because they vary.

What I did feel at this point was that it was important to be quite specific about the plants, I didn’t want to come back to it again later, and it was a requirement that we provide the latin name. If you just list a walnut tree, a black walnut will have a very different impact on your planting plans to an English walnut. (Black walnuts have a substance juglone which they release in the soil and which kills some other fruit trees off such as apple, pear and plum.)

I also created a connections map because there are several concepts in permaculture such as each element having more than one function, using niches, stacking functions, use of edges and many others. I probably should have included this in my submission because the feedback was that I was a bit light on connections in my description of my plan. Below, I list an example of some of the concepts:

Elements having more than one function: Grass paths through the forest garden

  • somewhere to walk with out damaging the planting
  • can be mown and the grass be used as a mulch or incorporated into the compost which will then be used as a mulch
  • act as barriers if a lot of water flows down out of the swale and would be able to hold a couple of inches back as they are set higher than the soil
  • define the growing area
  • prevent the spreading plants such as mint from taking over

Stacking functions: Outdoor sink

  • the water used in the sink is rain water collected from the back half of the house roof
  • runs down the plughole into a bucket underneath
  • used to water vegetables
  • veg picked and need to be washed and so we go round again

Use of edges:

Edges are some of the most valuable parts because they are the meeting space between two places and therefore benefit from both but also create a third space of their own

  • the edge of the pond and the land for growing plants for food, habitat, keeping the water clean and aesthetic reasons
  • the edge of a forest where there is more sunshine and so is suitable for fruit bushes and shrubs
  • the edge of a hard surface such as paving where water runoff can be used by the plants

I have to say that this whole process took hours and of course, if you make a mistake with hand drawn maps you have to draw them again. I did use Tipex on several occasions. So, I have started to learn how to use Inkscape as it seems that many people use it to create their plans. I have managed the first three maps so far!

Have you ever drawn plans or do you create as you go along?

 

November 21

The Top 5 Myths about Permaculture

Photo from Olds College, Flickr

Someone in a Facebook group I belong to posted a picture of their allotment and said they were doing permaculture, showing a picture of their herb spiral and asking what did other permaculturist’s plots look like?

I replied that my plot looked like everyone else’s because it does. You wouldn’t look at it and say ‘Oh, she does Permaculture!’ It is a myth that you can look at a plot and know that the person follows permaculture principles.

So, here are some more myths about Permaculture.

Just because you have a permaculture feature, e.g. herb spiral, swale, banana circles, chicken composting system or  food forest, it does not mean that you ‘do’ permaculture. Permaculture is based around living by the three core ethics: Earth care, People care and Fair share and the 12 principles. You can’t see these by looking at the plot but you can see them if you know the person who has the plot because their behaviours will embody these ethics. I do have swales on my plot, they look like wood chip paths, but I also think carefully about the three ethics. Having the wildlife plot has increased the amount of People care and Fair share I can do.

You can’t use chemicals in Permaculture. Permaculture is a broad church and as they say, you can’t be thrown out of the permaculture family. It is true that under the Earth care and People care ethic you wouldn’t be spraying chemicals every week and replicating large scale agricultural systems but it is possible to spray with Round Up, for instance, once to clear the land of very pervasive plants and then move on and grow without chemicals.  There is no one way of growing in permaculture. You could be organic, regenerative, no-dig, biodynamic or even syntropic (I know! I had never heard of it before). They all fit with Permaculture because it is the 12 principles that drive what and how you do it and they all care for the earth.

Permaculture is about growing food and you can’t have flowers or a lawn. Not true at all. You can have whatever you want in a permaculture design but you want to establish as many links between systems as you can and if you want a lawn for whatever reason, then you can have it. The final design for my Permaculture Design Certificate included a lawn for playing games on and pitching tents. The feedback stated:

You illustrate a good balance between open space and design space. Often either the lawn/social space dominates the site, or appears to be an afterthought shoehorned in and does not “fit”.  Yours not only fits well into the rest of your design but strikes that good balance between it and the rest of your design.

Permaculture looks messy. This one is very subjective. My tidy might be your messy and what does looking messy mean. Do we mean lots of things lying around? If so, then whatever system you use to grow will look messy because that is a personal characteristic. Do we mean weeds are allowed to flourish? Well, the weeds might be a key component of the system. Nettles are a key component of my growing system. I keep them for wildlife as so many caterpillars live on them and I harvest them to create a tea for the plants and use them as an accelerator in my compost. They grow at the edges of my plot and can look a little ‘messy’ I suppose if your plot has none.

Is it that bare earth over winter looks tidy and that my plot doesn’t look like that? Permaculturists don’t like bare earth. Succession of the land means that something will always grow on bare earth so we keep crops growing throughout the winter, cover it with compost, mulch, green manures or woven plastic. These things also reduce erosion and provide protection to the hard work going on in the soil that means that our plants will grow. Is it that we have plants underneath and around trees? Yes, we do plant around and underneath trees and this is called a guild. Each plant has a function with the overall goal being to increase production of the tree.

Is it that there is a lot of long grass growing all over the place? Well that depends on the size of the land. If it is acres, then so what. If it is allotment size then that is nothing to do with permaculture. That is just how the grower allows it to be.

Permaculture is only about growing food. Nope. Permaculture is also about people and about how we apply the Fair Share ethic in a world that can prioritise accumulation of ‘things’ above connections between people and the earth. Social permaculture takes the principles and applies them to how we work with others. For example edge effect is where two ecosystems come together to create a third space which has greater productivity, fertility and diversity than the separate spaces. On land this might be the edge of the forest where different plants grow and animals live in comparison with inside the forest and out in the open. In social permaculture this might mean two separate groups coming together to work on a shared goal with the outcome of more creative ideas, greater diversity in the ways of thinking and solutions to problems, collaboration and friendships. The people and their systems are as important as the plants and their systems.

Do you follow permaculture principles?

November 15

Permaculture Plan part 1

I thought I would share the plan I  submitted for my final design exercise plus some of the writing that goes alongside it to explain.

Before you start anything you need to gather information about the plot, weather, climate, land and what is already there and this involves A LOT of maps and if you can’t do them electronically, you have to hand draw them.  I did draw them by hand because it would have taken me so long to learn a new piece of software that I thought it would detract from the space in my brain to think permaculture thoughts!

The first plan is a boundary map showing only the outlines of the land with no detail so that there is nothing to detract from clearly seeing the shape and area.  It states the space you have to work and ensures there is no confusion.

It needs to include a compass so that directions can be easily seen plus scale and I have included the road and buildings.  This map became my base map and is one that I traced or photocopied to use for all other maps minus the boundary lengths. To get this map I used google maps and a data projector and traced the land on a piece of paper stuck on the wall.

 

Next was the contour map showing the slope of the land. Although this garden felt fairly flat, there was one contour line running through it at 108m. Feedback suggested that one contour line is not enough on a map because it does not show in which direction the land slopes and therefore how water would flow. There are two things I could do here. I could show 107m and 109m both of which are off the property or I could have looked to see if there were any contours at 0.5m intervals on the land and I will go back and consider both of these and which would be more useful.

 

 

Then there is the sector map.  On this we map the sun’s pathway in mid winter and summer (red sectors), prevailing winds and other winds that affect the place plus things like views to be kept. We also map negative things such as noise, views we don’t want or anything else we want to block out in the design. This will have an impact on what we place and where. Different colours for each sector are used and most focus around the house because that is the centre of action. The sector at the top affects the barn which is why it is placed up there rather than around the house.

The small diagram at the bottom of the map shows the angle of the sun, important if you want to block out the sun in mid summer  and allow it in in the winter. This map enabled me to see clearly where a windbreak hedge needs to be placed for the prevailing winds (dark blue) and the cold north easterly winds (light blue) in winter.

Without water there is no life so the water map in Permaculture is extremely important. What we are aiming for here is to hold water on the land for as long as possible, preferably where we need it. The saying is ‘slow it, spread it and sink it’ and some add store it to that list. This property is not storing potable water, just water for the gardens but many properties where water is scarce or expensive will have systems planned into the design to do so. This map links up with the contour map because swales, tree growing systems that slow water down, are built on contour. The feedback on this map was that the water flow was not clear although I did show it on another map. I just needed an arrow from the pond at the top of the garden to the next pond and one from the pond to the swale to enable everyone to see the flow of water through the land.

This is the first map that shows design elements, elements that are not already present on the land. There is a second mini swale at the front of the house to water some trees that will be planted there but this is not on a contour line and will be fed from the front half of the house roof.

For this map we also calculate run off and overflow of water for a ‘once in a hundred years’ rainfall imagining that the land is 100% saturated so that we have no disasters with large bodies of water flowing across the land. For each element of water, pond, swale, rain garden and ditch the amount of water that will fall must be calculated and a spillway built into the system to allow it to overflow across the land. So, as you go down the land the spillways get bigger and bigger as the catchment area grows. I have over sized all of the spillways because these once in a hundred year events are happening more frequently now.

Next is the access map and again this features access to the land, paths, tracks, drives, roads etc that are existing and staying and new additions. This gives us a chance to consider whether the driveway is on the boggiest piece of land or how we will access all parts of the land.

Once again, I have removed all extraneous pieces of information so that the access is really clear. To create this map, I used tracing paper over the boundary map to get paths, driveway and paving in the right place and to show how they are all connected. The paths are 1.2m wide to allow space for a person and a wheelbarrow.

 

Following this is the structure map which shows fences, buildings, outbuildings, pergolas or anything which is a structure that you want to include in the design. My addition to the structures are two pergolas; one on  the southwest and west sides of the house to provide shade in the summer and one at the back of the house to provide a place to sit out and eat. The pergola around the house is designed to allow the sun in during the winter months but prevent it from hitting the house during the summer. This will have an effect on the temperature inside the house.

Some designs will include building a house or siting a shed, greenhouse or polytunnel. Mine is quite minimal in this area.

The last of the maps in this section (hooray!) is the W.A.S map or water, access and structure map where all three are combined but with the emphasis on where they intersect. This means that you don’t have to show everything but it is important to show things such as where the paths and water meet and cross because this will need to be designed for using things such as crossing pipes to take the water in that area.

The red blobs are crossing areas for swale and paths and the dark blue blob is where possible overflow and path meet.

You can also see on this map the two blue arrows showing the flow of water from pond to pond which I should have included on the water map.

Once you have this map it becomes much easier to place your other elements. Trees must go along the swale, the annual vegetable garden needs to go in a sunny, easily accessible place, a place to play and pitch tents becomes more obvious and so the final design can be created.

I’ll show you the maps for that in another post. You may well be mapped out by now!

November 14

Certificates galore!

What a month it has been. You can go for years without a certificate and then several come your way!

The first one is for passing my Permaculture Design course which I started in February and finished this month (November).  I have taken part in quite a few online courses, including writing one, and this one, Geoff Lawton Permaculture Design Course online,  was excellent.  The course has Teaching Assistants who patiently answer every single question asked and obviously have extensive permaculture experience themselves.

At the end you have to submit a permaculture design for a plot of land bigger than half an acre, although you don’t need to own the land, and explain your permaculture thinking. I am now qualified to undertake permaculture designs.

 

My second certificate was from the Vegetable Growing Course that we run on the allotments. John leads it but there are three of us that help, you could call us teaching assistants (!) and one of the course members has a daughter who is incredibly creative and made us certificates for a graduation ceremony. They are lino prints and absolutely fantastic. We started  the course the second week of February and finished at the end of October, sowing, growing and harvesting together working in a no-dig way. The best thing about the course was getting to know the group and now that they all have their own allotments we are still a community but part of a much wider one.  Our next activity is in December where John is hosting two sessions for us to make Christmas wreaths.

The third certificate is one for the allotments as a whole as part of the RHS Exmouth in Bloom It’s Your Neighbourhood Award where we received ‘Outstanding’ for the Vegetable Course and the Wildlife Garden. That was a real surprise as the Wildlife Garden was a last minute entrant and I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of the In Bloom bit but we are delighted with the outcome. I haven’t seen the certificate yet but hope to soon.

After all these celebrations I am off to do the real work. Clean out my greenhouse and sow some broad beans. What are you up to this week?

October 2

Giving up slug pellets

As I sit here writing, it is wild and windy outside and I have had my first day of not being able to go out for quite some time.  it has, however, given me time to reflect on the past 8 months and what I want to do differently next year.

In 2020 I decided to stop using slug pellets, even the organic ones. Taking on the wildlife plot forced me to think a bit more about what I do on my own plots for wildlife and the pellets were one thing that I could stop using. I didn’t think about it at all during 2020 because it was a hot, dry year and so slugs and snails were not a problem but this year has been a completely different experience.

I have two main areas that are a problem. One is the space between the fruit trees and fruit cage where I have not been able to plant out any veg and keep it (everything is eaten) apart from one lot of onions, and the other was the bed below the polytunnel with a row of lavender. No matter how often I cleared the slugs or snails from the lavender, the veg below the hedge was constantly eaten. I have solved one of these problems and am working on the other.

Reluctantly, I removed the lavender hedge. It stretched the width of the plot and often self-seeded so I had a ready supply of new lavenders.  When I dug them up, each plant had at least 20 slugs and snails in it, many with more so I wasn’t clearing them out anywhere near enough. To be honest, hunting for slugs and snails seems like a waste of time when you could be harvesting and enjoying what you have grown so the problem in this bed has been solved. These slugs and snails meant that I didn’t get any beans at all this year and have 5 chicories to last me all winter! The five that did last had copper rings put round them when I realised that I was going to lose them all so that is at least one positive and proof that in some circumstances they do work.

The other area is trickier to solve. I can’t see where the critters are coming from – is it the black plastic path alongside the raspberries or is it from under the fruit trees? One side is eaten first so I think they must be coming from the tree side.  This needs more investigation. I’m still struggling with the permaculture saying “The problem is the solution.” and “It isn’t an over abundance of slugs, it is an undersupply of ducks!” So, what to do bearing in mind that I don’t want to keep animals on the plots – difficult to have holidays and we have been overrun with rats this year. Today I came up with a list of things to do in this area:

  1. Keep looking for the source and deal with it when I find it!
  2. Reduce the black plastic in the area and use more shreddings/chippings. They don’t really like crawling over rough shreddings and so I need to use these on the paths around the beds.
  3. Change what I grow in this area. My rhubarb needs moving because it is a slug hotel itself particularly as I grow them at the end of beds with other vegetables in them. I might was well make the most of the sluggy area and  move the rhubarb to it and then the beds they have come out of can be kept slug free and provide a bit more growing space.
  4. Think more carefully about when I plant out the delicate, little veg transplants.  The onions that did survive in the bed went out in a dry spell in April where there was no rain for about 3 weeks and so they established quickly and were much bigger. The other beds I planted out before the rain in May and they disappeared over night.
  5. Consider borrowing a duck or two for a morning or afternoon, fencing off the area temporarily and letting them loose. There are some ducks not to far from me and the owners might be willing to do a deal.

So, learnings from this year about not using slug pellets:

  • Copper rings will work when you only have a few plants left that you want to save
  • Use weather forecasts to decide when to plant out
  • Reduce the slug and snail happy places which includes removing the lower, damaged or brown leaves on plants and inspecting under netting regularly

Accept the loss of some crops but not too many! I have grown some carrots at home where the slug/snail population is much more in balance (in favour of me!) although Foxy having a snooze on them might not help

  • If you lose a crop, sow it again but I do draw the line at a third time.

The next thing I want to improve upon in 2022 is harvesting and prepping what I have grown. I love the harvesting but hate prepping/cooking/preserving the crops – or even spending time generally in the kitchen. I recently read Steve’s Kitchen Garden and Seaside Allotment Harvest chapter in his ebook about how he harvests and think I might try it next year.

What do you do on days that you can’t get outside to garden?

April 17

The biggest bang for your buck with bees (and other pollinators)

I have been looking a lot at lists of plants for bees and butterflies because I made myself a promise that this year I would add plants to the wildlife plot so that  there would at least one more that flowers each month.

So many people have lists and they each have different plants on them which I think suggests that actually it is quite site specific and what bees in one part of the country go for is not always the same across the country. Lists that I use are:

  • RHS – very good list of loads of plants classified according to when they flower. I am using the plants for gardens list but they also have a wildflower list and a plants of the world list. The wildflower list has plants for ponds so that will be useful. They also have three research papers based around Plants for Bugs – bees and other pollinators, plant-dwelling invertebrates and ground-active invertebrates with some interesting findings which I will talk about in a separate post.
  • The Wildlife Trust doesn’t have the biggest list but almost everything that is on it is in the wildlife garden – not surprising because the whole plot was set up by the Devon branch.
  • The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has plants divided into groups according to whether they are shade or sun-loving.
  • The Butterfly Conservation trust has a list of plants for butterflies, many of which are on the RHS list but also has a caterpillar food plant list.
  • Goulson Lab created by Dave Goulson, an expert on bees and other insects in the garden, has a list with stars for their desirability by pollinators.

Bang for your buck!

So, what has proved most popular on the Exmouth Hamilton Lane wildlife garden? In March and April, the plants that have had the most pollinators are:

Red-tailed bumble bee on Vinca major

Buff or white-tailed bumble bee on Symphytum ‘Hidcote Pink’.

Something unidentified yet on the grape hyacinth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Vinca major – this has been full of a range of bumble bees and other pollinators (Western bee-fly) and yet is not a plant on any of the lists!
  • Skimmia japonica – this plant hums with pollinators every time you walk past it and smells delicious
  • Symphytum ‘Hidcote Pink’ – this is a member of the comfrey family and drips with pollinators in both the sun and semi-shade. Again, this particular type of comfrey does not appear on the lists.
  • Grape hyacinths for pollinators other than bumble bees