Thursday, 28 June 2012

The household wages war

The clock hand was on the downward sweep after marking the hour. It was finally dark after another long June day.

Quietly, we opened the door and headed out onto the patio. The security light flicked on, suddenly alert.

There, on the basil, were two snails. On the thyme, another. On the lupins, several. On the wire cat planter, several more.

At least a dozen made the arced trip over the fence to smash in the carpark, where they provide a protein boost for the local birds.

The previous night, The Other Half had found something like the same number – and they had taken the same route to oblivion.

A few have been found drowned in beer in the snail inns, as the entire household has become embroiled in the fight against the gastropod terrorists.

Boudicca flicked one off the catnip a week or so ago, furious that it was desecrating her drugs. Then Otto managed to curl herself up on the entire plant pot to protect the rather bedraggled plants.

Loki, in a manner befitting her role as the household’s ditzy tabby, has continued to look a bit vague and left the rest of us to wage the war.

When I arrived back from Bournemouth almost a week ago, it was with some tripidation. A neighbour had happily agreed to ensure that everything was watered – although that was, in part, rendered fairly pointless as several days had apparently seen relentless rain bouncing off any surface if hit.

Out of interest, does anyone know if the drought in the south east has been formally declared at an end yet?

But back to the tribulations of an urban gardener.

The strawberries had produced enough ripened fruit that, on Saturday, we were able to have a bowl each as dessert. No cream, no ice cream – not even any pepper or Balsamico. When the fruit is so, so good, you need nothing else with it.

The broad beans had produced flowers, which are now opening to reveal pristine white petals with a delicate, black pattern.

The runner has had a fit of Jack and the Beanstalk-like aspiration and has curled tendrils most of the way up my bamboo erection.

The borlotti has reached out to grab a piece of horizontal string.

Both the latter two had the lowest leaves revealing some snail damage, but nothing too drastic. Two of the pea plants had been eaten to nothing, while the other three are making slow progress.

A snail was stuck to the inside of one of the pots I’d buried in the bed.

At the weekend, The Other Half visited our local ironmonger and bought back a role of 3mm gauge wire, from which we then cut six pieces.

They were carefully curved and then went, three each, into the planters with the radishes, and the lamb’s lettuce and baby salad leaves in, forming a framework for pieces of enviromesh, which provides excellent protection from pests, while also leaving plants able to get water and air. Everything already looks much happier.

And after reading something that suggested that snails and slugs hate slithering over used coffee grounds, we have dutifully saved several days' worth, drained and dried them, and then spooned them into the basil and lupin pots.

More will follow.

Away from the snail problem, the nasturtiums that I planted alongside the vine are providing huge amounts of joyous colour – and we’ve replanted two pots worth, which I’d grown from seed, into a basket that now hangs from the wall, giving a bit more variety of height, as well as promising yet more colour when these flower.

The vine itself has now grown enough that we can start training it onto the trellis, after The Other Half had cleared that of the dried remains of the Russian Vine.

Remarkably, we may have grapes this year. Homegrown grapes – it’s an extraordinary idea.

New catnip has now been planted. I’ve taken one of the plastic cloches that I was using to protect it from the other local cats, cut two panels in the sides and then stuck pieces of the enviromesh to it.

It provides far better protection than before, but with far better ventilation and less of an obvious way for snails to get in than the ventilation holes at the top, which can now be closed.

It’s not perfect – the sticking tape doesn’t attach to the mesh particularly well – but it is another step forward in the challenge of finding solutions for garden problems.

And quite clearly, defeating the mollusc pest requires a mixed approach – with after-dark hunting as a particularly productive approach.

The local birds must be loving this.

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