Grow Your Own Veg: Common garden problems

It’s been a strange year so far, weather-wise, and this has caused some problems in the kitchen garden. For starters, there was a mild March then a lot of waterlogging from heavy rains in April, followed by a spell of unusually warm weather in May.

This has affected the growing cycles of some plants, and favoured certain garden pests too. Many seeds simply rotted in the ground, or failed to germinate. This has mostly been fixable with re-sowing, but some have had to be abandoned. For example, of 12 broad beans only 3 germinated, and none grew over 8cm tall after several weeks so in the end I pulled the stunted plants up and sowed extra sugar snap peas in the same spot.

I’ve had to re-sow parsley, French beans, chard, beet leaf, and a few others. Early Onward pea germination was erratic too, but sowing a few extra ones later in the season will probably turn out to be a good thing – it’s sequential sowing and should extend the cropping life of each pot of peas, so nobody’s complaining.

The rain did do one good thing: the purple and white sprouting broccoli carried on producing well into late May, so we’ve had a few extra meals from it. The plants were nearly infested by cabbage whitefly, but were saved by removal of a few leaves, water jets on affected areas each morning, and a few sprays of diluted organic washing up liquid. They don’t normally affect the edible parts of sprouting broccoli, but we were unlucky, which was why it was worth making the effort to treat.

The sudden warm weather also caused rocket and stir-fry greens to bolt, so they’ve been cut back and added to a couple of tasty salads. Weather over 21C tends to stop many types of lettuce germinating as well, so I suspect I’ll have to remedy ¬†that at a later date when the weather cools off a little.

I also decided to take pre-emptive action against some of the pests we had trouble with last year, and the year before. This was done on a budget of zero by rigging up a free gift of garden insect mesh over a few of last year’s bendy canes, and holding the edges down with tent pegs plus a few trowels of mud. Something good came out of the mud, at least. Anyway, I’m hoping this will deter winged pests such as beet leaf miners, cabbage butterflies and caterpillars, and carrot root fly. It allegedly keeps aphids out too, but I’ll have to see that to believe it.

The main pests to have benefited from the wettest April on record were, of course, our dear friends the slugs and snails. I don’t mind if a radish or two gets nibbled, but they almost succeeded in killing my mint plants, French tarragon and various greenhouse seedlings so I wasn’t very happy. The traditional deterrents of midnight slug hunts, and crushed egg shells and sharp sand scattered generously around tender plants had no real effect, so I’ve had to resort to organic slug and snail pellets for the first time ever.

They’re not toxic to the soil, pets, kids or non-sluggy wildlife (like birds), but they dissolve really quickly after a few rains or waterings so they need to be reapplied fairly regularly. They’re pretty effective though, and can be used sparingly so a ¬£6 pot of pellets should go a long way.

As I write, the greenfly and blackfly are just getting started, helped by some friendly local ants. More about them another time. I’ll also be writing about companion planting, and helping the ‘good’ garden wildlife – both things I always try to do for their beneficial effects.

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