The nibbled broad beans.
GARDENING DON’T you just love it when you think you have done just the right thing and it turns to rats’ or, in this case, mouse droppings?
There were two irksome examples of that this weekend, the first involving my singularly most successful crop, one of only three which, usually, give me self-sufficiency all year round.
The other two are spinach, which untidily self-seeds and pretty much looks after itself on the allotment, and onions, which this year had too much wet and not enough sun and will not see us through.
But broad beans are normally something of a 'banker’, sown indoors in February and planted out the next month.
The variety I always choose is delicious raw or cooked, when the beans just have to be introduced to the steamer for a couple of minutes.
But they are also extremely valuable as a frozen vegetable in stews, casseroles, pot-roasts and pasta dishes. So I tend not to have as many fresh as I would like, opting instead to save them for times of famine.
This year, buoyed by previous success, I thought I would go for an autumn sowing to complement next year’s, both to ensure a succession and a really sweet, early crop of plenty.
So, I again chose my favourite Optica dwarf variety, although it is not recommended for over-wintering, and, to be on the safe side, a new trial full-size strain from Thompson & Morgan, which is fully hardy.
So, the plan was to plant a couple of trays in the conservatory, where they should be safe from mouse attack and keep them out of reach of Taz, the cat, who now — because of the poisonous cycad he likes to eat — only has limited access.
And here starts the Tom and Jerry tale, where my sympathies are, most certainly, not with the mouse.
I have always believed mice lose interest in broad beans as the plant develops because the seed is highest in nutrient when it has just germinated.
But not so, apparently.
I left it for longer than was probably sensible in the west-facing conservatory, where lower light levels lead to 'leggy’ plants, but thought the time lapse would reduce mouse interest after transfer to the allotment greenhouse.
How wrong could I be?
On the first night, the little perishers scaled the tomato canes onto the staging above and nipped a fair proportion of the plants off just near the base.
Presumably, the little blighters thought perhaps the next one would be OK or maybe the next or maybe that one…
I have now constructed what I believe to be a fairly failsafe arrangement to protect the remaining seedlings with a couple of slippery plastic, 'un-climbable’ containers with the trays on top.
I hope with more maturity the stems will be less attractive when it is time for them to go outdoors. However, I would welcome tips because I have become aware mouse attack need not necessarily stop.
One tip that emerged from talking to gardeners with a wealth of experience down at Sandlands is surrounding the rows of beans with what is the mouse equivalent of a ring of steel. A cordon of holly leaves is said to do the job.
My second gardening disappointment came on the same day.
I have a kind of adoptive responsibility for the green space at Bullen Cross, where, with the help of the IW Council and Nettlestone and Seaview Parish Council plus Pondwell Residents’ Association, of which I am a member, I think we have created a worthwhile amenity.
It is a little meadow space with a gaggle of shrubs, which breaks up an ugly faux stone block wall.
Like many things, there has never been the time to keep it top notch and the council’s contractors — perhaps worried after the sound telling off they got when they cut the meadow at the wrong time early in the year — neglected to give the area its final trim.
Coupled with that, there were deep, muddy ruts that appeared in the wake of the installation of equipment cabinets and an underground chamber for fibre-optic broadband.
I had a couple of hours to spare and, being the time for general tidy-ups in the garden, I thought I would pop up there, give what should be an attractive meadow, come springtime, a strim, weed and fill the ruts.
I had some meadow seed, which my daughter, Bella, had harvested from our own little patch and sowed that.
If I do say so myself, I made a bit of a difference in a short space of time and was feeling pretty pleased — until I opened-up my e-mails, which illustrated the value of so-called joined-up thinking and the perils of taking direct action to improve things.
That bit of land gets very waterlogged in winter, making the valuable short-cut to and from the bus stop difficult to use.
For years, people have talked about extending the hard-surfaced path from the top of Pondwell Hill round the bend to connect with Pondwell Close but, for a variety of reasons, it has never quite happened.
But my e-mail told me work is scheduled to start on December 3, and construction is sure to undo much of my tidying.