Plants vs Snails – the endless war

Snails.
Yes, SNAILS. Where the hell do they all keep coming from?

This week has been hot and sunny. This weekend is going to have to be one of planting out and potting up.

I came home the other day to discover that the plants on one of my windowsills had all wilted, but they’ve all seemingly recovered again after a quick soak. Phew! These plants are going to have to be planted out, or they’ll become too lanky or stressed to do anything.

In my last post I noted that I’d planted out my new Lupin ‘The Governor’ plant. Prior to this, there were no snails to be seen. However, knowing what they’ve been like previously, I decided to circle the new lush green plant with some special ‘fizzy sweets’. It worked a treat. The next morning I checked the plant and it was relatively unscathed, but surrounded with abandoned shells.

That evening, I checked again, to find 15 snails within 1 foot of the plant. I swiftly aided them on their way, but it begs me to ask where the hell do all these snails come from?

Despite this, and through the desperation they’ve show to escape my windowsill, I have planted out some of the Sweet Pea ‘Candy Cane’, and the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ plants. This fills one of the cane structures nicely, and again i have circled each plant with those special treats for the snails. I’m hoping that the plants will soon become established, forcing the snails to leave them alone in favour of more tender juicy plants (ie weeds, or something in my neighbour’s garden).

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrids Mixed'
One of the Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ plants.

I came home a littler earlier today, to find that some of my Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ plants that I had sowed back in June 2011, and had flowered in 2012, are flowering again. These are welcome in my garden. Not just because of their flower-coated spires that reach upwards, but because they are quite happy in the shade – something my garden gets a lot of.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'
Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ – its stems reach up, with flowery bits every so often

Not far from the foxgloves, is my Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ plant with its soft blue flowers. I’ve checked back to see when the Foxgloves and Nepeta flowered last year – given that we’ve had some pretty rough weather in the first 4 months of the year, and it seems that they’re only about 10 days behind 2012.

This weekend should see the planting out of the rest of the Sweet Peas, the potting up of the Courgettes and Tomatoes, and perhaps the planting out of the Nasturtiums too. Fingers crossed for sunshine, please!

Sunshine coaxes the Foxgloves and I am bee-seiged by ‘friends’

The garden has grown a lot thanks to rain and lots of sunshine – with Foxgloves and others coming into bloom… plus a surge of bees cause a problem!!

After weeks of dreary rain, and then days of hot sunshine, the garden has rapidly grown.

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrids Mixed'
The first Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ flowers

Today has seen the first flowers emerging from the lush green growth that has flourished in the recent weather conditions. The Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ that I sowed last year and have spent months nurturing, have finally opened the first of its flowers, having spent the last couple of weeks reaching skywards with long prongs of tightly closed buds. The first of these opened today, but many others have their buds ready to uncurl in the next few days.  It’s very satisfying to see these finally come into flower.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'
The Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ survived the winter.

These Foxgloves were joined by the return of the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ with its gentle blue flowers that lure bees, and the bright white of the Caraway ‘Carum Carvi’ herb – another survivor of the winter, which probably disgusts mistaken passers-by who wonder why i’m growing ‘Cow Parsley’ (Anthriscus sylvestris).

Caraway 'Carum Carvi'
The Caraway ‘Carum Carvi’ on flower

Anyone following me on twitter will know that after all my efforts to encourage bees to the garden, I have somewhat overdone it…. by getting bees in my loft. Whilst they pose no immediate harm, a bee-keeper will soon be venturing through the loft hatch to coax them out before they do any damage.

In the meantime, their night-time buzzing and strange noises are fascinating, and there’s a distinct warm spot on my ceiling, caused by their nest, which gives an agitated buzzing reply if you gently tap it.

I’ve also planted out some of the Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’, the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ and the Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mixed’ – the latter two no doubt causing great joy amongst the snail herd.

Wigwams, French Beans and Salvia

Over the weekend I was able to dodge those April Showers to build wigwams, sow the French Beans and prick-out the Salvia seedlings.

I managed to find a few minutes over the weekend when it wasn’t raining to erect two wigwams for my climbers – the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ and also for the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’.

Bamboo Wigwam
One of the bamboo cane wigwams.

I’ve used a collection of bamboo canes and some strong garden twine – tying the canes at the top and then winding the twine around and down the full length of the wigwam – making sure that wrapped twine around some of the canes on the way down in order to give it all some strength and also to encourage the climbers.

One of the wigwams didn’t have the same number as canes, so i added a cane gripper in the middle to help hold everything together. Based on previous years experience, this means that the UK will now experience gales – as the wind tries desperately to blow them down.

As it started to rain, I returned indoors where I then set to sowing the French Beans in pots – now’s the ideal time to do this.

pricking-out

It’s so important to keep seedlings moving at the moment as it’s easy to get behind and end up with some pot-bound or hungry plants.

This week was the turn of the second batch of the Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ that I sowed back in March to bump up the low numbers of the January sowing.

Salvia 'Farinacea Victoria' seedlings 2012
There’s quite a difference between the January and March sowings of Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’.

There were 8 new seedlings in all, bringing my total to 12. These will join the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ and last year’s Salvia to bring a wash of blue flowers to the garden in a bid to encourage and support more bees.

Pricking out the Salvia 'Farinacea Victoria'
The Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ all pricked-out and potted up. They vary in size despite being sown at the same time.

The two smallest Salvia have gone into the propagator with the Dill and Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ seeds that I sowed a few days ago, in a bid to help it grow on. Btw, one of the courgette seeds has already germinated!!

Best way to grow courgettes?

I’ve grown Courgette’s in the garden – one year producing loads, last year they died from mildew. I’ve grown them in pots before but unsuccessfully (they were small and waxy and generally unappealing). What’s your trick?

The seedlings, the survivors, and the casualties

Seedlings are thriving at the moment, and there are some surprise winter survivors in the garden, but also some unexpected casualties.

It won’t be soon until I can stop buying those expensive bags of Rocket leaves, which supermarkets seem to pollute with Watercress. I don’t particularly dislike Watercress, but it seems that any bagged salad that contains Watercress is like buying a tasty crop of green leaves, with a special handful of slimy, rotting waste thrown in. It almost feels like your bag of salad has become Baby Bio by the time you get it home.

The Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ seeds that I sowed in the Unwins salad kit, germinated within 4 days of sowing, and the seedlings are now more than an inch high.

Rocket 'Skyrocket' seedlings
The Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ seedlings are growing fast.

Meanwhile, the seeds for the Parsley ‘Moss Curled’ and Chives (from the other Christmas gift) are happily growing on the next windowsill along. These will need pricking out soon. I’ll have more than enough of these plants.

Parsley (left) and Chives (right) have germinated
Parsley ‘Moss Curled’ (left) and Chives (right) have germinated in their BBC Gardeners’ World growing kit.

Last year’s Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ has continued to thrive in its pot, so this afternoon i took some of the top soil out and replaced it with some fresh compost. I’m really pleased that this survived the harsh winter, as it was last seen completely covered in snow alongside some bright blue/indigo Polyanthuses that sadly didn’t survive. When the Salvia flowers, I hope that it will once again attract the bees into the garden.

The Salvia survived
The Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ survived the harsh winter and is lush with growth for 2012.

My second wave of 2012 Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ seed sowings seems to be more successful. I’d previously managed to prick out the paltry four seedlings from my January sowing into some 3″ pots to grow on, and now my sowing from a couple of weeks ago is beginning to see the lush green leaves poking through the compost.

Garden discoveries

I managed to spend some time in the garden lightly digging and removing some of the weeds that had managed to take hold. These weeds will easily take hold at this time of year, so it’s important to remove them now.

I discovered that a Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ has self-sown and a small but healthy plant is merrily growing halfway along a border. The Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ has self-sown – again, another flowering plant popular with bees.

Sadly, my Rosemary Upright Rosemary Officinalis (which I often use in cooking as it grows fast and is very aromatic) was unable to survive the hard winter in its pot, so I’ll aim to replace this soon.

Being Bee Friendly

Bees play a crucial role in the garden and also in the food production industry. Crocuses make the perfect early food for them.

It’s no surprise to anyone who has read my earlier posts, or who knows me, that I love bees and I dream of having my own hive one day. I bought a book called ‘Keeping Bees: Looking After An Apiary’ by Vivian Head some time ago, and watched with interest when Alex Langlands tried bee-keeping on the Victorian Farm series.

Bees are enchanting, and the benefits of their work really are significant in food production. Yet we have taken them for granted for so long.

According to the Cooperative’s ‘Plan Bee’ campaign:

“bees pollinate a third of the food we eat, so without them there would be no apples, onions or even tea!”

A Bee at work
The only bee that I managed to catch on camera.

I’ve been trying to consciously pick plants that bees really like – this has ranged from visiting garden centres and following the buzzing sound until I find the plant they’re going crazy for (as has been the case with the Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ and the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’), and reading up on different plants that attract them.

Today I managed to plough my way through the Christmas shoppers (!!) to pick up 70 Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs whilst on a visit to Huntingdon Garden and Leisure. Crocuses are great for bees, because they flower early in about February or March when there are very few other flowers in the garden. This early bloom gives bees the perfect source of food as they hungrily emerge from hibernation.

Crocus 'Ruby Giant'
The Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’ bulbs need to go in now for Spring 2012 colour.

According to Vivian Head, bees also appreciate Winter Aconite, Snowdrops, Gorse, Hazel, Willow and Yew in the spring. I know that I don’t have any of these other plants, trees or bulbs in the limited space that I do have in my garden, so these crocuses will be crucial.

By the time that their flowers begin to die off, my other plants like the Nepeta and Salvia, as well as the 50 Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ that I’ve grown from seed, should be coming into bloom. I only had one foxglove in the garden in 2011, but my shady garden should be awash with towering spires of irresistible bell-shaped flowers for the bees to climb in to.

It’s important to leave a little water out for bees too – even just a shallow dish with a few pebbles in it so that the bees can have a drink without drowning.

Do your bit. Bee Friendly.

Strawberry picking and some new arrivals

The garden is continuing to provide as the first strawberries are picked; the second courgette is picked; and new plants arrive.

Darting in and out of rain showers, I managed a couple of tasks in the garden this afternoon. The second Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ has now been picked – smaller this time, and weighing in at 275g. There’s plenty of flowers and some more little courgettes forming, but it’ll be at least a week until there’s another one to pick.

Strawberry 'Fragaria x ananassa Elsanta'
Behold! A ripe Strawberry ‘Fragaria x ananassa Elsanta’

Having spotted a Blackbird staring at a red strawberry on Friday morning, I had a good look at the strawberry situation today and found that there wasn’t one but three that were ready for picking. There’s many more forming too, but those are still a healthy green. These are from the two Strawberry ‘Fragaria x ananassa Elsanta’ plants that I picked up a few weeks ago. I’ve picked the three ripe fruits and had them with a little (about a teaspoon!) of set yoghurt – they were wonderfully sweet. Last year’s variety didn’t really fruit in these pots and spent most of the time just dying. A few runners made it to the ground, so there’s about 5 second-generation plants surviving, whilst the originals died off.

This afternoon after gym, I went back to Twenty Pence Garden Centre over in Wilburton, where I’d seen the wicker planters a few weeks back. It was here that these had entered my consciousness and had set me wondering whether I could plant my four Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants in them, seeing that the garden itself is pretty full. I’ve ended up with one that’s apparently for ‘Beans, Peas and other rigourous plants’ so whilst it is taller, I really bought it for the width and depth of it. I’ll be planting this up tomorrow, once I’ve sourced some more compost.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' alongside the Hydrangea
Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ alongside the Hydrangea

Whilst there, I also found yet more blue flowers in the form of Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ (Catmint) which I was attracted to more by the buzzing sound first rather than the colour. As i picked it up, the bees were following me in protest of me taking their food. I’ve now planted this towards the sunnier end of the garden. I moved the Tarragon French ‘Artemisia Dracunculus’ because it really hasn’t looked very happy and the vigorous growth of the courgette was beginning to intrude.

I spotted a slightly desperate-to-escape pot of Nasturtium ‘Peach Melba’ and so picked that up too. I figured that I could put some of these into the wicker basket pot with the aubergines. I’m aware that Nasturtium can also ward off some garden pests and that the young leaves are good in salads too. They’ve got a chance.

I also had time to pop over to Huntingdon Garden and Leisure, where I picked up a tray of Marigold ‘French Double Mixed’. These plants look sturdy enough to withstand those home-moving little pests, and I will be planting these in the gaps that I’ve made through pruning the Campanula ‘Persicifolia’ back.