Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Gardening with Birds

Birds, birds, birds...  I have to admit they were here first...

I have a bit of a dilemma with the birds in my garden. 

Here's my story....

I prepared my veg patch by deturfing it, turning the soil, raking the soil, feeding the soil and then I thought I was ready to plant the seeds.  I was a bit behind in sowing as I only moved house at the beginning of April - we were about mid April at this point due to the work I had to put in before reaching this point.  So I sowed my seeds and waited for them to pop out of the ground.  After a week I would look at the soil everyday waiting for signs of life but couldn't see anything.  I waited another week continuously checking the soil and then I saw it... the resident magpie was eating my pea seeds!  A day or two later the pigeons were completely grazing on the plot and had probably been grazing on my seeds the whole time when I hadn't been looking.  On inspection, I could see little holes all over the place, probably where they'd squeezed their beaks in to get at those no doubt delicious seeds.

I have to admit, they were here first and they live in the tall trees surrounding the garden.  The birds in question are magpies and pigeons.  To be honest, if I was a bird and someone exposed the soil and started planting edible things into it, I would see it as a snack source too.  Its probably a lot easier to get at the seeds in the exposed soil of the veg patch than scratching around on the lawn.  Who can blame them? 

So now I am game planning how to grow veg with birds around.  I am new to dealing with them as a pest and I don't want to think of them as a pest but would like to live in harmony with them and get to eat my veg all at the same time.  Someone else pinching my veg makes me very upset!

The Soil

I am new to growing direct in garden soil.  Prior to seeing my grazing neighbours visiting the snack shop that is the veg patch, I was worrying over whether the soil was not soft enough and easy for the seedlings to poke through and make their home. 

When my father came to visit he checked the soil (with a very cool PH/water probe) and confirmed that it has an excellent neutral PH (erring little on the acidic side but only very slightly) and it also has perfect water content - not too little, not too much.  I guess the garden being on a bit of a slope is helping with this drainage and the West Midlands rain is also making a good contribution! 

The soil looks nice and loamy to me.  I didn't get as far as the jam jar and water test but it feels nice, smells nice, lots of big worms in the soil.  I've fed it a little with worm casts (which probably introduced a few tiger worms into the soil also).  But I still had this paranoia that the soil just isn't soft enough for new, delicate seedlings to establish, so I've put a thin top layer of peat free compost for them to germinate in.  Maybe this was just paranoia and the only reason I didn't see much germination was that they'd been snacked on - but there's not much time to get things going now so I want to throw every chance at these seedlings to establish! 

Row divisions - Square Metre Gardening Method

I am sowing incorporating a little bit of inspiration of square metre gardening but on the scale of things in my plot. 

My plot is divided into 6 x 50cm wide rows and I'd already decided to split each row into 4 sections making 4 x 50cm2 sections per row making ideal sections for growing large crops like squash for example. 

When sowing the smaller crops like roots, spring onions, radishes, salad, etc I've divided each section into 4 making 4 x 25cm2 in each of my sections.  So for example in a root section I should have a 25cm2 of carrots, 25cm2 of beetroots, 25cm2 of salsify and 25cm2 of parsnips.  I will be blogging on this in a month or two so watch this space for progress!

The Protection (from grazing birds)

I've been looking for methods online and spotted on the RHS website placing fleece over the seedlings while they establish.

I'll keep you posted if this works.  In the meantime I have placed an order with Organic Gardening Catalogue for some bird repellants which use sound, sight and feel to dissuade them away from the veg patch. 

I also need to raid the CD collection for some that I will never think of listening to again!
I'm new to gardening with birds and I'm learning day by day - do you have any tried and tested methods that work for you?

Monday, 14 May 2012


I find May a tricky month.  She toys with us... gives us warm days but with lots of unpredictability to boot.

I've been reading fellow bloggers saying let May dance through your garden and that its the real start of growth in the gardening year, but for me, impatiently wanting to get my seedlings planted out... it's the month when I've suffered for my impatience the most.  Perhaps those bloggers were thinking of the cottage garden display rather than their veg patch!

If I were to think of a month I find exciting as a gardener it would be March.  You see the lush green shoots popping up everywhere but I'm not brave enough to plant my tenders out just yet because in all likelihood there are more frosts to come.

And the place I got bitten with May's unpredictability?  In London.  London's supposed to be free of frost by May, well certainly after the 15th May, but I've suffered windy weather which saw me making upcycled cloches out of plastic bottles.  Despite my ingenuity I was too late with one of my tenders - the wind snapped the main stem off a poor squash seedlings which killed it rather swiftly and left me with only one survivor.  I've also found temperatures dropping by 5 - 10 degrees in the latter half of May, again this was in London where it is supposed to be warm enough to put things out.  So many a fretful gardening experience in May.

I'd say err on the side of caution and wait til June where ever you are - unless you are feeling really brave.  I've had too many fretful times in the month of May.

I can't wait til June when I'll be finally planting my tenders outside.  However, I've recently moved 129 miles in a north westerly direction so I will try to be very restrained and wait until after the 7th June to get my veg plot fully populated.  Ah impatience, I know her so well!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Squash Fantastic

Look at these monsters!  Zucca Lunga di Napoli (Franchi Seeds) - guessing they're going to make some massive winter squashes...

 These are slightly more polite in size but still eager to have more space for their roots - Zucca Berretina Piacentina (Franchi Seeds)

One of my HSL favourites from last year - Zapallito de Toscana (from saved seed so I hope they didn't cross polinate with anything else I was growing last summer)

And another superstar from last year's growing - Gem Squash.  Again, saved seed but I'm more confident that they will be true to type as I was more attentive with their pollination.  The fruit are absolutely gorgeous stuffed with goats cheese and slow roasted tomatoes and baked Stuffed Gem Squash Recipe

And look the Gem Squash loves me back! This one's baby leaves grew in a heart for me - how sweet :)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Project New Veg Plot Continues

Half a month on from my last post about the new garden and the veg plot has been fully deturfed and the rhubarbs been slightly thinned out!  (It was a very scrummy rhubarb crumble)

We then had that really harsh wind storm and I thought the next door neighbour's eucalyptus tree was going to come down on our garden, it was being whipped around like it was a bendy twig.

I was very relieved I hadn't planted anything into the veg patch by then or I would have been watching my poor veg being destroyed by the winds from the upstairs window or worst still traipsing through the wind and the rain with all manor of contraptions to try and save my poor veg.  This has happened before, sometimes during rain storms in the middle of the night and now I don't plant my beloved squash until after the 1st June for that very reason!

As quickly as the wind and rain came, within about 6 hours they abated and the following morning we had a really warm spring day with sunshine and temperatures in the plastic greenhouse reaching nearly 30 degrees.

This was most definitely a gardening day!!  I turned all the soil in the veg patch to loosen it up and get some air in and added all the worm casts my wormery to offer (and some bits that weren't strictly quite ready to use!) to add a bit of nutrition to the soil.  I dug this in to the upper layer of soil and then raked the whole bed.

With time I won't dig the patch so much, using spent roots to rot into the ground and add their own nutrients and not digging were possible.  However, this patch of ground has been grassed over for what looks like a considerable amount of time, certainly a few years so my thoughts were to initially loosen the soil ready for the population of veggies that will soon find their home there.

I then popped in for a cuppa and a sit on the sofa.  All that exercise had made me tired!  But I was still in gardening mode and on a roll so I didn't want to stop when I sat down for a rest.  I reached for a pad of paper and drew up a plan.

The plot is roughly 4m x 2m and can be neatly divided into 6 rows.  There are planks conveniently stacked against the fence at the end of the garden which I will use to make my paths.  Each of these rows I will divide into 4 squares (about 50cm square).  I got the inspiration for this plan from the square foot gardening idea.

Today its windy and rainy again but I'm itching to plant some peas, carrots and spring onions and get this plot started!!

Maybe the surface needs to be raked once more before I'm completely ready... Patience is a difficult thing when you're itching to have your own crops growing in your back garden!