Preparing for garden pests, planting seeds, and a few favourite varieties

This has been a cool spring with low light levels so many of the seeds already planted have made slow progress. They seem to face cool weather with as much enthusiasm as the rest of us. But now it has changed back to a seasonal normal we can expect fast growth. However the winter has in general been mild which means that pests will probably have survived in greater numbers than they would have in a cold winter and we need to be ready for them. I’ll discuss the worst of them – slugs and snails ­ later in this article.


Keep planting seeds!

seedsThis is the time to keep planting seeds. As the soil warms, larger and more tender plants, such as courgettes can be started. If planted too early in the season they tend to sulk and are easy targets for hungry springtime slugs and snails. They are best started on a windowsill or in a greenhouse and moved outside when they are strong and are growing fast. They can then usually outgrow these pests, especially if they are planted into rich soil improved with compost or manure. Tougher plants such as broad beans and potatoes can still be planted and should be fairly pest free. Peas and beans can be planted, as can lettuces, parsnip, green broccoli, carrots, celery, spring onion, beetroot, parsley, and many other herbs. It is probably best to allow sweetcorn seeds another couple of weeks until the soil is warmer. At the end of this blog are some of the varieties I will be planting. It is well worth growing good varieties as otherwise there can be disappointment at the end of a long growing process.


Slugs and Snails

There are other pests, its true, but nothing compares with the depredations of slugs and snails. Organic growers suffer the most as no-­one has, to my knowledge, produced an effective organic method of keeping them away. Occasional and significant losses from time to time are likely for most of us. It isn’t a good feeling to find a row of seedling or plants, carefully nurtured over the weeks, suddenly nibbled to the ground. We have several options – vigilance to try to prevent or remove the offenders, putting down barriers which they don’t like to cross, and putting down pellets which they eat and which kill them. Non-­organic pellets are themselves poisonous to other species and the dead slugs can be eaten, for instance by birds or hedgehogs, and pass the poison along the food chain. This is not something I would ever like to do. There are slug pellets which claim to be organic and which are supposed to kill only slugs and snails and these might be a better option, I’m not entirely sure. There are many barriers which we are told slugs and snails don’t like to cross – copper strips, small woollen pellets, eggshells etc. I think that some of these might work for a while and I’d love to hear if you have great success with any of them. There is also an expensive organic option which involves spreading nematodeLand_Snail_600 worms in the ground. These worms attack slugs only and can be effective over a limited period and area of soil. In the end I think some sort of vigilance, such as watching out for conditions likely to encourage slugs and snails and then removing them, might work best. Growing seedlings to a fairly large stage before planting them out might also be a more effective way of dealing organically with the problem. And then facing up to the fact that some losses are inevitable and just part of a grower’s life if you don’t want to spread poisons around your plot.

I had a friend who used to put slugs and snails in a jar and take them out to the countryside. She also used to bring back cow pats from the fields for her garden. I don’t think I’d go that far. In fact I will admit that I harden my heart and stamp on them. I think giving them an instant an unexpected death is a lot better than slow poisoning. This did once shock a vegan couple who visited my allotment to see my growing methods!  I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on all this and would be happy to post them on this blog with your permission.


A few thoughts on feeding your outdoor plants…

There are a few plants which require larger amounts of compost or manure in their planting holes, before planting, to produce good crops. Chief amongst these are potatoes. Courgettes and squashes also appreciate this treatment. The cabbage and onion families are enthusiastic users of compost mulches or of chicken manure pellets. Peas and beans like to be planted into soil which is rich in organic material, this helps the ground to hold on to moisture and the plants to thrive. I will discuss making and buying composts in future articles.


Some favourite seed varieties

Some of my favourite seed varieties for reliability and flavour are:

  • Parsnip – Tender and Trueseedlings
  • Carrots – Early Nantes and Amsterdam Forcing
  • Lettuce – Little Gem
  • Beetroot – Boltardy and Detroit Globe
  • Climbing French Bean – Fasold
  • Peas – Norli, Hurst Greenshaft
  • Parsley – Italian Giant
  • Squash – Butternut
  • Leek – Musselburgh
  • Broad Beans – Aquadulce
  • Tomato – Gardeners’ Delight and Super Marmande


I will be trying the following varieties for the first time this year: ­

  • Courgette – Defender. I would always recommend planting a bush courgette like this one as the trailing types can cover huge areas of ground which are best used for other crops. Remember that 2 bush courgettes are usually quite enough for most households. Plant more and you could be desperately giving them away in a couple of months.
  • Sweetcorn – Sweet Nugget


For further advice, or to discuss any of the topics in my column, please contact me here.