Monthly Archives: August 2008

Hello Guardian readers

Hello Guardian readers. If this was The Simpsons I’d have a flashing neon sign saying Welcome to Slug World. Thankfully its not. This blog is not just about slugs or gardening but about wildlife, environment and ecology, and actually anything else I think might help people, plants and animals. Its a mix of news stories and personal experience. Slug Watch has come to a sticky end for the moment because about a week after the Guardian photographer came to take the picture in the garden half my experiment (ie the plants unfortunately not the slugs) were eaten by a much bigger and more powerful pest – no not the mice, sheep (see blog baa baa kill sheep). If you haven’t already read enough about slugs, their habits and devices to stop these habits then have a look through the blog on all the entries marked Slug Watch or check out http://www.cat.org.uk/ihateslugs/btshomepage.tmpl. Here you’ll find tonnes of great suggestions from contributors to CAT’s Bug the Slug Campaign. You can also buy The Little Book of Slugs, along with all my other books and loads of other useful books and gardening resources from CAT Mail Order. If you shop from here more of the money goes towards supporting CAT’s charitable aims. In the absence of Slug Watch there’s plenty of other things to talk about – the state of the honey bee population for example. Read my article for Garden News below and get hold of the book A World Without Bees. Appreciate and act. Be a player not a spectator. Start with your garden and work your way out. That’s enough mottos for any blog. See you next time.

Best wishes
Allan

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Garden News article – A World Without Bees

This is an article I wrote for Garden News a few weeks back. Garden News have taken the lead on talking about the bee issue, which I think as many people as possible should be conscious of. After I wrote this article more figures came out following research carried out in bee hives across Britain. Almost 30% of colonies perished this year. The normal mortality rate is about 5%. UK honey supplies are dwindling and may run out by December this year, not being replenished until summer next year. Its also bad news for the pollination of vital crops. Some people are saying that bad weather is responsible, keeping bees in the hive, where they become more prone to infection from viruses and attack by deadly mites but as yet there is no definitive scientific explanation.

A World Without Bees
If climate change doesn’t get you, the honey bees will – this is the rather gloomy message of a book I read recently entitled somewhat alarmingly A World Without Bees. As the title suggests it is not the presence of a new mutant killer bee that’s going to do us all in but the absence of honeybees that could trigger our demise. As some 90 commercial crops owe their continued existence to the pollination services provided free of charge by the honeybee it’s easy to see why a world without honeybees would indeed be a disaster.

Which is why Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum’s new book on Colony Collapse Disorder – a honeybee ‘plague’ which has already killed millions of bees worldwide – is important.

Over the course of the last two or three years many bee keepers around the world have arrived to inspect their hives in routine checks, only to find them abandoned, apart from a few dying or dead bees lying near-by or in the hive itself. The cause of such vanishings is not yet known but post mortems carried out on victims’ points to a number of viruses and the aptly named parasitic mite Varroa destructor as possible culprits. Apart from the distress these losses cause to the bees and beekeepers the disappearance of the bees can spell disaster for the farmers that rely on them to pollinate their crops.

You only properly appreciate how busy bees are when you try and photograph them. Unlike some insects that seem to have time to pose for the camera – what are they waiting for I wonder – bees are on or in a flower, out and off to the next before you know it, and most of the time before you’ve had time to zoom, click and capture.

The bees have their fill of nectar and move on. Each time they go to a new flower they deposit a little bit of pollen from one plant to the next, allowing those plants to form seeds and reproduce. A very busy colony of honeybees can visit three million flowers every day.

A World Without Bees asks us to imagine how much of our own labour we would have to provide if we had to pollinate all these flowers ourselves. And gives us a picture of life for people whom already do. In the southern Sichuan province in China, whose entire population of honeybees were wiped out by pesticides, thousands of people pollinate their tree crops by hand, ‘holding bamboo sticks with chicken feathers attached to the end, clambering among the blossom-laden branches of their pear trees.’

Pesticides aren’t blamed for Colony Collapse Disorder (which is different to the problem in China), but they may play a part in reducing bee immune systems, making them more likely to suffer from stress and disease. So far no one has an answer to the problem, we only know it’s going to be a disaster if it carries on getting worse.

So what can we gardeners do? Well we can’t solve CCD. We’ll have to leave that to the scientists and policy makers, but we can do as much as possible to make our own gardens hospitable for other pollinators that aren’t affected by it – bumble bee and other wild bee species, moths and butterflies, hoverflies and many other beneficial species. Next time I’ll show you how.

A World Without Bees, Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum, Guardian Books

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Almost forgot – Slug Watch in Guardian on saturday

Almost forgot to mention – check out the Saturday Guardian this weekend. There’s edited highlights of Slug Watch in the gardening pages and a picture taken in the garden pre-sheep attack.

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Baa Baa Kill Sheep

My computer is back with a new internal logic board and I wish I had one too. Why do I bother? This is the question I asked myself in a rich expletive laden shout across the valley on Thursday morning. Closely followed by …ing sheep and …ing farmers. OK I know farmers have a hard time of it and we should all be deeply sympathetic about their plight in difficult years (and I am) but I’ve never understood why there isn’t a law allowing gardeners to shoot sheep that are quite clearly guilty of worrying their vegetables. These vegetables are just as much a part of our livelihood as the sheep are of there’s. Of course being an animal lover I wouldn’t – and being a wimp probably couldn’t – kill a sheep in cold blood – but if I did I think I would calm my ethical qualms and claim diminished responsibility. After several months of careful preparation, rubble shifting, fence making, soil cultivating, seed germinating, slug watching and whole pounds of love, care and devotion heaped upon that tiny plot of soil the whole of this years adventure has been brought to a disappointing and literally crushing end by sheep – or hill munchers as we call em round here. The broad beans bent double, the french beans naked from the waist down, stripped of their leaves and their modesty. The lettuce are sawn off – munched literally to within an inch of their life. The strawberries have gone. The nasturtium are a thing of the past. The comfrey mutilated. The gate knocked down like a summer wicket – the bails down the crease. Pitched over by a googley. The willow I made it from smacked about by a big moving piece of leather. I have replaced it all with boring, un-beautiful but effective chicken wire. The sheep will not be back. This is going to sound like the story of the blues but since the incident its been raining for five solid days. You know the sought of thing ‘My woman she gone left me, the rain has soaked me to the skin, the sheep have crushed my broccoli, I’m all about done in. I’ve got the blues. Oh yes sir got the blues.’ I haven’t had the heart to go back up there since. Slug watch is all washed up. Its difficult to carry on a proper analysis (if you can call it that) when half your experiment has become the raw material for wool. If only I could use slug bugger to repel sheep. Were the slugs even bothered by the actual sheep? I know I should clear up the patch, see what’s what and start all over again. Get back on the horse, or whatever the gardening equivalent saying would be. Ride my carrot again. But I think for this season at least – its time to cut my losses. What happens now? Repairs, fence making, gate building, preparation for another beginning. That’s the good thing about gardening – there’s always next year. What have I learnt about this whole experience? Not much that I didn’t already know. One thing I will say – why do TV gardening programmes never show disasters like this. Wouldn’t they be so much more enjoyable if they did. To me gardening is a flesh and bone struggle with elemental forces, a hard fought battle against the forces of circumstance, a passionate trauma. The one thing gardening isn’t, is easy. Not for most of us. Until next time…

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This slug is looking like a ghost slug

This story is a couple of weeks old now but I’ve found a link for some TV footage so take a look. It’s a new type of slug previously unknown to science and lives soley on earth worms. Although the news presenter in the video suggests there is nothing to worry about with this slug I wouldn’t want them in my garden killing off earth worms, which of course are massively beneficial. It is thought to have been imported to Britain by mistake from another country, just like that other worm killer the flatworm. It’s a welsh slug so its been given a Welsh latin name Selenochlamys ysbryda. Ysbryda is Welsh for ghost. The library computer wont let me make a link so I’m afraid its a cut and paste job. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_east/7498195.stm

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Slug Watch – the late season

There are some books that say that you can generally cease all slug control measures when your plants reach a certain level of maturity. But this leaves the question how do you know exactly when they have reached it. Recently I’ve relaxed the regime to see what happened when I stopped putting the comfry out and stopped the picking. The result as you might expect was a full frontal attack on the weaker plants in my fraternity. The runner beans I bought as plants and put in later than the french beans have been particularly badly hit, with one plant totally gone and the others performing weakly with retsricted upward growth and minimal leaf cover. The french beans have done really well the other side of the bean poles and although I have found slugs and snails on them they are big enough to withstand attack. I have also noticed that the peas already weakened by attack earlier in the year have been a target of further attacks. Thinking about natural predators the one ultimate drawback with most of them is that they can’t actually climb! What a bummer. Snails and slugs are fairly easy targets when they’re sitting on my bean pole but I’m the only one whose ever going to reach them – apart from that is carnivorous slugs. I hadn’t seen this before last night and it is a particularly gruesome sight. In this case two slugs were attacking a third at the same time – one on either side. I watched for a while until I felt slightly repelled by the whole thing and moved on. The great thing is I still manage to have a big salad every day with leaves (that have hardly been effected) and peas (which have given a good crop), without using any sort of bought slug control or traps. The only major pest damage to the plot this year has been from a mouse. I have recently noticed aphids on the broad beans but they can be easily removed by crushing between finger and thumb – taking care not to damage any leaves or stems in the process. A quick job easily done with no risk of harming any natural predator in the process.

My computer at home broke the other day so I’m writing this from the library. It’s amazing how cut off I feel at home now. With immediate effect I started feeling disadvantaged by the absence of technology, at a loose end and slightly down at the thought of not being able to get in touch with people – through the blog, facebook, emails and so on. I’ve come to rely on my ibook as a portable extra friend so it was with some worry I allowed a courier to take it off to the apple care repair centre. I’m not sure when it will be back. In the meantime I’ll hope to carry on posting ad hoc whenever I’m near a computer I can use.

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