The most obvious change being the straw mulch. It performs several functions, paramount for me was water preservation, but also as it breaks down it nourishes the soil, and it suppresses weeds by blocking out light.
This has meant that ever single seedling has been started in the greenhouse this year, and that makes for more work – once they’re big enough they all need re-potting or planting out. I started them in cut-up pieces of toilet roll and kitchen roll tubes, nestled in little plastic berry punnets. So they were contained in groups by type/planting date, but the little cardboard cylinders made them easy to separate come planting time.
This year I’ve sown a greater variety of veg than I’ve ever attempted before, all from seed, with carefully planned companion planting to get the most out of everything. I’ve even developed an interest in flowers for their insect-attracting qualities and have indulged my love of herbs as an integral part of the veg garden.
So imagine the heartbreak when, each morning after planting out a batch of seedlings, I’d wake to find they’d all been eaten. Completely. Absolutely nothing left.
So the mollusc war began.
I had a terrible time with them last year, they are very at home at the end of our garden, and my main plot is very near their dark, soggy haven. But this year has been Something Else. We discussed at first removing the straw, as this was clearly keeping the soil moist for them and giving the snails somewhere to hide in the daytime. In the end, though, I felt too strongly that the advantages would outweigh this one disadvantage, so the straw stayed.
1. Beer Traps
So I have spent a fair amount of time constructing the Slug Fort. There are I think ten beer traps, six in the main plot and two in each of my big planters on the patio.
They do work. But not well enough. I had a PLAGUE of slugs and snails. I decided to test the theory that they don’t like crawling across sharp and spiky things.
2. Sharp and Spiky Things
So I tried thorny prunings – we have the giant prickly bramble-type-weeds poking out of every nook and cranny in the garden, so I started keeping the prunings and drying them out.
I laid them out like a fortress wall around my seedlings in two of my smaller planters. They were actually very effective while the seedlings were still small, but less so once they were established, as by then there were lots of leafy ‘bridges’ for the snails to cross. Useless on the mulched areas.
I also tried crushed nut/egg shells, which did seem to work at first, but I guess after a couple of rainfalls they got all moved around and the snails found a comfortable way across.
Another trick I tried was laying a barrier of bran around the seedlings. Slugs and snails love bran, but it apparently dries them out and kills them. This sounded SO. VERY. PROMISING. at first. Well, I know for sure that they love it, I’ve watched them eat and eat and eat the stuff. Not certain how effectively it kills them though. Didn’t seem to help my seedlings much. Sigh.
So I was getting desperate. You can see the damage on the peas above – well, I feel lucky that the plant survived at all. Not much else did. No way was I going to resort to nasty toxic slug pellets – so my last line of defence?
These are microscopic, parasitic worms that are active under the soil. They infect slugs and snails, causing them to stop feeding and eventually die. I used a product called ‘Nemaslug’. I used the smallest pack and it cost about a tenner. I tried not to get too hopeful as I watered them in.
Tentatively, a few days later, I planted out some more seedlings.
That was a week and a half ago.
Most of those seedlings ARE SURVIVING!
IT’S A MIRACLE!
Honestly, I don’t mind slugs and snails. They’re as welcome in my garden as anything else. If I lose a couple of plants to them, fair enough. They’re food for hedgehogs and other wildlife. The most ‘permaculture’ approach is to simply let the pests be, so that their natural predators can move in and make themselves at home.
Well, I gave them two years to move in, and they didn’t. So I am very thankful for nematodes. Effective for around 6 weeks, they are an ideal solution for years like this, when conditions have been perfect for slugs and nothing else seems to work.
I don’t expect I’ll have much of a harvest this year. A lot of seedlings got rootbound in the green house while I tried to deal with the slugs, and the surviving plants all look a bit worse for wear. But I’ve had a few pea pods, and I have hope for the future!
Have you found any effective tricks for dealing with our slimy friends?