As I have wondered around my garden over the last few days, checking the progress of my plants, I have been delighted to see a host of tiny friends, busily munching their way through the thousands of aphids and blackfly, that have occupied every available bit of green. Everywhere I look I see them, these garden friends and a very welcome sight they are and whilst the Harlequin is by far the most common variety in my garden, I have seen a few Cream Spots and Two Spots hanging around as well. You see what I have in abundance at the moment are baby Ladybirds, dozens and dozens of them.
I asked Middle Mudlet if she knew what a baby Ladybird looked like and probably in line with 99.9% of the nations children, she immediately said:
“Yes, they are red and have two spots on their backs!”
So I took her out on a mini safari (Little Mudlet was shopping with Mud) and showed her the army of strange looking larva currently chomping their way through the pests, much to the disgruntlement of the ants who had been carefully farming the aphids for the last few weeks. She was suitably amazed at how unladybirdlike the larva looked, as was her younger sister when she got back from town, and it wasn’t long before ‘spot the baby caterpillar’ had become the new favourite pastime in Mudville.
Ladybirds aren’t the only friends we have in the garden at the moment but they are the most easy to see, as some of the larger ones are a bit more camera shy. That said, whilst looking over the potato bags the other day, checking the water levels and also the plants themselves for signs of disease, pest or flowers, I managed to get a sneaky glimpse of one of our pond dwelling friends and snapped a picture of him sitting stock still, trying to pretend he wasn’t there. I often find toads and frogs of varying sizes hidden amongst and under the pots and bricks in the garden, and I have even had to rescue some of the tiniest ones from the heat of the greenhouses when they have found their way in. Much as I appreciate their bug eating capabilities, a greenhouse is not the best place in the world for a froglet or young toad to try and find a nice cool hiding place.
Mind you another of our garden friends, Mrs Blackbird, is also proving to be a bit of a pest but I will forgive her because I have a bit of a soft spot for the Blackbirds. What is she doing? She’s eating the strawberries! Not all of them but enough so that I am going to have to move the plants with fruit on them onto the flat concrete pad in front of the greenhouses, and cover them with netting. That said we have had a few berries and the Mudlets are happily having them sliced into their cereal in a morning and whole in their packed lunches – I did say that 120 plants wasn’t too many!
Over the autumn, winter and early spring, I had dumped spent compost, as well as the compost left behind in the propagator seed trays once I had potted on the seedlings, onto the bed beside the little greenhouse, allowing it to be worked over by the worm population. So when I had repotted the strawberry plants back in the spring, I had used a mix of fresh compost and the stuff from the greenhouse bed. For the most part, the ‘dumped’ compost had been in situ for the whole of autumn/winter and actually had a lovely feel to it and, if the health of the plants and the number of strawberries growing on them are anything to go by, was full of nutrients.
That said, it turned out that nutrients weren’t the only thing in the recycled compost which became apparent during a routine check for ripe berries. As I checked the various pots, pulling out the odd weed and checking for signs of red fruit, I spotted a stowaway….. a volunteer!
Volunteer, for those of you that don’t know, is a term used to describe a vegetable plant which has grown but which you haven’t actually planted. Potatoes are the most common ‘volunteers’, growing from the tiniest of tubers missed during bed clearing the previous year. On Tuesday, in the school Courtyard garden, I came across a strong, 12 inches tall, tomato plant which has grown, probably from the seeds of a fruit that had fallen off last years plant and rotted away to nothing. The seed has sat dormant all through the winter and has been quietly growing, unseen, waiting to be discovered when it came time to plant up the planter. I’ve left this plant where it is and planted the Purple Podded peas around it.
But I digress. Back to my volunteer. It’s a squash plant of some description, possibly a pumpkin but only time will tell and now that it is a good size, I’ll be transplanting it out into one of the beds. I can only assume that a seed I thought had failed to grow in the propagator and which had been emptied out onto the compost heap, had finally decided to germinate. Hopefully we can get this plant to maturity because I really want to know what it is.
Over in the large greenhouse, the chillis are ready for repotting and the Little Elf plants which were sown way back in August, are finally flowering and the first tiny chilli has started to grown. A second sowing of beans from saved seed, resulted in 5 more Czar Runners but although the Cherokee Trail of Tears seeds germinated, they produced stunted and damaged seedlings and so I have consigned them to the compost and sown some of the left over seed from last year. I do have three strong, healthy Trail of Tears plants from the saved seed growing against the back fence and I will keep some of the pods from these plants for use next year. A second sowing of both mangetout varieties has produced another dozen plants (six of each) and these will be planted against the pyramids in the next day or so, to enable a continuous production of the pods over the summer.
Also in the large greenhouse we have a mixed selection of flower seedlings through, although not yet in the numbers expected for some of them and there are also 8 sunflowers growing in their bio-degradable pots but they aren’t quite ready to be planted out yet.
The smaller green house is looking rather full now and the tomatoes have almost reached the roof panels which means I will need to remove the growing tips. In addition to the 6 mature plants, most of which are flowering and/or have tomatoes already growing on the trusses, there are a good 15 or so 1 foot tall side shoots which have all rooted and are growing strong and a couple already have trusses forming. Amongst these is a Chocolate Cherry which is fantastic news, when you consider that out of about 20 seeds sown I only managed to raise about two plants to maturity. There are also two cucumber plants in this greenhouse and both of these are flowering, although they are yet to set fruit.
So all in all, things are progressing well in the garden but I do need to get outside and do some much needed weeding …. and there are the rest of the Leeks to plant out ……. seeds to sow …….. plants to pot on ……..