Blogs

Her Outdoors: Where there is despair, let there be blueberries

Jane Merrick

My Dad, who is also an allotmenteer, said to me the other week: “The thing is about plants, they want to live.” I had been staring downcast at my asparagus beds, in their first season, where nothing was growing. It was the end of May, a time when asparagus – even in the first season – should be coming up. The crowns I’d planted last year had perhaps rotted away in the wet winter, I thought. My Dad told me to keep my hopes up – basically, a seed, or a root, or a crown, will grow in a range of conditions, even the poorest. They obviously need feeding and watering to make great crops, but it’s rare to have nothing growing.

So off I went on a half-term break to Yorkshire, where my mother-in-law lives. She has the most incredible asparagus bed which is more than 50 years old, and still produces a decent crop every year. In London, it rained, then the sun shone, then it rained again. Just think, I said to myself, of how much everything will be growing at Plot 35a, back in London! When I got back, there was certainly lush growth: of weeds, mainly. Yes, established vegetables like broad beans were growing tall. But the French beans and runner beans I’d planted before going off on holiday had been completely wiped out by slugs. As had the tiny seedlings of Florence fennel, kohl rabi, and lettuce. Even the onions, that produce a chemical in their necks to deter pests, had had their tall green shoots shaved off by slugs and snails. All that optimism I’d got from my Dad had evaporated. I emailed him, in despair, and he reported a similar crisis at his plot in Liverpool. Yes, while plants want to grow, the wretched slugs want to eat them.

060 300x225 Her Outdoors: Where there is despair, let there be blueberries

Newly-planted runner beans and French beans - before the slugs got them

I’d used an organic form of slug deterrent – basically ground up ceramics that I blogged about last month. This must have worked for a few days while it remained dry. But the rain – and it was heavy – washed it away. Useless. Second, there is something called Slug Gone, which is organic and is basically wool pellets that swells in water (so, in theory, fine with rain) and is supposed to be irritating for the slugs’ tummies. But, no, this doesn’t work either – the slugs just went all over it and munched through everything.

This leaves the blue pellets that attract slugs and kill them. You can get an organic, safe-for-other-animals version. In my experience, they are the only thing that works – apart from going out with a torch in early evening and squashing them (which is not feasible with an allotment 10 minutes’ walk away). I once tried a pint of beer placed in the soil which is supposed to lure these pests into, but that didn’t work.

Of course, it’s not just the slugs and snails. I came back to find many of the cabbage, kale and Brussels sprout plants had been eaten by cabbage white caterpillars – they are yellow and black and there were tonnes of them. Here is a Brussels sprout plant after some serious munching:

187 300x225 Her Outdoors: Where there is despair, let there be blueberries

A Brussels sprout plant after caterpillar attack

But I managed to save the others from a Brassica massacre by squishing the caterpillars under welly-foot. Talking to others on the site, it may be I have too many places for the slugs to hid in the day – grassy paths and a hedgerow at the back. As one veteran plotholder said to me about killing slugs: “It’s them or us!” This would be a tale of woe were it not for the great crop that other veg have given me over the past few weeks. The broad beans have been keeping us going for four weeks:

032 300x225 Her Outdoors: Where there is despair, let there be blueberries

An armful of broad beans ready for podding

and, despite many of their shoots being eaten, the onions and red onions are OK:

164 300x225 Her Outdoors: Where there is despair, let there be blueberries

Red onion 'Electric' and a basket of broad beans

I made a delicious salad out of broad beans, radishes and the thinnings from some Purple Sprouting Broccoli seedings:

167 300x225 Her Outdoors: Where there is despair, let there be blueberries

Broad beans, radishes and some brassica thinnings for a salad

169 300x225 Her Outdoors: Where there is despair, let there be blueberries

With lettuce from a pot on the front steps

The shallots are small but nearly ready to harvest:

192 300x225 Her Outdoors: Where there is despair, let there be blueberries

Shallots starting to flop over - nearly ready

and the first of the new potatoes – these are ‘Casablanca’ grown in a bag:

211 300x225 Her Outdoors: Where there is despair, let there be blueberries

A modest crop of 'Casablanca' first early potatoes

Perhaps the most exciting is the ripening (a month early according to the books) of my first blueberries – which, because it needs a pot of ericaceous compost is on the steps at home. I am only getting one or two a day, but eating one as I leave the house every morning on the way to work is enough for the optimism to return.

Tagged in: , , , , , ,

Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter