Gardening guerilla

Today I planted some mesclun – “cut-and-come-again”. I’ve always preferred it to whole lettuces, firstly because you have a nice mixture, secondly because you only have to pick as much as you need and thirdly, of course, because it keeps on growing.

This year we are going to really make an effort to grow more food. Last year was a wash-out, as circumstances meant we were away for various long periods and the vegetable patch became a jungle of weeks – nettles, thistles, that awful crab grass stuff, chickweed, buttercups and dock leaves.

Not being a fully committed gardener, because my other interests take up much of my time and I can’t devote that much to the garden, I get very disheartened. Each year I carefully weed our raised beds, digging up every root and sifting the soil to make sure there’s nothing left. After carefully planting seeds or plantlets, watering them lovingly, it seems that overnight the weeds are rampant once again and all kinds of unwelcome insects are chewing through the seedlings or laying eggs on them. We put down copper strips that were meant to repel slugs and snails, and watched them drawn as if by a magnet and actually glide backwards and forwards over them. The only things that seem to flourish are rhubarb, parsley and chives. Everything else topples over, withers up or vanishes.

I know that you can deal with the slug problem quite effectively with sunken bowls of beer, and that if you hoe regularly you can kill off most weeds before they gain control. But what is the organic answer to dealing with other pests, weeds and diseases? I don’t want to use chemicals of any kind. I want one of those gardens like our French neighbours have, where all the plants are of uniform height and laden with healthy goodness. How do they do it, apart from the hoe? Any advice, please?

This is where I’ve planted the mesclun as an experiment to see how well these miniature greenhouses work. Right on the windowsill of the office, where I can keep my eagle eye on any attempted invasion from unwelcome visitors. 🙂

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10 thoughts on “Gardening guerilla

  1. I used to wonder if a Brigade of Guards drill sergeant had taught the French how to lay out a garden…all arrow straight rows…even distances between plants…God help a wayward beetroot…
    From what I’ve seen, the results rely heavily on chemicals…and a retired man keen to keep out of the house……

    We used Bordeaux mixture for blight, but that was it…otherwise it was the hoe….

  2. Not sure there’s an easy answer to weeds and slugs. I think my main trick with weeds is to pack it solid, the less soil on show the less chance of weeds! In the vegetable garden you do of course need to leave some space for the plants to breath and for you to have somewhere to put your feet. To try and cut down on weeds in the vegetable garden I therefore apply a layer of leaf mulch on the exposed soil, this stops some of the weeds from taking root, and in the meantime does a bit of good at least to the soil. In your flower garden, fill any exposed soil with ground cover plants, let the weeds try and get through them! Slugs, boo, life would be so much better without them! In the vegetable garden get rid of their hiding places. I had a few shrubs around the edge which they used to hide in when the days were too hot and dry and then leap out from at the first sign of rain or nightfall. I moved these shrubs, and now I’m lucky to have very few slugs. As for the French, I don’t think they have any secret tips, we’ve all seen the 90 year old men and women toiling over their pristine land with hoes, I think it’s just a case of work, work, work and look on it as I do; a good form of exercise!

    • Brilliant. Thank you so much. Can’t wait to slash the nettles down and make them do something useful.I do recall a French farmer friend saying you should plant your tomatoes very, very deep to allow multiple roots all down the stem, and that you should lay nettles in the ground where you plant the tomatoes, both as a fertiliser and as a pest deterrent.

  3. I’ve given up trying to grow anything on purpose. Stuff grows, like sage, bayleaf, chives, and rosemary but tomatoes are always hopeless and I go on holiday at the exact moment when anything that has come up ripens.

    I’ve had a raspberry bush for about five years, last year I got 10 raspberries, same for gooseberries.

    I’ve even got a compost heap that I dig into the soil to enrich it every year. Might as well save my back. I tried to grow mesclun one year. It came up ok, then grew rampant overnight and was attacked by insects. I tell you, I really can’t be bothered! And the seeds aren’t cheap either!

  4. I know how you feel, Sarah. It isn’t as easy as the French neighbours make it look. 🙂 And the price of seeds! I picked up 4 packets last week, peppers, tomatoes, rosemary and coriander – 26 euros! Let me tell you, I put them back again. You can buy a lot of tomatoes and peppers with 26 euros. I’ll be saving the seeds from what we eat and trying them. Although I expect they’re GM’d and hybrids and won’t produce what I expect. Still, I don’t like to be defeated so am going to try really hard to make things happen.

  5. Lidl is the place for seeds Susie, not in stock yet, but I’ll let you know when I see them as they are under 50c a packet. Our French neighbours use a lot of spray, but I have also been told by them to sow much closer together than I would think, less room for weeds. We try to hoe to keep on top, but despite having a fairly productive potager, every Spring the weeds have taken over and we have lots of work to do before planting out starts! Good luck xx

    • Thanks, Jacqui. I’ll keep my eyes open at Lidl, too. They may well be non-GM, as I find that most of their products are way ahead of the larger supermarkets as far as healthy ingredients are concerned. That’s interesting about planting closer together, I suppose it makes sense as long as the plants have enough room to spread their wings. Our veg garden is tiny, really, and yet does seem to need a lot of work for, to be honest, very little return so far. Except for potatoes, they do really well, and rhubarb.

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