07 June 2015

Eggshell Experiment

The sluggy residents of our garden have proved a problem last year and even more so this year. I am reluctant to use chemicals to get rid of them, so we've been throwing them beyond the fence, not into our neighbours' gardens but into the hedges that grow near the railway. However, every morning there was less food growing for us and more food in the slugs' tummies. Every single seedling gets eaten here, so I grow everything in containers first before planting out. I also accidentally purchased seeds of dwarf peas, which did not work at all. If you are not tall enough, you get eaten completely around here. 

There are many ways in the gardening magazines and online that claim to work, the simplest one of all - building a barrier for slugs from crushed eggshells.

Now - I am very skeptical about this, because I know that slugs and snails can climb over knives and razor blades etc. and not get hurt at all, so some eggshells, no matter how sharp, should only pose a little inconvenience to them by sticking to their foot because they are small. But using eggshells is always fun and I really enjoyed washing, drying and saving eggshells whenever we made eggy bread, scrambled eggs or baked a cake. Crushing them in hand was fun too, very satisfactory somehow :)

I decided to protect my runner bean seedlings, as there were not many of them and I like them so much.

So, did it work? The answer is..............................................................................................................partly. 

Some beans are still growing happily, while the little fella below is probably not going to make it, regardless of any eggshell barriers. Our slugs are simply adventurous.

05 June 2015

Spider Babies

Last week when we walked to town, I noticed a couple of strange clumps on a flower sticking into the road from someone’s front garden. When we looked closer we found out that this clump was made up of many many tiny spiders sitting together on their webs. There were a couple of clumps on that stem and a few days later I discovered two more on an ivy plant a few metres away. 

They would sit there and not move until I touched the stem or shook it. Then they started running away from each other on their individual silky strands. However they did not respond to the wind this way. Two days after my discovery thay have disappeared.

Determining the species was really easy, all I had to do was to type “clump of little spiders UK” into Google and the first result is the British Arachnological Society website explaining what these little creatures are:

In late summer or early autumn many spiders mature mate and produce eggs. The common Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) lays from three to eight hundred yellow eggs that she cements together and covers in a dense layer of coarse protective yellow silk and detritus. When spring comes the following year, bundles of tiny yellow spiderlings with a black spot on their rear end can be found. If disturbed, the bundle of babies will 'explode', with individual spiderlings dispersing away from each other on tiny silken safety lines. Once the danger has passed they climb back up the web and form a clump again. Before emerging from their egg sac, the spiderlings moulted once. Once emerged, they remain together until they have moulted yet again and grown big enough to be independent.” (text taken from http://wiki.britishspiders.org.uk/index.php5?title=Young_Garden_Spiders )

These spiders are now running around our gardens (and probably around yours as well, if you see a spider with a cross pattern on its bum then you found one). Last year we had a massive one next to our water barrels and quite often I would throw an ant into its web and watch it do its thing. It was fascinating. I cannot believe that having studied biology and being really trained to look around for small creatures it has taken me until now to discover a clump of spider babies. But I guess better late than never, I am a little bit smarter now ;-)

03 June 2015

The Joys of Composting

When I was little “compost“ was just a weird word that reminded me of compote“. Some years later it changed into this gigantic untidy heap of dead stuff that we had at our cottage until last summer when I moved here, where there are two big black plastic composters. They sure do make it more tidy, but they make turning of the rotting compost almost impossible. So no-one ever did it. A couple of years‘ worth of matter was piled up in these composters, so I decided to empty them and give them a new start.

This may not be the best picture but it nicely shows the layers of decayed things at the bottom with larger and less decomposed things on top. The fauna of the compost is incredible. Woodlice, millipedes, centipedes, spiders, earthworms... All of these feed there, live there, poop there, breed there and die there, their bodies being decomposed by other organisms and eventually contributing to the overall health of the garden where we are trying to grow our food. That truly is a joyous picture, isn’t it?

The bottom of the pile was a lovely rich soil mostly made up of very small leaf leftovers. I have already used most of this to earth up my potato plants and enrich the soil for other plants. It's been an afternoon of hard work, but the sight of fresh nutritious soil in the golden light of setting sun was definitely worth it.
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