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Cucumber E-Coli & Cuckoo Spit

Are our veggies safe?

I’ve had a few emails that I thought worth sharing. The first asked about the safety of home grown vegetables in light of the recent outbreak of e-coli in Germany. Although initially blamed on Spanish cucumbers, the cause is still not clear as the bacteria found on the cucumbers is a different strain.

It was thought the most likely cause of the infection was the use of sewerage as manure. I’ve said it many times, it is possible to compost and safely use human waste BUT you need to really know what you are doing. My firm advice and practice is to flush it away or consult an expert if you want a composting loo!

The danger is that our waste carries our bugs and so is most likely to cause disease to us. Hence the outbreaks of typhoid and cholera from contaminated water that plagued our cities before the introduction of sewers and clean water supplies.

Next most risky, as far as I can gather, is dung from carnivores. Both cat and dog faeces can carry parasites that can harm humans. Dung from herbivores; cow, horse and sheep is traditionally used as garden fertiliser and is relatively safe. Pig manure lies somewhere in the middle.

The traditional advice is to use ‘well composted’ or ‘well rotted’ manure. This is mainly because it has more nutritional value to the soil than fresh but it also helps reduce the load of harmful bugs. The composting process heats up the waste and this kills a lot of bacteria.

I’m not a scientist, certainly not a specialist in public health so it’s just my opinion. Regardless of how well rotted your manure is, you should always properly wash vegetables that are in contact with the ground. It’s usually a good idea with leafy outdoor-grown veggies as well. You never know if a bird has pooped on them or a dog ‘watered’ them.

Having said that, I’ve eaten hundreds of strawberries and tomatoes straight off the plant without washing them and I’m still here to tell the tale.

Cuckoo Spit & Weedkiller

Then there was an email from someone worried about cuckoo spit. If you’re the sender, I did reply but your email bounced my replies.

I have a problem, we have ‘acquired’ quite a lot of what we call ‘cuckoo spit’ on most of our plants.  Can you advise the best way to eradicate this problem please?   Also can you advise where I will be able to buy a gel form of weedkiller suitable for trees and very thick pest plants?

Cuckoo Spit

Cuckoo spit is the foam surrounding the juvenile form of the frog hopper. They feed on the plant like aphids but, since there’s only one per spit, do little harm.  I’m not sure cuckoo spit is actually a problem worth bothering about. OK, they suck a little sap but not enough to make a noticeable difference, If you really want rid, then spray with the hosepipe and wash them off or brush away by hand. No need to get a chemical treatment.

Gel Weedkiller

As for weedkiller, best bet now is a garden centre. The really effective ammonium sulphamate is no longer licensed for use so you’re into strong glyphosate. I’m not sure if it is legal to recommend mixing glyphosate with wallpaper paste to make a gel weedkiller very cheaply.. so I’m not suggesting that!

Sowing Onions

Finally, I had this:

I reckon I could be pushing my luck here! I ran out of space earlier in the year but really want to plant some shallots or onions. Can you tell me if it’s really too late as all my books tell me it is!

The answer is that all the books are right. Basically onions are controlled by day length and we’re nearly at the longest day. Come August you could plant autumn onions for an early crop next year but we’re far too late for a new crop this year. Spring onions are fine, of course.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary

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