Saturday, 29 January 2011

Wildlife friendly allotments

On a bitterly cold grey morning at the end of January, the allotment was looking bleak and devoid of life, but birds were singing from the hedgerow and a great tit was checking out one of the bird boxes on the fence: time for my first step towards a wildlife friendly plot. I put up the RSPB bird feeder requested for Christmas and filled up containers of seed and mealworms.

It wasn't the first step really. I've grown fruit and veg on this plot for two years without using any pesticides or artificial fertilisers, and while I had to clear some of the scrub against the fence, I left a decent patch of nettles for ladybirds and caterpillars and a bit of bramble to shelter other creatures. The ladybird larvae gobble up all the aphids on my runner beans and sometimes get loaned out to neighbours when they're overrun with blackfly.

Most of my neighbours are excessively tidy growers, removing every weed and cutting back the grass around the edges of their plots. Sometimes I feel a tiny bit ashamed of the messy bits on mine - but the shame disappears when I encounter a giant frog sheltering under a grassy bank.

Blue slug pellets seem to be de rigeur in springtime, especially around infant pea plants on my neighbours' plots. All the slugs end up in my little organic sanctuary - at least until they tumble into my beer traps. I don't like to kill them, but at least I'm not poisoning the birds and amphibians which eat them. My efforts at persuading fellow growers to shun the poison seem to fall on deaf ears, but I did manage to rescue a clump of teasels from the autumn tidy-up next door, so there must be some kindred spirits around.

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