As I stepped into the greenhouse this morning, I caught a snail unabashedly munching its way through my climbing bean seedlings. It was chewing the leaves right off the stems, leaving a trail of destruction in its slimy wake. It wasn’t even eating the entire leaf! Just chomping on the base of each one until it fell off, and then moving on to the next.
That particular snail found itself airborne pretty swiftly, flying to the far end of the garden. But where there’s one, there’s a dozen, and I felt it was high time to Do Something.
But, what Something should I Do?
Slug pellets: Many of my fellow allotment gardeners use slug pellets because they are cheap and highly effective. However, I would rather avoid them. It seems a particularly unpleasant way for a slug or snail to die, for a start: basically, the pellets cause them to over-produce slime and dehydrate. The pellets are also not great for wildlife and pets, who can eat them – or the slugs and snails which have consumed them – and suffer ill-effects. I don’t want to harm hedgehogs, thrushes and blackbirds. And I definitely don’t want our bantams to be pecking up slug pellets – after all, we eat their eggs!
Biological control: There are nematode slug killers available, which you mix with water and sprinkle over your garden. The nematodes (microscopic worms) are infected with slug-killing bacteria, and quickly put paid to the veggie pests. The treatment is effective for about six weeks – long enough to see you through a good portion of the germination season. I am tempted, but it would be expensive to get enough to cover the whole of our allotment.
Copper tape: Rather like we humans don’t like chewing aluminium foil, slugs and snails can’t bear sliding over copper. The metal reacts with their mucus, so wrapping tape around the base of your plant pots is an excellent mollusc deterrent. A totally organic solution, with no slug-death involved. The drawback? If you’re sowing lots of seeds in lots of pots, it can get pricey very quickly!
Slug-stalking: Nightly trips down to the greenhouse, armed with a torch, can be a good way of keeping on top of your veggie predators. Slugs and snails creep out in the cool, damp night, looking for tasty seedlings to snack on – and then a great big human grabs them, chucks them in a bucket, and tosses them down the end of the garden. (Or kills them, depending on the great big human’s level of squeamishness!) This is effective, but labour-intensive.
Beer traps: Slugs love beer. They love it so much that they will slither right into a jar of it and drown. Simply half-bury a jar in the ground, half-fill it with beer, and come back in the morning to count the victims! The slugs have to get close, though, to smell the beer, meaning that you need quite a lot of beer traps for this method to be effective.
For our greenhouse, we have decided to use a combination of beer traps (made with the dregs of my husband’s home brew) and slug-stalking. I am really intrigued by the nematode biological control, though – if you have used it, do drop me a line and let me know what you thought of it.
P.S. I haven’t forgotten that I promised to show you my FIGO construction for protecting my broad beans! It was just that a sharp frost delayed me from planting out the seedlings – but they are getting so big and strong now that I think they are almost ready. Fingers crossed for next week!