The allotment is coming along; dragging its feet through the mud, brightening a little on the occasional day of sunshine and then retreating into an almighty sulk in driving winds and rain. Grow? Me? In this weather? Are you mad?
Well, yes, probably. But it is a dogged insanity. The garlic crop was a disaster, the potatoes barely enough in number to grace the plate of a supermodel and the peas, beans and courgettes have been replanted two or even three times, as the slugs party on merrily, oblivious to the curses raining on their heads as they chomp their way through the slender shoot of a French bean, only to see the entire edifice crash to the ground.
Even so, we shall not be defeated. If gardeners weren’t such eternal optimists, we’d have all packed up our trusty spades by now. So the fight goes on, particularly with enemy number one, the slug. (Fascinating fact: sales of slug pellets at B&Q have gone up by 90 per cent. But as we garden organically, those are not an option.)
Right now, the allotment looks as if we’re growing a crop of plastic. In every spare inch is an upended bottle, baited with beer. (Fascinating fact number two: slugs prefer stout to lager.) My allotment partner, she of little faith, was convinced the beer traps would not work and bet we’d find no drunken slugs on our return the following day. I bet there’d be 30.
A slimy, silver, mocking trail
I won by a margin of 90 on day one, and the numbers continue to mount. However, given the breeding alacrity of the slug, this is small fry; so we tried organic grit around our most precious plants. The principle is that the slugs would be attracted to the grit because for them it is, apparently, Michelin five-star food. They would inch their way along it, eat it and keel over.
They certainly inched their way, but straight to the courgettes, leaving a mocking web of silver trails across the grit.
Chickens adore slugs, so those who have not died a beery death are fed to the chickens
So, for now, it’s builder’s gravel and hand-to-hand combat. We have a chicken coop next to our plot, and chickens adore slugs, so those who have not died a beery death are fed to the chickens, who become so excitable at our arrival that they start tapping furiously at their wooden enclosure with their beaks.
Even so, you can have too much of a bad thing and not enough of a good. There are no earthworms on our plot. Not a single one. It’s a sight I have never before beheld and, as they are the workers of the underworld, a very sorry sight indeed.
Our soil, which has not been worked for years, is solid clay and, despite raised beds and barrow loads of compost, the worms have not been able to work their way through the clay to their new home.
Fascinating fact number three: you can buy earthworms on the internet. But £75 for 500 worms seems a little excessive, so it was down to the local angler’s shop to buy its entire stock for £20. They come refrigerated, in plastic containers, like a Chinese takeaway. I don’t think I have ever been so happy planting anything, scooping out holes and delivering the precious cargo into the earth.
Along with the slugs and worms, we have an archaeological dig going on. My daughter, home from university, decided to clear the bramble and nettle-infested slope next to the shed and create a wildflower garden. She dug each thorny root down to Australia, and discovered along the way, first a solitary boot, then a sock, then five empty cement sacks and an upturned wheelbarrow; now half excavated.
What with the boot and the cement sacks, God knows what lies beneath. But I can only hope that what has been a killing field doesn’t turn into a murder inquiry.