Tuesday 28 January 2020

Slugs, the bowsies

By David Medcalf

It is that time of year again. The time of year when giddy hope collides with cruel reality, when highs of lofty aspiration are tempered by lows of sickening anguish.

Eldrick and young Persephone have learned over the years to tip-toe around their father's mood swings as he careers from reckless optimism to weepy despair. Dear Hermione is set to provide what support she can during the tough episodes - a rock of good sense in the rip-tide of turbulence.

The advent of summer with its promise of promise of championships to be won and long putts to be drained has much to recommend it. The temperature in the sun terrace at Medders Manor frequently soars above the 20 Celsius mark. It is time to raid the cellar and dust off a nice bottle of German white - no, make that a case of German white and invite the neighbours round. Time to make sure there are reserves of ice cubes in the freezer. Time to crank up the barbecue and order the steaks.

As May gives way to June the Rolling Acres are heaving with life as garden, meadow and woodland take heady flight. I am sure that eucalyptus tree is twice the size it was last week. I am amazed to find that rose-bush is in such abundant pink bloom so early in the season. I am cheered to see the ground heaving with tubers beneath those strapping great potato plants. I am also a nervous wreck…

Hermione came home to find me sitting in the kitchen, with shoulders heaving and a pool of tears gathering on the good table cloth. At first no sound escaped my anguished lips, though my mouth moved to open and close, as silent as a goldfish. Only after repeated efforts could I make noise, a gurgled 'k-k-k' sound which eventually led to a whole word - 'cabbage'. Then more tears. More heaving of the shoulders. And more struggling for coherence, this time a stuttering 'b-b-b' which gradually resolved into 'bowsies'.

'Would it help if you showed me?' my wife asked gently. I shrugged helplessly, a spoken reply beyond me, but allowed Hermione - sweet angel Hermione - to guide me from the room and out into the Side Garden. There we gazed in desolation at the remnants of not just of the cabbage but also of other brassicas - the kale, the broccoli and the much prized sprouts. All had been raised from seed, graduating from the germination tray to be transferred to specially prepared beds, each plant in the rudest of rude good health. Then came the combination of rainfall and balmy summer temperature which unleashed hideous forces of darkness. Foul beings crawled forth under cover of night to reduce the plants to stringy shreds and the gardener to a quivering, traumatised heap. Bowsies!

Slugs prey on the young and helpless. Slugs reduce whole swathes of verdant growth to flitters. Slugs give gardeners nightmares. It is not just the cabbage (and cousins) which they have attacked like a slimy plague of Old Testament virulence. They are to blame too for the sickly state of the rhubarb patch. While other species recognise rhubarb leaves as poisonous, slugs tuck in as like Saturday night drunks chomping their way through chips and spiceburgers. Bowsies of the first water.

They have snipped off newly sprouted sweetcorn at the base. They have reduced a prosperous chilli pepper population to a few tattered survivors. They have given the young carrots a mauling and they have mounted raiding parties on the courgettes. No sooner have they been tamed in one corner of the garden than they appear more multitudinous, more insatiable, more determined than ever in another.

Weeds are a nuisance. Bad weather is a curse. Birds are a hazard. But only slugs offer such a relentless and unbending obstacle to the production of decent vegetables. Bowsies.

Hermione grimaced and gave me a reassuring hug, raising my demoralised spirits somewhat with a promise of chicken curry. I was left to assess the damage caused by the slimy ones and to hit back with a liberal scattering of blue slug killer pellets around the young peas and beans so that they may be spared the holocaust.

I don't actually expect the pellets will make much difference but it is important not to lose heart completely. The bowsies.

Wexford People

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