Monstrous regiments of slugs are munching their way through the allotment. Young plants which went out standing proud, full of promise, are reduced to tattered skeletons, like soldiers on some foreign battlefield. If the year’s first harvest was rainwater, the second is slugs.
It’s the sort of season that makes you wonder what the allotment is for. Why not go to the supermarket like the smart people, and just buy the darned vegetables? Or at the very least, why not sprinkle slug pellets like everyone else, and to hell with the wildlife.
My attempts at organic slug control – involving a glove, a plastic tub and a dumping point in the lane – are being laughed at by nature. Every day I clear them from under the planks I leave out to provide them with a “safe haven”. Every day I return and almost as many have reappeared. It’s a slug-breeding season like no other I’ve known.
The sorry-looking skeletal beans are now also being lashed by June gales in autumn temperatures. This level of slug damage could probably be tolerated if the plants were in full growth, but the lack of sunshine has slowed them down enough for the slugs to do probably terminal damage.
It’s very dispiriting. It took weeks of nurture to get them to this point, only to watch them slowly succumb.
Meanwhile the strawberries, ripening literally in their hundreds, are rotting on the plants even before they turn red. I’ve harvested some, soft and delicious, but unless the weather cheers up soon, many more will go to waste.
The strawberries are also being munched heartily by the insatiable slugs. Some you pick come complete with a slug sticking out, leech-like, snout in the trough, bottom in the air. #lifeisgood right enough if you’re lucky enough to be a slug in a strawberry patch this year.
Excess rain means not just a surfeit of slugs but a wilderness of weeds. You can’t even hoe successfully: the roots just reach themselves back into the damp, receptive earth and start growing again. If I was a commercial grower I’d have packed it in by now.
It’s days like this they should tell you about before you take on an allotment. You picture sunshine, perfect crops, a gentle breeze and leaning on your hoe to chat to your neighbour. Those days will return of course, and maybe within a week. Allotments teach you that things change, that hope and despair co-exist, and that nothing – good or bad – lasts for more than a season.
It’s not just the slugs and the weeds and the wet and the wind that are blighting the allotment. Thieves are stalking the grassy paths again. Last time it was automatic greenhouse adjusters that went from a neighbouring allotment. Now the same plot has been targeted by a water barrel thief.
One day it was there, lined up with about seven others. The next it was gone, a gap in the barrel parade. I’m sure inquiries will be carried out, investigations pursued and perhaps the barrel spotted in action elsewhere, but it’s petty and mean to steal one from an old man just because he’s more organised than you are.
Amid all this growing gloom, thank goodness there are things to celebrate too: the leeks are looking lush, the potatoes (I went for a drought-proof variety har har) are flourishing and the onions – so far – are coping with the excess wet.
In the meantime, I’ll keep slug-picking, I’ll try the organic “slug barrier” pellets I have absolutely no faith in, I’ll pick the strawberries at the very point of starting to turn red, and I’ll hope for sunnier days ahead.