Sunday, April 14, 2013

What's been eating my broccoli?

We've had numerous pest problems in the fruit and veg garden in the past, including mice, rabbits, squirrels and magpies - and we even had an issue with brown hares a few years ago.

But what has been eating my brassicas?

It started in mid-March when the only green vegetables in the garden were the purple sprouting broccoli - possibly my favourite veg - and some leeks. Something started eating the leaves of the broccoli, including the thick leaf stalks. Since then it has proceded at a pace and, until this weekend, I had no idea what it was.

It spoiled the florets with a bit of mechanical damage rather than eating them but really went for the leaves, leaving sharp, jagged edges and maybe about 80% loss of leaf surface. And it didn't even start with the tender new growth but seemed to go for the biggest leaves, initially those a good 18 inches off the ground.

Those first stems attacked seemed too thick for mice. Even a rabbit would have had to reach up for them and why would it do that when there were other leaves in easy reach? Given the usual rabbit approach of starting with newer, tender growth, it seemed unlikely to be one. And, having a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy with squirrels, I hadn't seen one in the garden for several weeks.

So we set up a trail camera to see if we could catch the culprit digitally. It worked a treat and now we can add wood pigeons (Columba palumbus) to our list of garden pests.

Fat wood pigeon, soon to be an endangered species, feasting on my prized purple sprouting broccoli

I've never had a problem with them in the past so I've left them alone, gladly watching them as they arrived routinely in early evening at the bird feeding stations outside our kitchen window, pecking up some of the fallen food left on the steps by other smaller garden birds.

But I had noticed their numbers rising in recent in months. Flocks of up to two dozen roost in the trees around our yard., We used to have peregrine falcons - widely condemned by pigeon racers - nesting nearby but I've not seen any for a while. Perhaps the rise in one population is linked to the demise in the other on a local level.

So now it is time for me to take action and, since a much needed and fancied fresh food has been removed from our table at this time of garden famine, can anyone recommend a good recipe for pigeon pie?

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