In my last post I promised that I would tell you all about my battle with the big rat which I discovered in one of my compost bins; and I will, but not just yet. What with Cruella (my wife), the big rat, the mauruding Labradors and my idiot son, this so called gardening blog is turning into a soap opera and I am in danger of being raided by the Police for running a garden blog under false pretences.
So, the battle of the big rat is at the end of this post, but for those of you who may be interested in other things, let’s do some gardening.
1st June. Things I have been doing lately:
🌳 Cloud pruning my Olive tree: Regular followers of this blog (both of you) will know that I am a fan of reshaping appropriate trees to give them interest in the garden. Now Olive trees are ideal candidates for this treatment. Many of you will have Olive trees. Yet, the vast majority of you do not process the Olives and what you really have is a scruffy mishapen tree that just drops its fruit and makes a mess of your garden each year. Far better to cloud prune the tree to give it shape and interest and make it a talking point in your garden. Another good thing about this is you can still get the Olives if you want them, just a lot less. The first photo below shows my Olive tree before its annual prune, the second shows it in all its reshaped glory. Click on each photo for a larger view.
✂️ Pruning grape vines: Grape vines are another plant that many people here in Spain have. But like Olive trees they are usually neglected and allowed to grow in tangled heaps hanging off walls and fences and giving little fruit. I grow grape vines for ornamental reasons therefore I don’t mind pruning and tidying them at any time. But if you are growing for fruit prune once before the plant comes back to life after the Winter. I have four grape vines but the one that gives me most problems is the one growing against the front of the house. I have trained this on wires, but to be honest, it is too close to the wall and suffers from mildew each year. To stop this happening I remove long tendrils and just generally prune it into shape – I don’t expect fruit. The photos below show the grape vine before and after its trim. Click on each photo for a larger view.
🍈 Thinning fruit. If you have fruit trees like Peach, Nectarine, Persimmon etc then you need to selectively thin the fruit now. Whilst it is nice to see lots of lovely little fruits hanging from your tree, you need to thin them out or nature will do it for you. Trees can only sustain so much fruit and if you leave all the fruit on then branches will break and eventually the tree will shed the fruit itself. You may think I will just wait till the tree does it itself, but that would be a mistake for three reasons.
- It is a waste of the trees energy growing fruit just to shed it later.
- The tree May shed much more fruit than you want it to.
- The fruit left will be smaller because all the trees energy went into growing all the fruit.
To thin fruit out all you need to do is cut out fruits that are crowded and close together or where there will be too many on a branch when the fruit matures. By thinning out you will have less fruit but it will be larger and sweeter. The first photo below shows my small Persimmon tree. The second shows an example of crowded fruit, the final photo shows the fruit thinned out. Quite often you may need to go back and thin again later on.
👍 Succession planting: The term succession planting refers to the process of keeping an area of your garden such as a bed or border in constant flower by replacing plants as they dieback. In past years I have always prided myself on growing all the successor plants from seed, but in the great seed disaster early this year my little green house was blown over and all the seed destroyed. This has meant that I have had to actually buy some plants; which I admit was a blow to my gardening manhood. To be fair I only bought four Petunias and a couple of Mandevilla and by way of compensation I made myself feel better by taking cuttings from the Mandevilla which are now growing happily.
If you are buying plants and placing them directly into your garden then you have to be careful as the Sun can be very fierce at this time of year. Where possible sit the plant in its pot exactly where you intend to plant it. Leave it there for a couple of days (we’ll watered) and see if it thrives. Once you decide to plant then dig a hole at least half as big again as the root ball. Fill this with water and leave it to drain (5 minutes). Then tease the roots out and plant your plant. Depending on what you are planting; some plants will need a sandy free draining mixture and some will need bulky rich compost, just read the label and this should advise.
Once the plant is in place water it thoroughly and then stack dry compost or stones to act as a mulch and stop the roots drying out. Most freshly planted plants die in Spain because their roots fry in the Sun. well meaning gardeners enthusiastically water their new plants, the roots of the plant start coming up looking for the water, get too close to the surface and fry. By thoroughly watering when you plant it, and then mulching, followed by watering only every few days you are encouraging the plant to go down and seek water whilst the mulch protects the roots. The first photo below shows one of my compost bins being emptied for the mulch. The second and third photos show the happily mulched up plants.
🐭 Battling with Schrodinger’s big rat. For those of you not familiar with the story of Schrödinger’s cat (as explained by my idiot son). In simple terms, Schrödinger an eminent Physicist stated in 1935, that if you place a cat and something that could kill the cat (a radioactive atom) in a box and sealed it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you opened the box, so that until the box was opened, the cat was (in a sense) both “dead and alive”. Hence I present you with the theory of Schrodinger’s rat. But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to the start.
It all started when I went out to my compost bins one morning to place some fruit peels, rinds etc in the bin. I opened the lid and there right in front of me was a large rat. It looked at me, I looked at it and then I sprayed it straight in the face with some cockroach spray that I always take to the bin. Everything then seemed to happen in slow motion, the rat looked at me with disdain as if to say “was that your best shot” and then proceeded to dive below the compost. Now I don’t want to boast but I have battled and defeated a number of rats in my life, so it was with quiet confidence that I lowered the bin lid and sought out a large stick suitable for disposing of rats. Armed with my stick I flung the bin lid open and started furiously bashing the compost to bring the rat up. Sure enough within seconds he surfaced at the back of the bin. I proceeded to rein blows down on him and he proceeded to dive below the compost only to appear in a different spot. It was a bit like those whack a mole games only with a rat. After three or four minutes of hand to hand combat the rat leapt over my shoulder and disappeared into an area where I keep building material. On making his escape he looked back over his shoulder reproachfully at my pursuit of him with murderous intent and his eyes seemed to say “under different circumstances we could have been friends”.
Well that was day one. The next day I decided on a change of tactics and had what I thought was a brilliant idea of using the two maurading Labradors. My basic idea was that I would train both dogs as rat killers, I even started calling them “the rat pack” to increase their motivation. I started by giving them both a large bone to encourage their carnivore instincts; normally they are fed on dried food which meant they would lack motivation as their food doesn’t normally run around squeaking. I followed up the bones with rat killing exercises on the big lawn. Lacking a suitable rat look-a-like I found one of Cruella’s (my wife) familiars on her bed, tied a string around its neck and dragged it around the garden pursued by the dogs whilst screaming “kill, kill” at the top of my lungs. The first photo below shows the dogs enjoying their carnivore training. The next photo shows my rat look-a-like training aid. Unfortunately, the next photo shows Cruella (at our English house) in what looks like her favourite T shirt which appears to be made from the same material as my training aid (I will explain when she gets back). The final photo shows the dogs ready to spring into action.
At daybreak we all assembled and prepared for the battle. We did warm up exercises as we all have bad knees. I had my big stick and I had given both dogs a motivational speech based loosely on Henry V’s famous words before Agincourt:
‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And any dog in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their doghoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
With a last cry of “God for Harry, England and St George”, I threw open the lid of the compost bin and began my attempts to batter the rat. Plainly the rat had never read Shakespeare’s Henry V Act III and refused to stay still and be battered; it ran from side to side, dived under the compost and generally refused to play the part we had allocated it. All was going well, I was battering, both dogs were furiously barking and jumping up at the bin and I envisaged that victory was within our grasp.
However, our plan began to come apart quite quickly. Tango started the unraveling by lying down as he had tired himself out. Nero continued to keep jumping and barking but unfortunately trod on Tango. Tango being more or less blind assumed he was under attack from the big rat (I may have exaggerated the size of the big rat in my motivational speech to the dogs) began to attack Nero, who in turn fought back. Both were soon a furious whirl of legs, fangs and claws. This ball of misguided fury rolled into me bringing me on top of them and we ended up a rolling melee of man, dogs, sticks teeth and legs. Now I can’t swear that this next bit is true, but I am sure I saw the big rat look over the top of the bin and down at us flailing on the ground, he shook his head in resignation before performing a perfect parabolic arc over us to make his escape.
After our failed attempts at a frontal assault we resorted to the time honoured method of poisoning (Cruella gave me advice). After a week of gradually feeding the big rat almost the whole of a box of rat poisoning, he eventually failed to turn up one day. I haven’t got the body so he really is Schrodinger’s Rat. Nevertheless we have claimed victory and awarded ourselves medals all round. The photo below shows both dogs after the exhaustion of the big rat battle.