Daphne Ledward, Garden Planner, Gardener, Author and Broadcaster



Spalding Guardian Gardening 12 April 2012

A few weeks ago, I told you how pleased I was to receive a large consignment of horse manure. This was intended to improve the fertility of a vacant piece of vegetable garden by spreading it in a thick layer and leaving it undisturbed while the worms and soil micro-organisms underneath did their job over the summer, leaving me – hopefully – with a much improved piece of ground by the autumn.

Unfortunately, the results to date have left me with an abundant strip of young oats – not a problem where the area is not to be cultivated, but a great deal more troublesome where I decided to dig some into my new strawberry bed and adjacent herb border. I really should have known better, as I am quite aware of the inefficient digestive system of the horse, which allows most seeds to pass through undamaged; in fact, in a ready state for immediate and, it would appear, almost a hundred per cent germination.

The most important thing is not to disturb the manure any more than it has already been, so where the ground is fallow, I can, on a perfectly still day, knock the oat crop off with glyphosate. Where the job becomes more difficult is where the infiltrators are flourishing in and around my new strawberries. Glyphosate would seem to be the solution again, but if any touches the young strawberry plants, it would cause severe damage, if not wiping some out altogether.

The only remedy is to cover each with something rigid and substantial, like the kind of plastic basins that come with ready-to heat puddings. Normally, I save a few of these – just in case, you know – but because our kitchen has just undergone a major refit, I have got rid of anything I didn’t think merited saving for the new one, and this included a stack of small, plastic pudding basins. There are 36 plants in total, so we are now chomping our way through a diet of any ready meal that includes a container that would fit neatly over a strawberry plant – not good for the waistline in most cases.

These little bowls can be placed over each strawberry plant while I spray the rest of the bed with glyphosate. If the birds then leave the surface undisturbed, there should be little re-germination until the time comes to straw the bed. That’s the theory, anyway.

I should have known better than to add fresh horse manure to the bed in the first place, so I’ve no-one to blame but myself. Hoss muck – the technical term – should always be stacked in a large heap before using on the garden so it heats up enough to kill off any seeds, then the top layer removed and restacked before spreading the rest.

If I don’t get strawberries – if not this year, then next season – the size of footballs after all this messing about, I shall give up gardening and take up Scrabble instead.

Daphne Ledward

This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian