Looking back over the harvest from the year’s veg crops is always a useful process, I learn a lot. Carrots, beets and tatties were wonderful, best crops for years. Pumpkins and parsnips, normally easy and prolific, were a disaster, but courgettes were on the light side of ok. Detective hat firmly on, I ponder.

Parsnips are one of the crops I sow early, just because it helps spread the workout. The seed can be sown in late February if soil conditions permit. Half our veg garden has raised beds which are 18”/45cms high, which means the beds are well-drained and the soil is workable early in the year. The rest is slightly heavy soil at ground level and you can’t rush any cultivations for fear of compacting the soil. This year I was being mean (I called it being ‘experimental’ but I knew I was just being mean) and I sowed last year’s leftover parsnip seed. Unlike most veg seeds, parsnip seed is only meant to be good for one year but I reasoned that resealed foil packets might keep it viable for two years. Not a lot to ask, is it? Well, I got two parsnips. The soil was damp enough but when the seed is sown early in colder conditions it naturally takes longer to come up. It didn’t, so I went and bought a packet and re-sowed, by which time the weather had turned very dry, and though I watered I must have missed a vital few days and all I got was another two parsnips. Stuff that, I thought, and decided to fill the space with salad veg. At this time of year, I miss the parsnips but that’s life. I shall try sowing in the next few weeks to see how that works out.

I behaved and waited for the soil to be warm before sowing the carrots and beets, and it paid dividends. I thinned them when they were a few cms high and covered the carrots straight away and the beets very soon afterwards. Every garden has different pests, but carrot fly is pretty much throughout and it is said they smell carrot foliage for up to 3 miles away! I used enviromesh rather than fleece as fleece doesn’t last the full growing season, it seems to rip. You need to allow plenty of width of protective cover as the carrots will grow 30 – 40 cms high ( x 2) plus the width of bed ( x 1), plus allowance on the edges for weighing down the cover ( 2 x 4”/10 cm). I cheated and put a few rows slightly close together but it worked ok as in this garden the carrot fly are what do the damage and the closeness just means a few carrots are smaller than they might have been with more space. Almost all were fine and clean.

I had to cover the beets as the pigeons have recently taken a liking for the seedlings. Once they are 10 cms high no one bothers them until the beets start to swell so the fleece came off and I could keep a close eye on them. A few years back for the first time I found that Someone had gone along the rows taking a few bites out of most of the beets, and they were at it again last year. I have tried a new technique this year against voles, who are like mice but slightly longer and much more bolshy when it comes to eating your veg. I decided to spice things up a little and ground up lots of tiny chillies (dried in the past winter) which were too much of a fiddle to cook with. I believe it is still illegal to make home-made garden remedies and certainly to recommend them. The risk is on my head. Ground up in water, diluted, then sprayed on. I cant give quantities but it worked a treat and I only did it every two weeks 3 or 4 times. The sunshine did the rest and it was a wonderful crop with only a few bites on a few beets.

Voles are not dumb, no sirree. If someone sprays chili spray on their favourite veg they will go to their next favourite and to our surprise that turned out to be pumpkin. The pumpkin plants had grown wonderfully as the sun had shone all summer and their bed had been given a luxurious amount of compost and manure, and they loved it. We expected barrow loads of large pumpkins off the nine plants but got about eight middling and small pumpkins, and the smaller variety Uchiki Kuri had been attacked by the Wicked Voles. They made a good job of it, the pumpkins were properly hollowed out. At least they left us the three bigger ones (Atlantic Giant). Normally our pumpkins store well til December or January but by the end of October they were starting to go. The detective decided the plants had had too much nitrogen with all the rich feeding, slowly released from the manure, so it was available even while the fruits were swelling. It meant that they were soft when they should have been hardening off. Easy does it next year.
I shall have to decide what to do about the voles. I don’t begrudge them some pumpkin and beetroot, and maybe if the rest had grown big there wouldn’t have been a problem. We no longer have a dog so perhaps the visiting cats will stay to hunt a bit longer. There are owls nearby and I’m sure they take a share. And I like voles, they are characters and real chancers. Gardeners are innovators so there will be a solution out there. It’s a reminder that for all you plan and know, there are always surprises in gardening. That’s another part of the fun and it keeps me hooked.