The hunt is on to find out how the garden’s night raider is breaking in
THERE are garden pests. And then there are garden pests. And so, while no one can deny the damage that aphids, vine weevils or slugs can do to a vegetable crop, it’s not quite on the same scale as that caused by a large, heavy, four-legged mammal.
Your typical aphid, after all, averages about 2mm in length, the vine weevil 9mm, while slugs (depending on the species) are anywhere from 20-200mm.
An adult badger, on the other hand, is about 750mm long and anywhere between 8-11kg in weight. More importantly, it has enormously strong, muscular legs that are designed exactly for the purpose of digging – which is fine when that digging is all to do with enlarging or improving its sett. But when it’s in the OPW’s walled kitchen garden, and the badger’s excavations are for the purpose of enriching its diet, it’s a different matter entirely. Lovable and all as this large nocturnal mammal usually is, the OPW gardeners are a little put out.
“We came in to work last Monday morning and found claw marks all over the beetroot, like a grizzly bear had been in the garden. Not only that, some of the Florence fennel had been dug up as well as some of the new potatoes,” exclaims Meeda.
“We’re not quite sure at the moment where he’s getting in, perhaps under the gate, but we’re going to have to stop him somehow before he does even more damage. I mean, what if he starts digging up the sweetcorn (badgers are particularly fond of sweetcorn) or the rest of the potatoes? He’ll have the garden destroyed in no time.”
Problem is, the walled garden is just one giant and delicious smorgasbord from a hungry badger’s point of view – there’s plenty of earthworms (the badger’s favourite food), plenty of beetles, plenty of larvae and plenty of fruit and vegetables. Add to that the fact that badgers have a heightened sense of smell that’s 700-800 times stronger than ours, and it’s really no surprise that they’ve discovered the OPW’s kitchen garden.
At the moment, even human visitors find it difficult to ignore the heady mixture of smells emanating from within its walls, from the sugary scent of overripe strawberries to the heavily perfumed whiff of sweet pea and the fresh, earthy odour of newly- dug potatoes. For a badger, it must be a sort of olfactory heaven.
The recent dry weather has also made it more difficult for badgers to forage for food (there are fewer slugs and frogs, and the earthworms go deeper into the ground). All of which makes it strange that, despite the badger’s recent series of nocturnal raids on the walled garden, Brian and Meeda’s ripening carrots were left alone (badgers like carrots).
Perhaps that has something to do with Bionet, the protective membrane that Brian and Meeda are using to protect the new carrots from being attacked by carrot fly. “We also sprayed the young carrot plants with Supernemo (www.nemo.ie), a broad spectrum bio-pesticide that uses naturally-occurring nematodes to kill a range of soil-based garden pests. Along with the larvae of the carrot fly, it kills cutworms and leatherjackets (the grey grubs that are the larvae of daddy-long-legs) that badgers normally like to eat. Perhaps that’s why the badger wasn’t that interested,” speculates Brian.
Whatever about protecting the carrots from the badger, the Bionet combined with Supernemo seems to have done the job as regards protecting the plants from the damaging carrot fly pest, which partially destroyed the crop in the walled garden last year.
Meeda and Brian have just started pulling the first of the bright-orange roots from the ground and they’re untouched. “Theyre delicious,” smiles Meeda as she bites into the sweet, crunchy flesh.
The OPW gardeners sowed three different varieties back in early March (Trevor, Ulyses (sic) and Artemis), all of which are now ready for harvesting. “We’ll get another sowing in now, which should give us a second crop in autumn,” says Brian. “But we’ll sow them in a different part of the garden to avoid a possible build-up of pests or diseases.”
In the meantime, the hunt is on to discover exactly where or how the walled garden’s night-time visitor is actually gaining entry (tunnelling under the walls is another possibility) so that his way in can be blocked off. Once that’s sorted out, then all the gardeners have to worry about is the squirrels. But that’s another story entirely . . .
The OPW’s Victorian walled kitchen garden is in the grounds of the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, beside the Phoenix Park Café and Ashtown Castle. The gardens are open daily from 10am to 4.00pm
Next week Urban Farmer will cover raspberries
Fionnuala Fallon is a garden designer and writer
WHAT TO: sow, plant and do now
Sow:Beetroot, broccoli raab, carrots, autumn & mini cauliflowers, chicory, endive, kales , kohl rabi, komatsuna, land cress, lettuce, mibuna, mizuna, mustards, pak choi, spring onions, peas, radish, rocket, spinach, Swiss Chard, turnips, winter purslane.
Plant:Sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, calabrese, cauliflowers, kale, leeks, second-cropping potatoes (eg. Carlingford).
Do:Continue sowing seed and pricking out/thinning seedlings, watering plants, weed/hoe beds, net young brassicas, soft fruit and fruit bushes, cover carrots with Bionet, earth-up and spray non-blight resistant potatoes with Dithane to protect against blight, pinch out side basal shoots and stake tomatoes, feed tomatoes, celeriac, celery, pumpkins, watch out for garden pests.