Rabbits 

Since the last remaining peacock was found a new home the major problem is unquestionably the rabbits. They have always been troublesome and keeping them at bay can feel like the siege of the Alamo. Brassicas and lettuces are always vulnerable, as are runner bean stems and baby beetroot, even the potatoes aren’t immune. As a rule the most damage is done in spring when the young plants are particularly juicy. Even beech and hawthorn hedges can sometimes take a hammering. One year we planted thirty five dwarf conifers but the rabbits chewed them down to a nub and today only one has survived. The numbers tend to gradually build up over the years and then the mixey returns to wipe them all out again. It’s a disturbing scenario but they do overstay their welcome and their absence is nevertheless a great relief. In recent years their prescience around springtime has been ominous but as the season has worn on they’ve become less conspicuous. There are a few stoats around who all need to eat and one year we even had a friendly minx on our patch, but he seems to have moved on now. This is a Buddhist monastery and the old fashioned deterrents aren’t encouraged, so the entire garden has been fenced off to hopefully keep them out, but it only needs one gate to be left open and we’re in trouble again. Chasing them out can prove difficult as they simply tear off up to the other end. 

The key seems to be to fence each individual area. This at least contains the problem whereupon home-made box-traps are set to catch intruders, who are then escorted from the premises. The wire fencing has to be over four feet high to prevent entry after a moderate snowfall, but drifting still gives them an easy hop over the top and then when there isn’t much food around they’ve stripped the bark off trees and shrubs. Admittedly the fencing isn’t very attractive so these are gradually being replaced with mortared stone walls and sturdy gates. 

Slugs 

Slugs seem to have few redeeming qualities but much of the time we’ve managed to avoid them. Outside the beds are kept barren for as long as possible so there’s nothing much out there for them to eat, and by the time we start planting they’ve usually gone elsewhere. Gradually they return but by then the crops are much bigger and hopefully can take care of themselves. 

Springtime is the most dangerous time when dozens of seedlings can be devoured in an evening. The cold frames in the greenhouse have to be carefully constructed and any potential gaps around the edges must be plugged. These boxes will be full of pots of young tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, brassicas and French marigolds and they need to be checked daily. To keep on top of things casualties are removed in the morning and then the culprit has to be tracked down. This is a time consuming business as every single pot has to be examined scrupulously, but there is no choice. Mindfulness again has to be employed when harvesting, as nobody relishes the sight of half a slug in their dinner.

Midges 

And finally of course there are the midges. 2016 saw an interesting development with a chill easterly breeze blowing through the first week of June. The poor old midges were clearly thrown by this and never really got into their stride for the rest of the season. Long may it continue but we’ll have to wait and see if there is a knock on effect in 2017.

They usually arrive 1st June and hang around until the autumn. June and July are the worst months but usually by August they’re beginning to ease off and by the autumn it’s just the occasional day, though you wouldn’t remove the screens at home until the clocks change. Having endured the rain, the sleet (surely the least attractive of all the precipitations), and the snow, to finally enjoy a summers day only to get eaten alive is disappointing. But as they say, it is character building. Some people are definitely more prone than others. We’ve tried headnets which keep them off, but it’s rather strange living in a dark space. And you really must remember where you are if you think you’re going to sneeze! Some of the insect repellents are effective up to a point and you may be able to stop them biting if you cover every single square millimetre, but you can’t stop them walking all over you and getting in your hair. On a bad day they will drive you insane. It’s good to shelter a garden from the wind and build nice micro climates, but unfortunately this does provide a safe haven for midges. The sun and the wind drives them off so on a good day they’ll be gone by nine or ten, but if you’re not moving around, say weeding for example, then you will be a sitting duck. On particularly bad days, i.e. damp, overcast and drizzly, there’s sometimes nothing else but to pack up and go home. It can be appalling. 

The only reliable solution is to light smokey bonfires. Up here we light a fire most days. In winter it is for warmth and bonhomie. In summer it’s to keep the pesky midges at bay. An upturned dustbin lid does the trick and can be moved around to where it’s most needed. Sometimes simply lighting the fire can be a desperate business, frantically gathering all the pieces together and nurturing the flame until the first wafts of smoke clear the air. And then the relief is overwhelming.