Tuesday, June 19, 2007

April showers bring forth May flowers. (mid-16th century proverb)

They may well do sometimes but in April we had around a third of the average predicted rainfall and in May we had well over double. June has continued in the same fashion and so we’ve already had the month’s rain and it’s only 19th. All this humidity has created plenty of problems, such as blight on potatoes, tomatoes, legions of slugs and snails, fruit skins bursting on the tree, and hay going rotten. It is a particularly British trait to be able to moan about the weather whatever’s going on: too wet or too dry, to cold or too warm, never just right. For our French neighbours, they tend to be very knowledgeable and much more pragmatic about it all. When I was up re-roofing our barn that overlooks Annike last year, she’d always follow the formalities of “bonjour, bonjour, ça va? ça va!” with a, usually accurate, weather predication for the day. I put it down to countryside wisdom, or an ability to forecast from a feeling in her old bones but no, she informed me (when asked) that her information was gleaned from the television: the week ahead would be discussed each Sunday and she wouldn’t miss the daily weather report on TF1 at 1pm each day.

Everyone I’ve spoken to in the village seems to be suffering from blight (well, their potatoes, at least) so it’s not just our perma-cultural methods of growing potatoes in raised beds, mulched with straw that’s to blame. We’ve two varieties sown and one is suffering much worse than the other and it looks like we’ll have to dig up all of that one. It's disappointing to say the least, as they were the one crop that had really taken off and not been devastated by the slugs. Gabrielle’s holding off planting out the tomatoes in the hope that the weather will change soon. Talking of slugs, we can report some successes and failures in our ongoing battle with the greedy, slimy fiends.

1. Nematodes, tiny creatures that one buys in a packet, waters onto the soil where they are then meant to live for up to six weeks, eating the critters from the inside. Verdict (having bought them three or four times overall and used them in different gardens and situations) : expensive and ineffective. 2. Slug collars, copied from the catalogue of the company who sold the nematodes and manufactured out of waste plastic water bottles saved for us by our neighbours: ineffective, and we’re glad we hadn’t bought them at the price in the catalogue. 3. Beer traps: caught loads of gastropods (should that be beeropods?) but didn’t totally protect neighbouring plants. Certainly useful in a multi-pronged attack. 4. Hunting by torchlight: same as (3) really, not sufficient on it’s own but really did seem to have an effect on the population and save some plants from certain doom. 5. Cultivating around affected plants, to break the slime trail that encourages them to return: same again. 6. Placing comfrey leaves around vulnerable plants: looks promising, we’ll need some more experience before we can give a better answer. 7. We finally crumbled and bought some slug pellets sold in our local bio (organic) store and labelled as acceptable for use in organic cultivation, not harmful to wildlife: expensive but effective. Having lost about half of everything Gabrielle planted, a lot of the plants are now up and away and strong enough to resist the odd slug attack.

We’re already thinking of changing our permaculture straw-mulching strategy next year, doing something like this: leave the mulch on over winter to reduce weeds and then, just before we’re about to plant out, strip all of the straw off–thereby denying slugs and snails an ideal habitat–then hit the empty beds with a multi-pronged attack to vastly reduce the gastropod population before we place our precious seedlings. When all the plants are sufficiently strong to survive, we’ll replace the mulch (perhaps with fresh straw) to keep in the humidity and reduce weeds.

And just to balance off all this talk of too much rain, these are Monica’s words from across the Atlantic, in a very (too) dry Chickamauga, Georgia, USA. May 23rd “we are still in a very very bad drought. We have had microscopic amounts of rain and about 1/2 of our pasture is now brown. Sorry to those who live on the coast but we are hoping to have a hurricane hit and bring us some rain! Unfortunately, hurricanes are one of the ways that we get quite a bit of our yearly rain. For two years now they have pretty much passed us by: last year we got a bit fat zero from any of them. June 5th “Dry here still. We did get a very quick (5 minutes--seriously) shower yesterday. Just enough to flare the allergies, make it sticky and tease everyone with the idea of rain. To top it off---it had the audacity to send us a rainbow! Hah!---we don't want beauty---we want rain!”

I suggest that a very long pipe between Brittany and Georgia might help and, in the meantime, here’s wishing you a wet one, Monica!