Monday, 16 April 2012

Snails, druggy cats and urban garden warfare

Today is just the second day of National Gardening Week and it’s official. I am now at war. And not just me, but The Girls too.

The first attack came when Basil or Reginald or The Cat With No Name – or perhaps it was all three of them in a druggy feline orgy – crept into the garden under cover of dark and raided the newly-planted pot of catnip. Two of the three plants were pretty much destroyed.

And Otto in particular was very, very unimpressed.

The second attack was discovered on Friday evening, when I found a snail in the pot of Moroccan mint.

What the bloody hell was it doing in that pot – and perhaps more annoyingly, how had it got in there in the first place? I mean, honestly: the pot is on pot feet, on a patio, a couple of metres form even the merest hint of a traditional flower bed!

Those questions remain unanswered, but it was hoisted out pretty sharpish to end its days crashing onto the carpark where it hopefully provided nutrition to some local bird.

It was a mark of my increasing irritation that the two snails that I subsequently found at the weekend, attached to a bag of compost, were picked off and thrown into the carpark by hand: the first time I have ever touched a snail.

On Friday evening, slumped in front of the telly, The Other Half switched channels and landed on the start of Gardeners’ World, not a programme I have ever watched. This time, I did – albeit with a sense that while it might be interesting, there would be nothing in it for me.

I was wrong.

Monty Don mentioned such regular tasks as checking under pots to ensure that snails or slugs aren’t climbing into them from below.

The following day, I checked every pot. With the heaviest ones, I ran a length of bamboo underneath to see if anything slimy needed dislodging.

I also made a point of checking under leaves and around plants.

The other attack has come by air. A couple of weeks ago, I’d spotted whitefly on the underside of my sorrel leaves and spritzed them with the organic bug killer I’d picked up at B&Q.

But at the weekend, I found loads on the strawberry plants. The bug spray was called back into action – and I sprayed the next door strawberries too as a preventative measure.

I feel a touch of the Blitz spirit coming on. Mind, I am (almost) in ‘cor blimey guv’ land, where such a spirit must almost still be leaking out of the bricks.

An article I read suggested that another approach is to buy insects that will predate on pests – so ladybirds to feast on your aphids, for instance.

Apparently, you can spray something on the ladybirds to stop them clearing off – for some reason or other, the first thing that sprang to mind was a dilute solution of apricot jam on their tiny insect feet, thus ensuring they continue yomping around your leaves and don’t fly away home.

Would this count as biological warfare?

A Royal Horticultural Society guide to dealing with pests is on the way, while I’ve also read something about companion planting being of help. In the case of protecting strawberries and tomatoes from pesky whitefly, apparently nasturtiums help.

So on Sunday, I’ll be back down to Columbia Road to get more small pots and loads more nasturtiums to place around the berries and toms.

It does beg the question: ‘is it worth it?’ By which I mean simply that, given I have little space in the first place, is it worth such a fuss fighting pests for what can only ever be small crops?

Well, I sowed my first seeds at the weekend too – spring onions and radishes. By the time I get some more salad leaves in, we should be able to keep ourselves in salad basics through the summer.

It’ll be cheaper, less wasteful, fresher and probably tastier. The same can be said of the herbs.

Okay, the strawberries are perhaps rather more of a luxury, but why not? Seasonal, fresh strawberries, eaten straight after picking, could be amazing.

Other things may follow – although I don’t want to cram the garden too full and leave us with no space to move.

But the thought that, in the middle of a city, I could grow things to eat – and to look and smell wonderful – is something that will improve my life and benefit the environment in general, it seems fair to suggest.

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