Saturday, 19 October 2013

Carrot fly problems

      Cats are hard to work out: I was in the Lake District last week, staying with a mate who has this murderous sod of a moggy which almost daily brings in corpses of field mice, voles, birds and (amazingly) bats.These are proudly presented on the bedroom floor, rendering a night time trip to the lavatory an unnerving experience when you don't know what your bare feet are going to encounter.

      I'd stroke Polly (my mate must have been expecting a parrot when she appeared on the doorstep) and she'd look away with disdain, giving the impression that she tolerated me because I'm bigger than her but if I wasn't I'd be on the bedroom carpet. Then one day I was reading  at the table, which is situated next to a window with a view of the garden, and she came and sat next to my book, gazing out. Her object, I assumed, was to see what potential murder victims were around and I ignored her. This wasn't part of her plan, because her tail, which was occasionally swished in excitement as she spotted a blue tit, crept across the page I was reading, so that the words were partly blotted out. At first I took this to be an accident and I pushed the tail out of the way, wishing she'd mistake a blue tit for a vulture or something. There followed a bit of a stalemate while I continued reading, keeping the tail at bay with my hand, then she suddenly decided to lie down so that her head completely blotted out the page while she gazed at me in that inscrutable way cats have. Obviously a way to a cat's heart is to ignore it. She wanted my attention but there was no way she'd pay for it by giving any return of affection in the way a dog would I thought, as I gave her a quick stroke.

      Then the bugger licked my hand with a tongue like a nail file and I found myself reassessing my opinion of cats. She obviously reassessed me as well, because that night she appeared on my bed, first lying on top of me so that I couldn't move, then staking claim on the exact centre of the duvet and relegating me to a position of almost falling off the edge. This was all lovingly Disneyish but resulted in me not sleeping properly for the rest of the week, as I half expected a present of  mutilated wildlife making an appearance on my pillow.
Up the pole
      We are what we are. If we're a rat, for example, we find it hard that everyone hates us because we're just reacting to the world in the way our being dictates. I suppose it's fair enough to hate what we do - the inadvertently spreading diseases bit - but to hate us for what we are seems unfair, because we didn't choose to be born a rat. In any case, we're part of nature's recycling system, efficiently dealing with corpses and cleaning up. Same with snakes, I suppose: everyone has a downer on them, probably as a result of the unfair press the bible gives them. It's unreasonable to hate other living things even though, in some cases, we have to control them in our own interests. If you take their point of view, the biggest polluter and destroyer of the planet is mankind.

      And the other thing that cats, similarly trapped in a pre-determined lifestyle, do,  is crap in our new seed beds.

      A story I've told friends to the point of their rigid boredom is something a bloke told me at one of the big flower shows: we were discussing the way in which cats find the freshly broken earth of a seedbed an ideal place to perform their toilet.

      "The thing to do", he said with a wolfish grin, "is to blow a balloon up really hard - a beach ball is even better - then bury it just under the surface of freshly dug soil. When next door's moggy comes along and starts digging, his claws'll go through and cause it to go off like a landmine.  Admittedly", he added thoughtfully, "at this point the cat has a bowel movement, but it'll be the last one it does in your garden".

      Add a couple of r's and an o to cats and you have carrots.This leads me to say that cats aren't the only problem the gardener has to contend with: growing carrots would be pretty straightforward if it wasn't for the attentions of the dreaded carrot fly. This little beauty lays its eggs in the soil near carrots and the resulting maggots eat their way into the vegetable, causing irregular tunnels and rendering them worthless. One school of thought says that they rarely fly higher than 18 inches above the ground, so if you erect a barrier that high all around the carrots, the fly'll clear off onto next door's plot. However, I've spoken to people who grow carrots in tall barrels for show and they still have the problem, so the carrot fly doesn't read the right books. A more reliable method is to grow them between two taller crops, like beans or peas, which act as a much higher barrier.
Carrot fly damage on second from left
      Carrot fly is attracted to scent and the planting of onions immediately adjacent is said to confuse them with a contrasting smell. However this only works before the onions reach the bulb stage, so more effective methods are needed: a lot of scent is released when the gardener thins out the seedlings, so it follows that the thinner the sowing, the better. By watering the crop copiously immediately after thinning also helps, damping down the scent.

      Without wishing to labour the point, the more you know about a pest and its lifestyle, the more likely you are to find an effective way of dealing with it. For example, it's known that the first generation of carrot fly emerge from May to June, so by not sowing until the end of May or early June, these will be avoided, lessening the problem (there is another generation in August and September, so this isn't completely foolproof). A more reliable defence is to cover the seed sowing area with horticultural fleece. This has the added benefit of keeping the soil warm and encouraging growth.
      In the absence of all these methods, perhaps it's worth trying some of the varieties which claim some resistance to the fly, like 'Fly Away' and 'Resistafly' - seed catalogues will give other alternatives.

      Although we tend to think of carrots as an allotment crop, it's worth considering the advantage their attractive foliage offers. Sown in containers, they can give a long season of ornamental value before being introduced to the kitchen. I often grow them as a decoration next to the front door, although they never reach the size attained in the space of a proper bed. Nontheless you can get a couple of meals out of them and anything you've grown yourself can be guaranteed to taste better than the bought equivalent.
Attractive foliage






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