Disaster strikes the spring garden in the form of bug-eaten plants. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Bird experiment for the birds, not the spring garden

This past winter I fed the birds in hopes some would stick around in spring and patrol the garden

By Mary Lowther

Disaster in the spring garden. This past winter I fed the birds in hopes that some would stick around in spring and patrol the garden for slug and sow bug eggs but the birds have flown the coop and my lettuce and spinach have been reduced to stems.

My bird experiment might have worked if we didn’t have so many cats patrolling the yard, including our Mrs. Premise. We also don’t have rats or mice so it’s a trade-off, and since rats climb trees and eat bird eggs, we probably come out even regarding bird scarcity. Two years ago I had lots of lettuce, but I had tried something differently that year; I had spread clear plastic sheeting over the beds the previous fall to keep winter rain from washing out nutrients. The soil heated up under the plastic in early spring and killed off weeds and bugs, so when I removed the plastic to plant my lettuce there was nothing to eat them.

Euphemisms sometimes exist to make us feel good about nasty things, so killing off all life underneath these plastic sheets by capturing the sun’s heat until the temperatures bake everything is called by the clean, innocent term of “solarization”. Granted, it’s a bit of a hassle laying down the plastic in fall, battening down all the edges and then removing them in spring, drying them out in uncertain weather, folding them and putting them away, but if I want to have lettuce and early greens next spring, that’s what I plan to do.

I’ll only have to cover the beds designated for spring crops because by the time the summer crops go in, the soil will have dried out enough to discourage slugs et al.

Luckily this year I did plant a few lettuces right near the bird feeder and they are faring OK, so perhaps the birds are loitering there enough to keep the slug population to a minimum. Hmm, what if I put strawberries into the garden rotation and solarized their soil overwinter too? I’ve lost every strawberry crop I’ve planted here to slugs and sow bugs but I haven’t tried the plastic routine.

In the meantime, I really miss spring lettuce, so I have plan B. “Always have Plan B”, mom used to tell me, “and Plan C”. I have now covered the bed with plastic and will leave that on for two weeks for the soil to get solarized in this awesome heat. I’m re-potting the next batch of lettuce seedlings into bigger pots to hold them until planting time. I don’t sow lettuce seeds in the garden because I can grow them so easily and dependably inside and replace a harvested one right away. In fact, I start most crops that aren’t root crops in pots inside because by the time they’re ready to plant outside, they have gotten big enough to outgrow whatever will try to devour them. Except beans — beans do well from seed in the garden; maybe they give bugs gas and their spouses threaten to leave them if they eat beans.

I should mention that my experiment with adding gelatinized water to the potting soil when making soil blocks worked like a charm! The blocks did not disintegrate and the lettuce, spinach and pepper seedlings grew very well. A thin green haze grew all over the blocks but it didn’t affect growth.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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