Before I write anything else, I have to admit my grudging admiration for these walking stomachs, gastropods translates as ‘belly-feet’. I’m a total foodie and I empathise with their endless appetite. They also leave a Hansel & Gretel silver slime trail so they can find their way home too, by moonlight through your veg plot, which is actually rather romantic. Hands down, the best stunt I’ve seen a slug perform as yet was half-abseiling and half bungee jumping on a rope of it’s own slime from the roof of a poly-tunnel down onto a defenceless courgette plant below. This is what we are up against; nocturnal ninja high-jinx.
The ones in my garden are not even particularly nocturnal anymore either, so bold in their dominion. Slugs have been winning the battle in my garden the last few years. Snails too. Over my years of gardening, I have shifted from a stance of Buddhist-ish nonviolence (think the worm scene in “Seven Years in Tibet”) to outright bloody war and vicious vendetta. Battles lost and vaguely won have included physical barriers, biological warfare & manual removal.
Installing copper coils around raised beds: the idea is that slugs do not like to pass over the copper as it gives them an electric shock. Especially if it is a double ring. Quite possibly the most ludicrous waste of time, effort and money I’ve every squandered in a garden. I may as well have walked around wearing a tin-foil hat. Some people still swear by it despite the evidence . Perhaps our Scottish slugs simply did not receive the memo. Less #thuglife, more #sluglife.
Slug castles: creative upcycling from kitchen to garden, cut up plastic bottles to create a plastic collar around vulnerable young plants (slugs don’t like to slither over the sharp bit). It also creates a focused topical watering opportunity by delivering water directly to the roots of the plants. Slug castles work when plants are young, but they do need checked regularly and, when the plants outgrow the collars it can be a bit hard to get them off (if needed elsewhere). It is also helpful if you know people who drink big bottles of fizzy water or juice, although the slimmer tonic bottles work just as well at a push…I put slug castles around all my brassicas and courgettes, otherwise there is literally nothing left. I push them in a couple of inches to keep them from blowing from the wind, and to detract burrowing slugs.
Beer traps: the idea is that slugs will get drunk, fall in and die happy. I personally have the karma of creating a lot of alcoholic gastropods who subsequently got the late night munchies and ate even more of my veg. Complete waste of time & beer. And the smell is disgusting.
Organic slug pellets: These are now illegal so it is a mute point. But they were effective until it rained. An expensive approach, and not one that could be used comfortably if you had a pond (frogs) . Or birds. Or cats/dogs. Or visitors of the 4 footed variety to your garden (ie everyone). Best avoided.
Nematodes: This is part of a wider industry known as IPM: Integrated Pest Management, which includes lady bird farms installed in commercial market garden poly-tunnels down to these microscopic parasite you cannot see. You mix up a packet of these invisible warriors in water in a watering can and liberally water around the garden beds. The slugs eat the parasite, which then eats them from the inside out. Essentially torture. It only works if you do it regularly. Best to to do early in the season around early April, then once every 6 weeks or so. I’ve not ordered any as yet as deliveries are delayed and they have a very short shelf-life. It is also quite an expensive approach at around £15 to treat 40m squared growing area each application. Works best on wet soil, so if you are going to use them and its dry, give your beds a really, really, really good soaking first. It is very effective though. Nematodes don’t effect snails.
By far the most depressing, and distressing, but ultimately most effective, is taking the walk of shame through the garden at dusk each evening to manually remove them. In the past I’ve thrown them in a lidded bucket full of green leaves and transported them to a new home far away. I’ve also thrown them in bucket of salty water which was as vile and disgusting as it sounds, besides what do you do with the bucket full of salted slime? On occasion I’ve also cut one in two. But that broke me.
By FAR the best way to manage slugs (without constantly feeling like a psychopathic murderer and truly awful human) is simply to eradicate as much of their habitat as absolutely humanly possible, but without eradicating the habitat of many other garden creatures!
Think about where slugs like to hide; if you have raised beds they hide around the edges of the wood, and under the wood at the bottom of the beds. If you have paths with landscape fabric, they will also hide (and multiply) at the edges here. Under old pots, under watering cans, in and around the compost bin. In a pile of old bits & bobs, under that tarp you meant to move last week. under, in and around the water butt, under the wheelie bin, the lid of the wheelie bin. Or, in other words, in any little crevice of untidiness, dampness & darkness. When I am doing my rounds, these are the places I look to first before the actual plants.
Slugs also love every single type of mulch I use in the garden, with the exception of compost. They love the wood-chip I had on paths and then, once partially broken down, used in lasagne beds. They love cardboard and paper and grass cuttings and comfrey cuttings; they love anything they can get their slimy mouths into. Anything that is in a process of decay is their territory.
And that is why I am dismantling ALL of my beautiful raised timber edged beds and getting the wood out of the garden (and into the garage for now). And that is why I am removing the white gravel paths and lifting the landscape fabric and leaving bare soil paths with a sprinkling of compost on top. And that is why I am finally becoming a tidy gardener. If I knew then, what I know now, I would never have shovelled 3 tonnes of gravel onto the paths or built endless raised beds. Don’t get me wrong, raised beds are absolutely brilliant if you have mobility issues of any kind, or if you are starting from contaminated soil, or extremely heavy clay soil (my garden), but otherwise they are just a breeding and hiding ground for slugs & snails and best avoided.
So, during this time of lockdown I have been busily undoing all the infrastructure of the last decade in the veg plot part of the garden…and I am busily clearing, tidying and organising my garden to have as few hidey places as possible. Except for the big bit of board that I’ll lay down to attract the buggers then harvest them at dusk into the slug bucket. And if anyone asks me on my daily walk, why I am walking with a bucket, I can entertain them with eccentricity.
Like anything in a garden though, the whole slug dramarama is a process that teaches patience and ecology. Like all of the creatures in nature’s interconnected but broken web, the only reason that the slugs are so out of whack is because their natural predators (garden birds, hedge-hogs, frogs) are under such threat in our mono-blocked monopoly. The more we recreate habitat for them via bird feeding/bird boxes, hedge-hog box and garden pond, the more balance we can bring back in our own wee patch. And play our part in reweaving the web.
Although, I’d also just really love ducks & chickens….which eat the slugs…