Moth event

It wasn’t an auspicious night for it, cold, overcast and showery, but the last Friday in May was the date set for our moth event, and it was surprisingly successful.

The event was organised in conjunction with Bath Nats and involved setting up a moth trap like this:

moth trap

It had to be set up in the garden of Kate Souter, who lives very near our garden, because we don’t have electricity to power the light that is the lure.

Overnight a wide range of moths were ‘trapped’ in the pile of egg box cases in the base of the trap, and early the following morning these were being examined and identified at BOG.

moth day

 

Then followed the very impressive operation of releasing the moths, with fastidious care taken to ensure that each species was given the kind of shelter and camouflage it would have chosen for itself.

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Here is an example of both the effectiveness of that camouflage, and a chance to see the  extraordinary buff tip moth, which is apparently common, though few of us would spot it when at rest like this.

How on earth did we get from here…

bog as field

The abandoned allotments that BOG adopted in 1990

… to here

garden_view_BOG

The same bit of land now

In London the IRA broke all the windows at 10 Downing Street with a mortar bomb. In Bath a group of rebels sowed leek seeds.

Unemployment was well over two million and rising. At BOG everyone had a load of jobs.

The Community Charge (poll tax to you) was killed.On Lower Common West community gardening was born.

All of that in the first months of 1991, leading up to the official opening of the Bath Organic Group Demonstration Garden on May 1. That’s demonstration as in teaching, not the political sense, though the zeal of the pioneers needed to be stronger in those early years when, if you said you were green, most people thought you were inexperienced— or worse.

We have pitched the date of the birth of BOG at May1, 1991 because that was when the Mayor of Bath City dropped in to declare BOG officially a living thing. But the birth could have been registered almost two years earlier.

There are just as many dates we could have chosen as the conception of the BOG garden, though January 6 1990 (Twelfth Night) is the favourite. Then, on the day the earth is supposed to wake up to the new year, a couple of dozen founder members defied a cold drizzle to cut the first sods of what is now the community garden. Looking at the photographs of that event you could be fooled into thinking the earth would have been happier staying asleep.

After months of backbreaking double digging, clearing undergrowth, and with help from lots of green manure, on May Day, a year later, the garden was already beginning to look a bit like a sparse version of today’s plot.

But to begin the story even earlier, Bath Organic Group started 30 years ago in 1986. The current site of BOG’s garden was identified in 1988, a patch of 10 allotments on Lower Common West that nobody wanted because it was overshadowed by the conifers on the South side, was boggy, and was covered with the national collection of pernicious weeds especially couch grass. The first of John Brooke’s famous plant sales took place that summer, raising £450 entirely for BOG funds, while membership soared to 150.

Bill Brown took charge of double digging, and teams of weeders tried to evict the long-time residents. Then and now Bill is philosophical .’Weeds are the professionals and we are the amateurs. They never stop working and even now they are just waiting to take this space back. They never give up and we will never beat them.’

first sod group

A cold and damp Sunday in January 1990, and the first sod of the BOG garden has just been cut

For the adults there was what proved a very enjoyable barn dance preceded by a good BOG bring and share blow-out. Which delayed the dancing. So for the next dance members were told: ‘This year we are offering only bread and cheese to leave more time for the dancing.’ The idea was so popular that the next dance was ‘cancelled at a late stage because of lack of support.’ Lack of cake more likely.

When BOG started it had been the only show in town and for miles around for anyone with green interests. By 1993 other green ventures – like the City Farm – were potentially diluting the pool of volunteers. In effect the good work the BOG pioneers had done to educate local people about organic ways was destroying its unique appeal. In 1991 BOG was the community garden in Bath. Now there are about a dozen organisations in and around the city that offer similar outlets for anyone keen on socialising and growing, and often they will be nearer to their home.

orchard planting

Planting the orchard

 

By 1997 the other end of the garden, a ‘dark and damp site’ (another bit of land the council couldn’t give away) was being planted up with ‘feathered maiden’ apple trees to create a community orchard, later absorbed into BOG’s empire.

Although there was low level theft and damage to the gardens throughout the years and occasional references to ‘unofficial residents’ presumably rough sleepers, it wasn’t until October 2004 that some fool set light to the original polytunnel, which was then by the beech hedge at the northern edge of the garden. Two more polytunnel covers have been destroyed (by knives) since then, an unwanted expense, but also a big interruption to the rest of the work of the garden when the mess has to be cleared up and a gang assembled (on a rare windless day) to put on a new polythene cover.

resigning_polytunnel_BOG

All hands to the pump when a polytunnel needs to be reskinned

Security was the uppermost consideration when, in 2008, we decided to buy the shipping container dubbed the Shed of Steel (to distinguish it from the tin shed and the wooden one). Most of the money came from a whip round among members.

At the annual meeting in 2010 Kate Mills took over the Chair. It was also the year that we sought and won a big grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £10,000 to spend on creating replacement ponds, wheelchair-friendly paths through much of the garden, a ‘teaching tent’ which has been more used for social gatherings, an apple press and cash for various educational purposes.

Two examples from this programme show how BOG members working together can achieve small miracles.

After a digger had excavated the hole the pond project involved two long days of hard work by some 16 people, spreading sand, laying a huge interliner and then the butyl. It had been a very wet winter but unfortunately the job was completed just as the rain stopped for six weeks. Wessex Water and local firemen saved the day eventually, pumping 50,000 litres of water into the hole in half an hour.

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The annual spring clean in the main wildlife pond

The second achievement was the building of the earth oven, a project that took several weeks under the guidance of Liz Clark and involved, on one particularly chilly morning, a team of Boggers walking barefoot in circles trampling a mix of clay, sand and straw to make the bricks.

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That year the rickety tree bog was replaced by a new wheelchair-accessible composting toilet. Next door to it the BOG chicken club set up shop the following year in an impressive run with 12 bantams, created with significant financial help from Bill Brown.

The future for BOG looks good, but only if we keep focused. Remember Bill Brown’s words: ‘Weeds are the professionals and we are the amateurs … they are just waiting to take this space back.’ Let us hope the weeds are the worst of our problems.

Improving storage

To run a garden like ours we need to have quite a lot of tools and other equipment, and that all costs money, so it has been galling to find items missing. Probably the record is held by the new shovel that disappeared within a fortnight.

A few years ago we raised enough money, through a whipround of members, to buy a shipping container in which the most valuable kit can be  stored safely.

But that is now full. At the same time the large chicken run built about five years ago fell vacant as a result of the few remaining bantams being moved to smaller quarters.

That original chicken run will soon be a second secure storage unit. The stout frame, already reinforced with steel mesh, is to be clothed with timber and a new roof fitted. The door will be moved and reinforced. And padlocked.

Inside, in order to give decent 2 metre headroom, the soil is to be dug out, and a new access path built. Much of the work can be done by volunteers but the conversion work is being done by our long-term member John Gibbon this autumn. When finished it will look very much like the very successful shelter, another of John’s projects.

Once completed the new store will be home for tools, including new ones yet to be bought, our training tent and the vital tea-making equipment, etcetera. This will enable the shipping container to be reorganised to contain the most expensive items and generally give us some breathing room.

Slugmageddon, not to mention snail hell

The 2016 growing season has been particularly difficult for anyone trying to grow organicallyand at BOG we have been hard hit – so much so that the harvest of dwarf  and runners will be considerably less than a hill of beans. Despite three sowings, each of them were reduced to skeletons.

The culprits are all molluscs but it is difficult to know whether the slugs or the snails have done more damage. Obesity certainly seems the fashionable look  for all of them this year.

snails

Eat any more and you’ll never get back in your house

It’s probably a combination of a mild winter, and subsequent weather conditions which have generally favoured their population explosion throughout the growing season.

In addition our own actions have created an eat-your-fill feast for them: soil full of organic stuff to eat when they hatch underground, and hundreds of succulent plants waiting to be nibbled to death. And molluscs tend to be pretty parochial. If there is food on the doorstep why wander?

[This may also explain that infuriating thing where someone starts a veg garden and has stupendous success where his neighbour, having cultivated and fed his plot for years finds his crops in tatters. I like to think this is because the slugs and snails haven’t built up a population on the new plot. The following year it might be a bit more difficult, especially if the new plot is fed with farmyard manure, which may well contain slug and snail eggs.]

But the fightback is at hand. Len Fawcett has been visiting the garden at dusk and in one visit collected more than 200 of the offenders, which he then sentenced to some salty water.

That is one recommended organic way to conquer such an invasion. But it takes time and many repeated visits, especially on warm wet evenings. And it is doubly unpleasant to have to pick the slimy things and then to kill them. And to be effective you have to do it for at least six weeks, to catch new slugs as they hatch. Some commitment, even if you live close to the garden.

Another solution is to introduce the slugs to a few million parasites that get them before they get our veg, and that is now our plan. We are buying a double treatment of Nemasys, about 25 million nematodes that will be watered on the parts of the garden worst affected by the invasion.

The mixture delivers about 300,000 nematodes per square metre and they attack the slugs immediately, so that they lose their appetite and die underground within a week. A second application six weeks later catches the slugs that are emerging from eggs laid by the earlier generation.

Slugs are generally active when plants start growing and soil temperature is over 5ºC. Young slugs tend to stay underground, feeding on decaying organic matter, (like the manure we liberally use) developing unseen and waiting for young seedlings to be planted. They breed all year with two overlapping generations and peak egg laying is Mar-Apr and Sept-Oct.

Although we missed the first egg- laying we will be in time for the second peak and this should decimate the population that survives the winter. We plan to treat the plots with another dose of Nemasys next spring, just to be sure. It’s not a particularly cheap solution but it will be worth it to see our crops thriving next year.

That’s all very well for the slugs but the snails are a different matter. Because nematodes only work underground the snails tend not to get infected. In a perfect world we could rely on a couple of dozen thrushes to clear the ground but without them it looks like hand-picking is the only alternative for them.

That can be done in the winter when there is not a lot going on. Just identify the places where the snails congregate to hibernate – under containers or stones, and in dark places throughout the garden – and you can pick dozens in one go.