Stop frostbite and pest bites!

Crops under fleece.
Crops under fleece.

The world of vegetable growing, especially the competitive show section, lends itself beautifully to experimentation.

This is why I love the buzz of summer and autumn shows, with exhibitors explaining how they have overcome several hurdles on the way to success. It is worth listening as different sowing and planting times, special mixtures and fertilisers are discussed and occasionally a widely-held belief shot down in flames.

The revelation by friend Jim in front of an audience springs to mind. He is famed, among others things, for his long carrots, and therefore views the carrot root fly, which also attacks parsnips, as an annual threat to top prizes.

Having watched helplessly as his favourite control insecticides were withdrawn from the market over time, he tried a ‘green’ approach, erecting a knee-high barrier around the crop. Still the carrot fly gained access to lay its eggs around his beloved carrots.

So in desperation Jim grew the crop in tall oil drums that stood way above the pests’ alleged flying height, hoping they would bang into it and ‘suffer from headaches’ as he put it. You can guess what happened next – he harvested larvae-riddled carrots and was not amused.

Fast forward to a popular TV gardening programme and the presenter is telling us that there are two ways to prevent carrot fly damage; plant a smelly deterrent crop such as shallots alongside the carrots or erect a surrounding barrier because the pest is a low flyer.

I’m sure Jim would like to meet the programme researcher! It is wise to sow carrots sparingly in the drill and avoid having to thin out the seedlings. Bruised foliage encourages pests to home-in on the crop. But the best control method I’ve experienced is to sow the carrot seed then spread a generous covering of fleece over the area, battening it down. This allows in light and moisture but not the fly.

Tease out more protective fleece to allow for growth but leave the covering in place from sowing to harvesting.