Thursday, March 29, 2007

All is not lost!

Popped up to the lottie this morning and more in hope than expectation had a peek under the fleece that's covering the broad bean seeds.

So far there had been no sign of them but an awful lot of mice in my traps, so I'd assumed the mice weren't in the slightest bit put off by the holly snippets and had scoffed the lot. How wrong can you be - I lifted the fleece to find a lovely long straight row of inch-high bean shoots! So it looks as if we will be having an early broad bean crop this year after all.

It's so nice when things go right for a change. And I'll try the holly trick next year - it really does seem to have worked.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

It's spring!

I'm in heaven. The allotment has dried out, the soil is warming up, and I've been sowing seeds all day. Spring is officially here.

I've had very mixed results from sowing directly in the ground - too often I've had absolutely no germination at all, for a variety of reasons including slugs, mice, tricky weather or all three. So in recent years I've taken to sowing all my seed into modules of one sort or another - usually the cell trays, 24 to a tray, which is happily one row in my raised bed with plants every 6", or two rows of larger plants with a 1ft spacing, plus a couple left over for luck. I also sow broad beans in loo rolls (they need a good root run and you also avoid disturbing the roots as you plant them with loo roll intact), and peas go into 4" pots, three to a pot, and get planted out almost as soon as they've germinated one pot per foot. It worked beautifully last year - hope it does this year too.

So far I've been struggling badly with my early broad bean crop, and in fact can probably write it off as a failure. First I was too impatient and sowed the autumn seeds (Aquadulce Claudia, so no problem with the variety) far too early - October, when temperatures were still quite mild. Fatal - by November they were already flopping over, and they had a bad winter when they really needed to go out onto the plot but it was too wet to even try. By the time I got to planting them out in February, they'd rotted away and I had to chuck the lot.

Then I tried planting broad beans straight in the ground: that was about 2 weeks ago, and I haven't had a snifter of a plant at all. I think they've all been harvested by the mice - I've trapped four now, but that probably means there have been a dozen or more running over the seed bed, taking no notice at all of my holly branches. Maybe I should have put a few more down. So anyway - I'll have to cut my losses, I think, and just plant mid-season beans instead.

The good news - my pea plants have picked up, and apart from a few losses (which I think were due to slug attack - I was late protecting them) they're now growing heartily. My next door neighbour, who's a coppicer, is due to deliver a batch of hazel peasticks any time soon, and then I'll dare to take off the fleece cloche and let them do their stuff. Won't be long now!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Pesky pests

This time of year, whatever you put in the ground is a magnet for pests of every possible kind. My poor little pea plants which I planted out last month are struggling to get away - what with the deluge of rain that's been going on for a month now, they haven't been able to make much headway, and in the meantime they've been snack fodder for my three major betes noirs - rats, mice and slugs.

I planted some broad bean seeds today, Aquadulce Claudia again, direct in the ground for the first time, since the autumn-sown plants keeled over (a combination of my mistake - sowing them too early - and an accident - the gale-force winds a few weeks ago blew the fleece off and there was a vicious frost which clobbered the top growth). I spent more time protecting the seeds than actually planting them. First I put down slug pellets - before you throw up your hands in horror, I use the Growing Success iron sulphate ones which don't harm wildlife (but do harm slugs).

Then I cut some short sprigs of holly from the next-door woodland and laid them over the top to put the mice off. And finally I sank some plastic lily toms someone gave me into the ground as mouse traps. They're about 18" deep and no mouse could escape once inside: I've baited them with peanut butter and will be checking them regularly, as there's no point setting humane traps unless you're going to be humane about not letting them starve to death in there in the process.

Then I'm in discussions with the local hardware shop as to the best way to deal with the rat problem. Poison is really tricky, as I take my dog up to the allotment. But I've yet to hear of anyone being very successful with traps, though the bloke over the road at the allotment site trapped 36 rats last year with a squirrel trap, so perhaps that's the way to go. Either way, it's quite an investment as the traps are £17.99 each - so I want to make sure I'm getting something that works!