Forget all that sentimental nonsense about Squirrel Nutkins, Cooing Doves and other Pterodactyls, Mr. fox, Bambi, and Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter Rabbit!!! Harden your heart and be like Mr. Macgregor, if you want to have anything left after that lot have had their fill!! I know that some of the animal and bird lovers will be upset, but I am not in the business of growing fruit and vegetables to feed the birds and animals! If you want to feed them, that is your prerogative! Remember that there is plenty of other food readily available for them in the Summer and Autumn. And do not think that they will just take a little, as they will take the lot given half a chance!
The bigger birds, such as Pigeons,will strip the leaves from the over-wintering brassicas only leaving the bare leaf stalks. They can be thwarted by using plastic netting. Remember to inspect the netting after heavy snow falls and re-secure as necessary. Some people hang up old CD’s or construct scarecrows, but this does not seem to have much of a deterrent effect.
Grey Squirrels or tree rats, have become a very serious problem taking sweet corn and purple pea pods as well as fruit and nuts. They will rip plastic netting to shreds to get at whatever they want. The Government has classified them as Vermin, and you are free to trap them. Trapping seems to be the most effective solution, though you will have to keep on trapping through the growing season, as new squirrel families will move back in to replace the ones you have just got rid of, such is the huge grey squirrel population explosion. You are not allowed to release them in another area. If you are squeamish about killing them, you could always try electronic squirrel repellents, though you will probably need the type of repellents that have variable frequencies. To date, I have not seen any reports that the electronic squirrel repellents are effective.
Red squirrels are fully protected by law and you must not touch them, but as they are unfortunately very few and far between, you are most unlikely even to see them, let alone to cause you any trouble.
Deer. They can cause a lot of damage to vegetation. You will require a 2 m high fence, to stop them jumping over the fence. Alternatively, you could try an electronic repellent with variable frequencies.
Foxes. Although they have their uses as they kill vermin such as mice, rats, rabbits and pigeons, they can cause damage by digging sets, lying around and damaging plants or burying food for eating later. The dog foxes also have a terrible smell. Try an electronic repellent with variable frequencies. Destroy any fox holes as soon as you see them appear on your allotment and prevent them building a set under huts.
Rabbits. If you have rabbits in your area erect wire netting round your site and staple it to posts, making sure that the wire netting is extended and buried at least 30 cm deep, to try to stop them burrowing underneath it.
Mice and rats. Mice can be very destructive digging up pea and bean seeds when they have been sown. They also take pea and bean pods in the Autumn. Keep putting out the mouse traps, but make sure that they are hidden from the bigger birds such as crows, as they will take away both trap and dead mouse. You can also use rat poison, but they may become resistant to it over time, and it is expensive.
I have rarely seen rats on allotments, but make sure that you do not leave scraps of food around to attract them. Rats may be more common on city allotments and gardens.
Greenfly and blackfly and other aphids. Apart from sucking the sap of plants, they can also spread viruses. Aphids can be a particular problem in the Spring and early Summer before the numbers of their predators builds up.
You could try squishing them by hand, but in my experience, by the time you notice the problem, it is beyond that solution. In this situation, it is permissible to resort to a short term pesticide, such as one based on pyrethrum. A blast of water from a hose may dislodge them but it may also damage tender leaves.
Caterpillars hatch out from eggs laid by butterflies, and then eat the leaves of their host plant. It is the caterpillars of the Cabbage White butterfly that really cause problems for growers of Brassicas. At some times of the Summer, you can see swarms of white butterflies circling allotments looking for brassicas to lay their eggs on!! Cabbage eggs will usually be laid on the underside of the leaves, so making them more difficult to spot.You could try squishing them by hand, but in my experience, by the time you notice the problem, it is beyond that solution. In this situation, it is permissible to resort to a short term pesticide, such as one based on pyrethrum.
Alternatively, grow your brassicas together in the same bed and cover them with a fairly fine fabric with a mesh size of 1 cm or less. Make sure that it is secure all round down to the ground to prevent the butterflies finding a way in. Try and make sure that the mesh does not touch the brassica leaves, or the butterflies will be able to lay their eggs.
Slugs and Snails possibly cause more damage and loss of plants than any other cause. They specialise in eating young seedlings in the Spring and early Summer. Given half a chance, they will strip mature plants of leaves. Keep an eye out for them particularly in mild and wet weather and use your favoured slug treatment or otherwise dispose of them.
The slugs that you see on the ground are only about 5% of the total numbers of slugs that are there, the other 95% are hiding, frequently below ground, especially black keel slugs which love potatoes.
As snails and slugs are hermaphroditic, they have both male and female reproductive organs so it is twice as easy for them to mate. As they can lay 40 eggs as many as six times a year, they can breed 240 sluglings in a year. After the adult slug has laid a batch of eggs, they take about a week to hatch. Sluglings become mature, and ready to reproduce in as little as three months.
Tests have shown that snails need to be carried or thrown at least 20 m from where you found them, or they can find their way back to continue their destruction!! According to a poll, 20% of people admit to throwing snails into their neighbour’s gardens!! Not a very neighbourly thing to do.
As they are very active in the evenings and overnight, some people search for them with a torch at those times.
Knights fighting snails taken from the edge of an illuminated Medieval manuscript. “Revenge of the Snail”, from the Smithfield Decretals, southern France (probably Toulouse), with marginal scenes probably added in England (London), c. 1300-c. 1340, by mischievous Monks, seem to show that fighting snails is not a new problem!! Even in days of old, when knights were bold, in the slime of time, it looks as if there was a constant battle to protect food from these voracious pests.
Alternatively, you could try slug pellets, sharp sand or finely broken egg shells, spread on the ground around tender seedlings.
Nemaslug is a biological control for slugs, but it is quite expensive and only lasts for about 6 weeks. It can only be applied between March and October provided that the soil is moist and at is at least at a temperature of 5 C.
Flat worms from Australia and New Zealand have been accidentally released and have spread quite far, particularly in Scotland. They eat and destroy the native worms, which are necessary for the drainage and health of the soil. You would have thought that the flatworms would die out after a few years and you would be able to reintroduce the earth worm again, but this has not happened even after 20 years.
You quite frequently find the flat worms hiding under stones or wooden boards during the Winter, curled up as shown in the photo. Destroy them on sight.
Wireworms are a great pest of potatoes causing many of the smaller 3 mm holes in the tubers. They are the larval stage of a beetle, Agriotes lineatus, and are particularly common in ground that has been very grassy or weedy for several years. Sadly, the larvae can live in the ground for up to 4 years eating roots, before they pupate and emerge as click beetles in the summer.
Destroy them by crushing between your fingers whenever you see them on site while digging over your soil and when earthing up your potatoes. Lift your root crops as soon as they are full grown to prevent further damage.
Potato root eelworm is the common name for the potato cyst nematode, whose presence may be indicated by the early yellowing and die back of the potato haulms, together with a poor crop of small potatoes. It can also affect tomatoes.
As the eelworm is only visible with a microscope, the way for the amateur gardener to check for the presence of eelworm is by inspecting the roots of a suspect plant at harvest time with a magnifying glass, for the presence of the tiny egg bearing cysts.
Unfortunately, these cysts about 1 mm dia, can stay viable in the ground for 7 years or more and spring into life when they detect the roots of a growing potato. For a photo and further detailed advice on eelworm resistant varieties of potatoes, go to http://www.fedaga.org.uk/node/126
Measures to take to avoid eelworm include only planting certified seed potatoes which are known to have some eelworm resistance, and using a crop rotation of at least 4 years. When lifting your potatoes, the roots should be carefully collected and burnt and never added to the compost heap. Apparently as cysts can also survive in the tuber skins, the saving and planting of infected tubers will spread the disease to fresh ground.
There is a new organic control for Eelworm, but it requires the ground to be taken out of productive use for a growing season. This could prove useful where an allotment has been badly managed for several years and the eelworm eggs have become established and are lying dormant in the soil. The organic control is a selection of Solanum sisymbriifolium, a thorny, inedible relative of potatoes which strongly stimulates potato eelworm eggs in the surrounding soil to hatch, but there is nothing for them to feed on. According to Alan Romans, in trials 50-90% hatch rates were achieved, which is a stronger reaction than that produced by potatoes themselves. The plants can be chopped down to 15 cm in summer for composting and the re-growth will produce more beneficial root growth as well as more composting material. Assume all parts of Solanum sisymbriifolium are poisonous.
This grub can sometimes be found inside root crops such as celeriac. Destroy it if found while digging over your soil.