Saturday, June 19, 2010

All things bright and beautiful...

...all creatures great and small. the theme for this weeks gallery is creatures. I am sure there will be some great photos and posts, but I don't expect them to make me well up like some did last week.

I enjoy gardening and growing things, I never expected to, neither my parents or grandparents showed any enthusiasm. My Dad's garden was always utilitarian and practical, grass in the middle with a pernial border round the outside, my mum never ventured near one. My grandmothers were home makers and gave me a passion for food. One Granddad made things out of stone and wood , the other was more interested in being a local counciller and Catenian (a kind of Masons for Catholics).

When I first scattered some seeds I didn't realise how much gardening would become a part of my life and that the creatures in my garden and allotment would become either my aides or adversaries.

My Adversaries

Ants. I used to quite like ants. I once even spent an evening on a balcony in Turkey admiring their communication an industriousness- A piece of crisp was too big for the ant that found it, so he went and got some mates, they realised it was too big to get through their front door, so got even more mates who helped break it up into bits that would fit through. That was then. Now I know that they are responsible for setting up little 'farms' all over my gardens and allotments, and I don't like them so much.

You see the... lets call them secretions... of aphids and other little bugs are like a sweet delicacy to ants. So what the clever little ants do is get a few black-fly or scale bugs and put them in a place where they will thrive, such as my broad beans or newly planted contorted willow. The ants then farm the sweet 'secretions', the bugs multiply and my plants or crops wither and die. The above photo is a scale bug ant farm on my contorted willow.

Slugs and snails. An obvious foe. I am sure that anyone who takes gardening even half seriously has come up against these slimy critters. When I first started growing salad I used to go out on snail watch every night. The snails would come out of their lair of decaying leaves under the laurel bush. I would be there armed with a torch and gardening gloves (I'm not so squeamish now). With a quick flick of the wrist they would go flying over the wall into the adjoining ally. Alive to fight another day. This was the phoney war. I have now resorted to chemical warfare. In every other aspect of gardening I am organic, but when it comes to the slimy fellows I now use slug and snail pellets.

I grow enough salad to not be too bothered about the odd snail or two, but I use the pellets when I am growing seedlings. There is nothing worse than spending months germinating, nurturing and overwintering peas or beans only to find a seed tray of stumps in the morning with several snails hanging about rubbing their belly's.

The Pea Weevil.
A relatively new adversary of mine. This is the first year I have had an allotment and whenever I grew beans or peas before I had not come across the wee beasties. It was the beginning of spring when I first noticed weirdly shaped leaves on my peas, I had only transferred them from pots the week before, and was sure they didn't have the strange leaves then.

All the edges were serrated with semi-circular shaped holes. They looked too regular and perfectly cut to be a pest and I thought it was just the way they grew. Then I noticed the broad bean leaves were the same. Wit Google's help, I soon found my foe. It seems there isn't too much to worry about, the plants soon grew on and only the bottom leaves are affected. The only problem is if they lay there larvae in the soil around the plant, they can then eat through the roots and kill it.

All seems okay at the moment, but they are on my radar.

My Aides

Bacteria and Worms

These two creatures make up only a small part of the soil ecosystem, but if it wasn't for bacteria, all my household and allotment waste would amount to sludge at the bottom of a wheely bin.

If I'm lucky, such as in this photo, I get some well rotted horse manure which is riddled with worms. If I didn't have this to spread on my garden and allotment at the beginning of winter, my veg and flowers would never be so good.

Every time I open my compost bin I am greeted by the sight of a mound of wriggling worms. Not that pretty I agree, but just like the 'secretions' of the bugs to the ants, worm 'secretions' are a luxurious delicacy to my plants.

There is something that makes all these little battles worth the effort.

Usually my Littledude creature decides that he won't go anywhere near a roasted carrot, put a finger on a steamed stem of broccoli or munch on a piece of mango. However last weekend I brought home my first pea harvest, we opened up a pod and offered it to him. Low and behold, he popped them into his mouth, one after the other, like sweets. It made me feel all warm inside to know my perseverance had paid off and I knew exactly where his food was coming from and what was in it.

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