Monthly Archives: August 2007

All the living things…not in my garden

The house sparrow and the hedgehog have been added to the governments Biodiversity Action Plan priority protection list, which means that that they will disappear if we don’t have a plan to protect them. The decline in hedgehog numbers has been so severe they could be extinct in Britain in 25 years time. According to commentators writing in The Times part of the problem is neat gardens. 3% of UK land is set aside for gardens, and they can be more bio-diverse than farmland, but not if we treat them with lots of chemicals, cover them with decking, park our cars on them or sell them off for building development. Gardens are sacred spaces which should be given protection. Each householder should have their own Wildlife Action Plan, which should be taken just as seriously as energy saving or water conservation. They should be given statutory help to meet the plan and practical on the ground support from teams of wildlife gardeners to make it happen.

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Every living thing…The Slug

To paraphrase John Lennon the slug has loomed large in my legend. Five years ago I wrote The Little Book of Slugs and ever since I’ve received endless enquiries about what to do about slugs if you don’t want to use chemical slug pellets. Yesterday I got a call from BBC Radio York following an article in The Times saying that thanks to a warm rainy season the number of slugs in the UK has never been so huge.

So what can we do about them?

• Grow crops in pots in protected areas and plant out when bigger and more able to defend themselves.
• Keep your beds tidy and hoe as much as possible between rows. This breaks up the slug trails which slugs use to find there way back to tasty crops. It also disturbs slug eggs.
• Go out at night with a torch and a bucket and hand pick slugs off your plants. Use a pair of gloves though as its very difficult to get the slime off your hands.
• Encourage wildlife. Slugs do have a use – they are food for numerous other animals including frogs, toads, hedgehogs and slow worms. A boom in slugs is also a boon for wildlife. Don’t put down chemicals as this is likely to harm the predators of pests.
• Use barriers to stop the slugs attacking precious plants – copper bands, egg shells, commercial barrier products etc
• Use slug baits to trap slugs so that they can be removed to another area – slab wood and comfrey are both useful.
• Use slug traps to kill slugs. I prefer not to kill in preference to killing but if things get really desperate you could use slug traps laced with beer to trap and kill slugs.
• Buy a commercial slug defence product. Nemaslug is a nematode that burrows its way into the slug and destroys it from the inside out. Its actually pretty gruesome but hey that’s nature for you. You can also now buy a slug pellet that is approved for use by Garden Organic (formerly HDRA). The primary ingredient is ferrous phosphate which breaks down to iron and phosphate – both beneficial soil nutrients. This is called Advanced Slug Killer and is available from http://www.organiccatalog.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=61_179
• Give up and plant plants that slugs don’t like – rosemary, lavender, chives, lemon balm, mint, tansy, golden marjoram, sage, thyme, fennel, foxgloves, fuschias, daisies, alyssum, evening primrose, fox and cubs, wild garlic…This year they didn’t go for my rocket or my lambs lettuce. They also prefer green leaves to red so you could try planting red lettuce varieties.
• Don’t give up it will be better next year. Slug populations do go up and down. Last year I didn’t lose a single thing to slugs. It was too darn hot. A long hot summer will reduce slug numbers and things will find a balance again.

Feel free to ask me a slug related question. I’ll try and answer it.
Best wishes
Allan

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Every living thing…

I’ve been thinking about my quest to record every living thing in my house and garden and wondering whether I should attempt this as a systematic sceintific project or just record encounters as and when they happen. Like the small white on my sofa. I’m reading Jennifer Owen’s monumental and entertaining study of her own garden at the moment – Garden Life (out of print but available from http://www.amazon.co.uk). Jennifer spent years documenting everything that set foot in her garden. She was a trained biologist so knew how to trap, identify and properly report findings. I on the other hand took history. Lets just see how it rolls.

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There’s a great tit in my conservatory

Following on from the butterfly on the sofa incident I can now reveal I’ve had a great tit in my conservatory. No sniggering please! My house is beginning to resemble the rhyme about the woman who swallowed a fly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a buzzard in my bathroom next.

The great tit earns its place as the second creature in my list of every living thing in my house and garden – though of course I thought it might enter the garden category rather than the house. In Norfolk they call this bird the sharp saw. This is because of the noise it makes when it calls. The RSPB guide describes this noise as ‘siiih siiih si-surrrr’. Mmh. I think I’ll have to put the cd on.

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A bunny on my phone and plant miles on my mind

The British ethical consumer has another two labels to get used to: both promoting the idea of plant miles. Over 50% of our plants are imported so it’s good to know that efforts are being made to help the conscientious purchaser to make quick easy choices when they buy their plants. Buying local plants cuts down on transportation pollution, supports the British economy and reduces the risk of imported pests and diseases. The Horticultural Development Council is funding a plant labelling scheme in Hampshire and Sussex this summer to see if plants with a local label are more popular. The logo is a little flower with the words ‘Home Grown for the Best’. The other logo being used by several nurseries around Britain is a plant in a pot with the words ‘UK Grown 4 Low Plant Miles’. Of course if you shop at local nurseries, as opposed to garden centres and supermarkets, you are guaranteed to cut plant miles because the plants are grown on-site.

Look out for The Telegraph tomorrow. Bunny Guiness phoned me up this week to pick my brains for an article she was writing about green gardening. The results should be out on Sunday.

Have a good Saturday. Hope its not raining where you are!

Best wishes
Allan

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A butterfly on my sofa

I’ve been suffering from a cold for the last few days but tonight I’m cheered greatly by the site of a small white butterfly – on my sofa. It seems as sleepy as I am, which is quite right at this time of the evening. It also seems to have lost half of one antennae, which means its been in the wars with something. Hopefully nothing on my sofa. We’re both listening to Gene Kelly. When the butterfly flies its quite a magical combination. The sound of gene’s voice, the image of a great dancer, the movement of wings, the circle of flight as it takes off and lands on my jumper. The small white’s offspring are pests to brassicas but it doesn’t make this butterfly any the less beautiful. I’ve been thinking for some time of recording every living thing in my garden and house so this could be the start. This is a female small white. It has two black spots on its wing. The male has only one. There we go: species number one – the common rather unloved but never-the-less wonderful small white butterfly.

If like me you love bugs and have an interest in how they affect our lives you should get in touch with publishers Random House. They’re looking for contributors to their new book Bugs Britannica. The book aims to do for insects what Flora Britannica did for flowers and will look at how insects and inverterbrates affect our lives. To find out more visit their website http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/bugsbritannica (see the links page).

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Organic Basics on TV and Dragonflies at CAT

If you’ve got ten minutes to spare find out the basics of organic gardening on http://www.newconsumer.com/nctv. There’s a link to their site from my links page. You’ll see me going through principles of soil care, composting and pest control at Garden Organic’s garden at Ryton.

If you’re near the Centre for Alternative Technology today (Saturday 4th August) CAT are holding a special dragonfly day. An expert will be coming in to identify dragonflies and to talk about their lives. From eleven till four. Weather dependent. Come along if you’re in the area.

Have a good day
Allan

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