In the last week or so we have changed tactics in our long running war against the gastropod molluscs that are determined to end our simple dream of growing enough vegetables for the family. If you live anywhere nearly as slushy as Wales and you have ever tried to grow anything outside you have probably had your own private and, I’m betting, passionate encounter with our slimy friends. Well we have, literally, tonnes of them wandering happily around our land munching through everything they come across and, fairly regularly, that has been our veg patch.
[Warning: For those of you of a squeamish disposition, this may not be the post for you]
In the last year, through a lack of time and understanding and a unprecedented onslaught, we had to resort to the use of slug pellets to protect the more vulnerable of the seedlings. Now, this is like trying to pay off a debt problem by spending more – it might ease the pain in the short term but it’s sure going to come back and bite you later. As we discovered, slug pellets do kill slugs (and snails) very effectively but, come a bit of rain (which it normally does very soon) and the toxic chemicals are washed away into your soil and you are quickly having to replenish them. But this is the least of your worries – worst of all you are indirectly shooting at your own men. All the critters that are on your side, munching up loads of slugs every day, such as the toads and slow worms, are more than likely killed by eating poison-ridden bodies. Needless to say, this makes your challenge all the harder.
So… new tactics were required for this spring. As the seedlings go out, the weather warms and the rains come, an army of slimers is stirring under the grass. The backbone of our approach is to try and restore some sort of sane balance to the predator / prey ratio in the garden and so keep on top of the problem without the use of pellets. Here are the key points in the plan:
– No more pellets unless the crop is covered and it is strictly necessary
– Morning and evening rounds collecting all slugs from in, on and around the veg patch. These fellows are then placed in a covered bucket of water to meet their grisly end. The photo is of ONE morning’s worth of collecting, which gives you an idea of what we’re up against – this is a glamorous life…
– The water from the above is used on the veg patch itself. The high level of parasitic nematodes in the water will add some protection to the soil.
– Comfrey is heaped in small piles near the most sensitive crops. These act as ‘traps’ for the slugs who love to feed on it and hide under it, so can be collected easily.
– Some old copper tube is laid around a few small areas. Slugs are not supposed to like climbing over it. We’ll see!
– Grass edges are kept short and potential hiding and laying spots are kept to a minimum (this included firming down loose ground on the edges of the patch
– In the not too distant future we’re going to dig a duck pond in one corner of the patch. We’re hoping for some khaki campbells, or similar, that make very good slug eaters. These guys can then be let out into the garden to forage as suitable.
– And finally, be prepared to take some collateral damage. We have to be realistic and realise that we’re going to have some significant losses to the slugs and, eventually, they’re going to win the war.
We’ll keep you posted on how it goes – I’m sure you’re desperate to know!