In almost any year Slugs are the most troublesome pests on our plots but 2021 seems to be particularly bad.
A cubic metre of soil can hold up to 200 slugs. Most of these are below ground during the day only surfacing in the evenings.
Here are some tips to help keep them at bay.
For more information about wildlife on allotment (both favourable and unfavourable) see https://enablelc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/wildlifeonallotments.pdf
Slugs and snails – these seem to be ever-present but are more mobile in warmer weather, particular after periods of rain. Leaf crops like cabbage and lettuce are favourite targets. Copper rings, crushed eggshells and beer traps are traditional solutions. Conventional alternatives include coffee grounds or bran. Slug nematodes are a natural scientific solution but can be quite expensive and require a combination of warm weather and moisture (which are certainly not guaranteed at this time of year!).
Aphids – will be sucking the sap from many types of fresh edibles now that the early signs of summer. You can squash them with your fingers or plant strong scented plants nearby (e.g. garlic) to deter them. Ladybirds are their natural predators and you can buy ladybird pupae to spread around your plot and will welcome a rich food supply when they hatch.
Asparagus beetle – these visually attractive beetles produce small grubs which can devastate asparagus when it is resting and developing as a fern. The adults can be picked off as they develop. To prevent re-emergence next year, clear away the stems in early winter and burn them (if they are stored the bugs may be able to find shelter).
During warm wet weather everything grows quickly - particularly weeds! In fact, because weeds have evolved to suit local climate and conditions they tend to outgrow whatever we may be trying to cultivate. Each square meter of soil can contain up to 100,000 weed seeds, all competing with our crops for water and nutrients, and providing a haven for slugs, snails and other pests.
The best natural ways to keep them at bay is to hoe regularly in dry weather, hand weed when the soil is moist, don’t allow them to seed, and to apply mulches to suppress growth. Light proof membranes can be used where you are not growing crops and, usually as a last resort, chemical weed killers are available.
The most common weeds are:
Bindweed – one of the most difficult weeds to overcome, it requires regular digging out destruction of every piece of root
Dandelion – remove flower heads before they seed and dig out the tap roots completely when the ground is soft (I’ve known them to grow and flower from just a root that I’d dug out!).
Bramble- highly invasive and can inflict nasty scratches. Dig out their roots completely
Goosegrass (‘sticky weed’) and Common chickweed – low growing weeds that are easily dug out by their roots.
How to keep on top of weeds...
Hoeing – hoeing takes the heads off weeds as soon as they break the surface - if beds need hand weeding then you’ve left it too late!. It’s good to hoe at least twice a month and weekly hoeing is even better. Choose a dry day if possible so that there is less moisture in the ground to allow the weeds to regenerate.
Stop digging – this made be counter-intuitive but digging can help dormant seeds within the soil to start germinating. The growing process is triggered when buried seeds are exposed to light, moisture and/or air.
Mulch – applying organic matter to the surface will bury and weeds or seeds and inhibit their development. It also allows the soil to retain moisture and nutrients allowing the intended fruit and vegetable crops to grow.
Don’t let annual weeds set seeds. Dig out dandelions and other annual weeds before their seed-heads fully develop.
Rats can become a problem on allotments where there is a good supply of food and potential nest sites in the form of sheds, wood piles and compost heaps.
Rats don’t live for very long – typically less than a year – but they can breed every 6-8 weeks with litters of 5 or more, so their numbers can increase rapidly. Killing rats has an immediate short-term effect but sustained control can only be achieved by modifying the environment.
Killing rats can only provide short term control of populations. Sustainable control can only be achieved by make the habitat less suitable for rodents to nest and feed. Their preferred food is cereal and grain but will eat fruit, discarded food, insects and small animals (and a lot more!).
Rats tend to stay within a 50 metre radius and follow the same routes - "rat runs". They feed at night so if they are seen during the day it is generally because either: food is scarce; their nests are disturbed; or their population is high.
Manage Your Plot Well: block access points in and under sheds; remove rubbish from site regularly; turn; compost heaps regularly; ensure that any structure is housed on hard standing; make your presence known (e.g. kicking compost bins).
Restrict Potential Nesting Sites: remove rubbish, old equipment from the plot • minimise the amount of materials you keep on plot (e.g. timber and sheets of tin) • (paving slabs) to prevent rodents from burrowing in underneath. For example, shed/s, storage units, greenhouses etc.
Remove Food Sources: harvest fruit and vegetables promptly; don't leave discarded fruit and vegetables on the plot; avoid using household waste on compost heaps; secure compost heaps (e.g. use bins with solid sides); don’t feed birds (rats will feed on fat balls and bird seed); and store seeds and bulbs in rodent-proof containers.
Observe Good Hygiene: thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables and discard those with signs of rodent damage; make sure you wear disposable gloves when working a plot where rodents are, or may be, present.