Winter squash planted out but a menace lurks under glass

After a weekend of heavy weeding, the smaller of the ‘wedge’ beds was cleared of the worst of the explosion of spring growth. A nasty assortment of annual and perennial weeds had taken over, including thistles, nettles, couch grass and the ever present creeping buttercup and some as yet unidentified but not quite so invasive sort. We should have covered the bed with weed fabric over winter until ready, as we did with most of the other beds – next winter we plan to cover all bare soil as crops are cleared. It makes life so much easier when planting comes around once again. As much as possible of the perennial roots were dug out, but no doubt some remain. What small growth was left was hoed off and the soil raked over ready for planting. The soil appeared rich enough from previous applications of manure so nothing more was done.

The squash plants were somewhat overdue for planting out, particularly varieties Crown Prince and Marina di Chioggia, which had grown large and been potted on once already. The weather has been good enough for several weeks and they will rejoice to be free from the confines of their pots. Planted at modest spacings, they should grow fairly quickly to cover the soil and smother further weed growth. In the mean time, the occasional application of the hoe should keep things more or less under control.

Newly planted squash bed

Four plants each of Crown Prince, Marina di Chioggia, Musquee de Provence, and Waltham Butternut just about crowded into the bed. The smaller, bushier, Sweet Dumpling plants will have to wait until a space is cleared in the larger wedge bed, at the end of the bed that was not used for the squash last year. If only 2 squash are produced per plant, there will be 32 for winter storage – think I might have gone over the top again here. The sweet dumpling sort did not store well last year so will be eaten first rather than stored for any length of time.

Telegraph cucumber eaten away

The recent planting of cucurbits in one the glasshouses has been set back by some as yet unidentified menace. Three gherkin plants, two cornichon, and one small cucumber were lost entirely, with nothing more than a few millimetres of stalk remaining. Several Charantais melons were also attacked, but these might yet survive. Fortunately, we have some spares so should be able to fill in the gaps so long as nothing else is lost. I suppose the most likely culprit is slugs or snails, although I could not see any obvious evidence of their presence. I would normally spread a few organic approved pellets around newly planted seedlings, but somehow forgot this time. The remaining plants now have some protection. The lack of evidence left me wondering whether a small furry menace might be the cause, so a couple of bait blocks were laid down, just in case. We shall wait for a time to see what happens to the remaining plants before filling in the gaps.

Charentais melon having its growing point and true leaves eaten away. This one might regrow from one of the leaf axils.

Now, I am sure there are plenty of folk that do not like the idea of poisoning or trapping rodents. I can appreciate that, and it is a personal choice I suppose, but it can be very difficult to get rid of an infestation without resorting to harsh means. They can be very destructive, and a problem for both vegetable gardeners and chicken keepers. We have striven for some sort of balance on our plot: there is a large area left wild and overgrown for the benefit of wildlife – not to mention my sanity if I attempted to clear it – and we keep large wild hedgerows. However, within the kitchen garden enclosure, some wildlife is just not helpful. The high fencing, dug deep into the ground, coupled with electric cables, keeps the larger pests out – deer and rabbits, which would otherwise destroy the fruit and vegetables, and, for the benefit of the chickens, badgers and foxes. However, this barrier does nothing for the smaller critters – rodents, shrews, and the like. For me, these have to be dealt with.

With the exception of organic approved – or, perhaps, ‘tolerated’ would be a better word – slug pellets based on ferric phosphate, we do not otherwise use pesticides anywhere on the plot – I do not normally find it necessary, and never find it acceptable – usually a jet of water, a squish of the fingers, or a few natural remedies for heavy infestations, deal with the matter satisfactorily. We tend to have a healthy diversity of insect life, such as a great many ladybirds that tackle blackfly, despite the distinctly cultivated nature of the kitchen garden itself and I would not want to disrupt that. We have on rare occasions lost significant crops, such as when bean seed fly destroyed an entire bed of autumn sown peas and broad beans. However, even if I did have available a chemical solution I would not have used it – it is simply not worth it. More seed can easily be planted to replace what is lost. Maybe that is a little inconsistent with throwing down bait and traps at the first sign of rodents, but there it is. I draw the line at the furry fiend.

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