As we leave peak growing season and descend into autumn, we like to take stock and identify some of the season’s more problematic crops and collate a kind of ‘veggie/fruity risk assessment sheet’ that can be referred to and actioned upon next year. The results of your risk assessment might leave you with more questions than answers, such as “what’s wrong with my vegetable plants” and in this post, we’ll do our best to answer those questions.
A combination of our propensity to allow wildlife to ‘share’ the spoils and a less-than-strict allotment regime (which we blame upon a mix of lockdown restrictions and laziness on our part) has unfortunately led to a few problems which we intend to put right. Here are this year’s top three problem areas, with possible solutions.
Problem: Brassicas pecked by birds
True to form, most of the kale and cabbages on our ill-advised, un-netted brassica bed were devastated by pigeons. We tend to avoid netting where at all possible, instead we put trust in the bird-scaring properties of old CDs dangled from bean sticks. It ‘usually’ works to an extent, but this year the local pigeon population really did a number on them, pecking the leaves to pieces.
Nick came over for a rare allotment inspection, and after getting over the shock of the shabby state that greeted his eyes, relayed a technique mastered by the wily allotmenteers from his home town of Frome. Apparently, they dangle long strips of cut-up plastic bags from lengths of string that stretch across their vegetable beds, which miraculously thwart the bird’s greedy intentions, leaving Frome’s finest brassicas unbesmirched by beak.
Solution: Ditch the CDs and install a patented ‘Frome Brassica bag belt’ across the beds.
Problem: Apples scrumped by various creatures
Thanks to a combination of circumstances, our allotment apple trees that started off ripe with promise at the start of summer have been left practically fruitless, with barely enough apples on our five trees to rustle up a pint of cider. We’ve got a few resident deer (muntjac and roe) that live in the woods and fields adjacent to our plot, some of which have started to hang out in greedy gangs in the undergrowth that borders our hop arch. They clearly have a taste for apples, and can reach quite high into the trees judging by the nibbled branches. Furthermore, apples that would otherwise be safe from deer were sent tumbling from the branches during the unseasonal summer storms, and in turn, were hoovered up by opportunist animals.
Solution: Install a waist-high fence around each tree, socially distanced at least 1 metre from the trunk, constructed from wooden stakes and chicken wire. For cider making, we tend to pick windfall apples to ensure maximum ripeness, so grass is best left uncut in the vicinity of each tree to protect the fruit as it falls. The long grass will also help hide the fruity bounty from the delinquent deer.
This year, the fruit on Nick’s bounteous, back-garden apple tree have suffered from codling moth attacks, an infliction identifiable by the round holes found on apples caused by caterpillars burrowing in via the stalk and then departing the core. They will be fine for throwing into the cider press, but not so great for eating or displaying in a fruit bowl.
Solution: Pheromone traps (open-sided boxes that contain sticky paper to trap the moths) are a common solution, and can be hung from the branches of apple trees from early May. The more ‘wildlife-friendly’ solution (unless you are a codling moth) is to encourage animals into your garden that will dine upon the caterpillars. Make your garden a desirable place for birds, hedgehogs and beetles, they are your predatory friends.
Problem: Beanstalks chewed
Whilst the runner beans grown in my back garden have been productive (the variety Polestar comes highly recommended) the same cannot be said of the ones grown on the allotment.
Runner beans that survived initial pigeon attacks had their stalks bitten through at the base; the culprit this time being the large squad of rabbits that roam the allotment site, looking for an easy meal.
The installation of a chicken-wire fence, something we promised to install at the start of the year but never quite got round to doing. We will enclose the runner bean beds with a metre-high fence, the bottom third of which will be folded to form an L-shape, and buried in a shallow trench to stop the rabbits from burrowing under. Next year we shall be prepared. Oh yes.
What problems have you encountered in your vegetable patch this year? Let us know in the comments.