Last month I mentioned the vast volume of veg grown in the garden and in particular the super abundance of this year’s crop of courgettes. I even offered you some vaguely helpful ideas as to what to do with them. This seems to have touched a raw veggie nerve out there as many of you appear to suffer from the same problem. So, thank you dear readers for your new suggestions telling me what I can do with my unwanted courgettes – some of which are highly original although perhaps physically challenging. However, as this magazine is aimed at a genteel family readership, I can’t really mention any of them right now on this page.
I can however talk about the other unplanned downside of growing fruit and vegetables. It’s the thievery, destruction and sheer meanness of other beings – not so much human beings but the rest of the animal kingdom. For example, I never knew I had a badger problem until I tried to grow sweet corn. Only a few modest plants mind you, tended by me with loving care throughout spring and summer, personally protected from the wind and worshipped by me in keen mouth-watering buttery anticipation. All in vain – they were exhumed and munched overnight without a word of warning or even a badger bark. Where did they come from? Who invited Mr and Mrs Badger to my party? They must have walked for miles along the A35 all for the sake of my mighty crop of just five measly little plants! I hope they were satisfied at the damage they caused. Why not choose the acres of golden maize in the field at the end of the road? I hope my entire badger family suffered from tummy pains afterwards…
And then there were our three small cherry and plum trees which I had planted at considerable expense and then cared for like new born lambs – individually watered and cherished, leaves delicately polished and praised and spoken to softly each morning. We go away for the weekend to find all their lower branches bent and broken off, all the fruit removed and nearly all the leaves missing. It’s chaos. This is too tall to be the work of badgers and too many broken branches for passing birds (unless they happened to be I suppose a flight of giant Andean condor eagles or migrating vultures on their way to Poole Harbour which I think is unlikely). No, this is seriously systematic destruction. The postman nods and sniffs expertly: “You’ve got a problem with deer, mate.”
What… deer? Real live deer in my garden? Doe-eyed deer nestling not so far from the A35? Even to a converted town-to-country boy like me, the amount of wanton destruction caused by wild deer is still surprising. This isn’t a case of gentle Bambi nestling in the bracken – it’s Barbarossa butchering the orchard. I would have been just as prepared to accept that such havoc was caused by a 30 foot Jurassic Iguanodon bending down to sniff my apple blossom. Perhaps it was hiding from a passing T-Rex or just admiring my pruning technique… But no – it’s the Majestic Monarchs of the Glen who are munching my damsons.
No way! How dare they attack my stuff! They’re MY trees – I planted them all. It has nothing to do with any beasts wild or otherwise who, without the hours of labour that I spent on tree care, would have had nothing to even consider eating or trashing like a party of teenage gatecrashers.
And then there’s the family of foxes who regularly remove my precious blueberries. I thought they only went after rabbits, but these must be the eco-conscious variety – a new breed of politically correct vegetarian foxes. They also have an annoying habit of always doing their poo business right in the middle of our driveway. Bold as brass, like an advertising sticker left on a car windscreen, they’re leaving it there deliberately to be noticed. And it works – their foxy ‘calling cards’ are a daily reminder of my failure to drive them away.
And what about the birds, rabbits, moles and mice and the like? This is the countryside after all. Well, I’ve been warned about them, so I’ve been prepared. Netting, wire, buzzing plastic string, balloon bird scarers, dried lion dung (in £4 plastic bags, very smelly) as well as electronic gadgets, ultrasonic alarms, vibrators and owl noise makers. Some of these are moderately useful and some are not.
Incidentally, if you were wondering, lion dung doesn’t really work for me. It certainly seems to put off neighbouring domestic cats who turn white with fear (unless they’re already white I suppose), and slink away looking nervously behind them. But this technique does not work with larger animals such as deer (or dinosaurs). I am thinking of setting up a searchlight, razor wire and a machine gun tower, an alligator trench or a shark pool. A 50 foot brick wall might also work although I wouldn’t be able to see the trees any more which rather kills the object of the exercise. Failing that, next year I will ask a party of Tibetan monks to bang gongs and wail loudly all through the night in a desperate attempt to keep wild beasts away from the orchard. I suspect the neighbours might object…