September: Fowl Play

A flock of birds have their feathers ruffled when they try to mess with GIYer Michael Kelly’s homegrown tomatoes.

Yesterday morning I went down to the polytunnel to get a few fresh tomatoes to go with our breakfast eggs, only to walk in on a group of birds conducting a daring raid. They had managed to pull a few ripe tomatoes off the plant, and were busy gorging themselves on the fleshy fruit. Once disturbed, they flew around in a panic, getting caught in plants here and up against plastic there. It took me some time to ‘shoo’ all four of them out.

I am no expert on birds, but I am pretty sure they were thrushes. Whatever – you do not mess with my tomatoes… In some ways, oddly, I was happy that it was birds that were doing the pilfering, since last summer I assumed the nibbling on the tomatoes was caused by rodents, which is not what you want messing with your food. Birds, while undoubtedly a pest, at least are not a major health risk. I have had to put a bio-net screen over the open doors to stop the birds getting in.

From July to October, we are in what I like to call ‘bruschetta’ season – it’s a wonderful time of the year, when a simple lunch or supper can easily be conjured up from nothing, once you have some decent sourdough bread in the bread bin. Simply toast some of the bread, rub some cut garlic on it, add some slices of delicious ripe tomatoes (warm from the polytunnel), some ripped basil leaves, sprinkle with lots of sea salt and black pepper and drizzle with a good olive oil. Shake fists at the birds, and eat…

Check List for September

To Do

Lift crops which have finished growing and dress bare soil with manure, compost (or plant green manures). Wasps can be problematic as fruit ripens so make traps from jars of sugary water. Remove surplus leaves from tomato plants, which allows air to circulate and sunshine to fall on the fruit. Go blackberry picking.

Sow

Last month for sowing perpetual spinach, chard and oriental salads – it will be worth it in the new year when there’s almost nothing else to eat, so get sowing. In the polytunnel/greenhouse sow lettuce, mustard, cress, basil, coriander, parsley, radish, dwarf early pea, broadbean, cauliflower seed, rocket, onion seed and garlic. Outside sow white turnip seeds and autumn onion sets, eg. ‘centurion’ and ‘sturon’. Plant out strawberry runners. Pot up some parsley for winter use.

Harvest

Lift onions and leave to dry out in sun or in the polytunnel/ greenhouse for two weeks. Apples, plums, pears are now in season. Continue to harvest salad leaves, tomatoes, radish, potatoes, carrots, turnips, beetroots, cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, beans, courgettes, spinach, leeks, red cabbage, summer cabbage, aubergine, sweetcorn.

Tip of the month – Rabbits

Rabbits are a serious GIY pest, and particularly problematic at this time of the year. They are notorious for being prolific breeders – the litter size is approximately five rabbits and baby rabbits start breeding themselves at four months. A female can become pregnant again just one day after giving birth. So that gives you an idea of how formidable a challenge they can present. They are particularly fond of new plants and soft growth. Thankfully, there are some ways of controlling them:

1. Chicken wire – in my veg patch I resorted to a picket fence lined with chicken wire, though it was costly and labour intensive to put in. It is about three foot high, with the bottom 30cm of chicken wire buried beneath the ground and bent outwards – this prevents rabbits from burrowing underneath.

2. Less costly is a netting or bionet cover around individual plants or beds.

3. Repellents (eg. Vitax Stay Off) can be applied to plants but are not always to be trusted.

4. Shooting and trapping – depends on your stomach for these kind of things or your ethical view of it, but shooting rabbits is effective and also provides a cheap and nutritious meal. Humane traps can be set at rabbit tunnels but the question is what do you do with them if you catch them? Dogs should also deter rabbits – but in my experience a big slobbery Labrador won’t.

About GIY

GIY is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to create a healthier, more sustainable world where people grow their own food. We inspire and support people to grow food more successfully by bringing them together to share advice, tips and ideas. There are approximately 50,000 people involved in the GIY movement in Ireland, which is proudly supported by Woodies DIY. For more information check out www.giyireland.com