Growing veg in containers - garden pests

by Kate Bradbury

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a bit of a soft touch when it comes to 'pests'...

Ladybird larvae munching aphids on a leafI've a confession to make: my efforts at growing veg in pots, as part of this year's Grow Yourself Healthy campaign, haven't been a great success. The French beans I sowed indoors germinated well, but as soon as I moved the pot outside, Sid the blackbird dug them up, looking for grubs. The second batch of seeds I sowed suffered the same assault. Sid then mysteriously disappeared - has another frustrated gardener taken revenge?

The third batch of beans is barely past seedling stage. I'm sure the plants will catch up, but I might not get a harvest until August. My spinach hasn't fared any better - that was eaten by snails.

It's not all bad news. My tomatoes and chillies in pots are doing well and the cut-and-come-again lettuce leaves have already provided me with a couple of salads. There are also some salad crops growing in my lawn, including a radish and various lettuce varieties. I don't know how they got there, but they have so far avoided the attentions of the snails, so they can stay. Who knows, perhaps salad crops growing in lawns will be next year's big trend at the Chelsea Flower Show. Don't forget you heard it here first.

There is a small allotment outside the offices of Gardeners’ World magazine, where there is space for a few of us to grow fruit and veg. We have runner, French and broad beans, spinach, chard, courgettes and some wonderful raspberries originally grown by my granny.

The runner, French and broad beans were heavily infested with blackfly when I visited two weeks ago. But, as there were two or three ladybird couples mating on the plants, I chose to let nature take its course and let the blackfly be (ladybird larvae have a voracious appetite for aphids). This week I popped down and found so many ladybirds that I worried there weren't enough aphids for them to eat. There were hundreds of them - mating adults, eggs, larvae and pupae ready to hatch. There were native two-spots and seven-spots, and the foreign harlequins in their many guises. It was like one giant ladybird party, and it didn't look like it was slowing down any time soon. I suspect the dry weather in London has contributed to this mini-population explosion.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a bit of a soft touch when it comes to 'pests'. I don't control critters in my garden - the blue and great tits tackle the aphids for me (ladybirds don't get a look in), while the frogs and blackbird do a good job of keeping vine weevil numbers down. The frogs also make sure the slugs have no chance of establishing a population but the snails can be quite a nuisance, as can the blackbird. I take the rough with the smooth and on the whole my relaxed approach works well.

I'm glad I chose not to remove the blackfly from the allotment beans two weeks ago. Sometimes it takes a while for the ladybirds to arrive to the scene, but they nearly always come eventually. It helps not to be too tidy in autumn - ladybirds and other insects hibernate among dead foliage and leaf litter, so if you provide such shelter for them over winter, they'll be on hand much quicker to tackle any aphids before they become a problem.

In the meantime, I've left some very dead chard plants standing on the on the allotment, as they are effectively Ladybird Party Headquarters. They're not looking pretty, but we've planted tomatoes around them. Back home, I'll be re-sowing the spinach and keeping an eye out for marauding blackbirds. I'll get there eventually.

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Gardeners' World Web User 10/06/2011 at 18:25

Kate, it is pouring with rain in Bristol and I have just dashed out and lifted everything I have in pots with lush new growth onto the picnic table out of reach of the slugs and snails who will be roaming around tonight. Being a gardener means using all your wits if you want to defeat wild life on the look-out for a tasty meal. I too am hoping for help from the frogs, if the heron has left me any. He has been swooping down on my garden a lot in the last few weeks.

Gardeners' World Web User 10/06/2011 at 18:40

I also leave the ladybirds to gobble up all the greenfly and blackfly for me. Besides frogs I am also very lucky to always have slow worms in the garden to sort out the slugs for me. Snails seem to be my problem but the population can be kept down by going out at nights with a touch and picking them up and beer traps work well. I never knew that frogs ate vine weevil, thank you for that bit of information. I am growing Broccoli Tenderstem-Green in very large pots for the first time this year and they are well protected with nets to keep the Cabbage White butterflies off! Runner Beans, Broad Beans, Carrots, Parsnips, Raspberries and Strawberries are all doing well. My first batch of peas failed but not being one to give up and to learn from my mistakes the second batch is growing well. To make up for the lack of early peas the first early potatoes, Foremost, have produced a wonderful crop and are delicious with a knob of butter! At long last we had a down pour here in South Devon and the garden had a good soaking this afternoon, more rain is promised for this weekend.

Gardeners' World Web User 11/06/2011 at 08:48

We have had a lot of rain in Bristol and I have been busy picking up slugs and snails from the path and putting them in the hedge for the birds. The worms will be coming to the surface now which will be good news for the very hungry, newly fledged baby robin at the Botanic Garden. His parents were having trouble finding him any food and,even although it is full of worm material from our home made compost, the worms were few and far between in the veg. garden where I was planting beans. I eventually dug up one two inch one and took it to the youngster. That's as far as I can go in killing or, helping to kill, anything living.

Gardeners' World Web User 11/06/2011 at 09:33

I have grass snakes in my raised vegetable beds. They disturb the soil and seedlings and I don't like them. Has anyone any ideas on what to do?

Gardeners' World Web User 11/06/2011 at 10:55

Hooray! Gardener's after my own heart! No ladybird glut here yet (South Yorkshire), but I'm hoping. I've managed to defeat the slugs and snails so far this year by growing my salad leaves in pots in a wheelbarrow. This means I can quickly put them under cover too. My first lot this year were shredded by a hailstorm! Up to now I've just depended on huge sacrificial Hostas which grow stronger and bigger each year inspite of being 'laced' by slugs and snails. I thought water shortage was the cause of my stunted peas, but a thorough soaking the other day caused the soil to cave in showing a mole run underneath! I nearly weeded out the dandelions on the lawn, though I love the yellow flowers. But then I saw a pair of bullfinches feasting on the seedheads, so I've decided to leave them - or could I eat them too? I would love to be a successful veg gardener, but more than that I love the diversity of wildlife in my garden and the shop down the road which prevents our starvation. barbarav - i'm sorry you don't like your grass snakes. I'm actually really envious.

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