Although I like to think of myself as a fairly relaxed and easy going kind of chap (I can picture my wife laughing hysterically at that one) I am rather partial to the odd rant or two. Tesco’s, planning regulations, traffic and politicians are frequent themes for long winded and heart-pain inducing monologues that I like to spout whenever time allows. But recently there is just one thing that has taken centre stage as subject for my rage.
Actually, two things; slugs and snails.
Last year my losses to these blighters where so catastrophic and the psychological consequences so disturbing that it nearly put me off veg growing all together; months of research, planning and hard graft were seemingly wiped out in a single night of slimy, silent munching.
Do you remember that scene in Platoon where William Dafoe sinks to his knees, turns his face to the heavens and screams?
That was me.
It still makes my blood boil to think about the catastrophe, but what can one do to stop these marauding barbarians from pillaging my crops? If I don’t find an effective solution and have another repeat of last year I will end up a quivering, deranged mess, curled up in the corner of my greenhouse, cradling the half eaten remains of various plants.
So I’ve come up with a list of various anti-slug measures, comparing their relative strengths and weaknesses to try and help me decide my best course of action.
The Beer Trap
To create the traditional beer trap all one has to do is pour a bit of beer into the bottom of an old plastic bottle, cut some ‘doors’ into the plastic and leave next to the plants you want to protect. In theory, when Mr (or Mrs) slug go for their night time buffet of prize leeks and fresh lettuce, they can’t help but smell the rich, heady aroma of a nice cool beer and pop into the plastic pub to have a drink. In doing so, they plop down into the booze and enjoy a wonderfully intoxicated demise.
Whenever I put down a beer trap I will always find a few slugs wallowing in the bottom, so I know that they are effective, but the problem is that a slug or snail has to be within a couple of feet’s distance if they’re to be tempted away from the plants you’re trying to protect. As a result, if you’ve got a decent size veg plot, to keep the majority of slimy predators away you will need to deploy a lot of beer traps and not only is creating and maintaining a string of alcoholic outposts time consuming and rather naff looking, it’s also a heart wrenching waste of beer.
The Egg Shell Barrier
The other ‘classic’ method to deter slugs is to place crushed up egg shells round your plants (handy when you have a few chooks) to form a protective barrier, the idea being that slugs don’t like travelling over the sharp surface that these crushed eggy cast-offs produce and will bugger off to find something else to go and munch instead.
The problem is that as soon as it rains, the shells get damp, start to decompose and lose their sharpness. If there is persistent rain – and, let’s face it, there will be – in a relatively short space of time the barrier no longer poses a problem for my glutinous enemy to wander over and they can gorge themselves on once protected veg.
The Electric Fence
According to various magazine and internet articles (the internet never lies, right?), because of the tiny electric charges that are held within copper, if you surround plants with a barrier of the brown metal no slug will dare attack protected crops. If they do, they get a rather nasty shock, akin to a human walking into an electrified fence.
To construct such a barrier one simply places copper coins around a plant or creates a plastic sleeve from cut up plastic bottle with a thin strip of copper wire wrapped round.
The only drawback with this is that it’s time consuming and labour intensive: I have created some ‘2 pence barriers’ but, being a clumsy fellow, just setting one up around a single broccoli plant took a fiddly few minutes. The idea for doing it for all my plants made me feel a bit funny and reach for a restorative beer trap.
I have eagerly read about Nematodes which are tiny little micro-organisms that live in the soil, attack slugs and gradually kill them off.
Nematodes are naturally occurring in most patches of ground but not in high enough concentrations to pose a real problem to large slug populations. However, the clever people in white coats and spectacles (not to stereotype scientists) have come up with a way to breed these mini beasts and you can now purchase a concentrated sachet of the little killers. All you then have to do is plop the contents of the sachet into a watering can, mix with H2O and sprinkle liberally over the area that you want to protect; letting the nematodes do all the hard work for you.
The drawback is that nematodes only stay active in the soil for around 6 weeks, just go after slugs and – if you want to regularly protect a fairly large area of ground – will leave your wallet a little lighter as each anti-slug sachet costs around eight pounds.
The Slug Hunt
One mustn’t forget the good old slug hunt, a truly dangerous activity that pits gardener against wild beast.
Once the sun goes down and the ground cools, slugs and snails will slowly emerge from their hidey holes and advance upon any juicy looking prey; enjoying the cover that darkness provides against hungry birds.
With torch in one hand and empty jam jar in the other (skilfully avoiding any garden based detritus) a keen hunter inspecting their veg plot at such a time will uncover hordes of hungry, slimy pests, openly destroying their hard work. It’s so easy to spot your enemy that in the space of ten minutes you can have a depressingly full jar of freshly picked sliminess.
(Note: Don’t be tempted just to plonk any captured beasts in a nearby hedge as snails and slugs are nomadic creatures and can travel large distances; so feed them to the birds instead)
This rather laborious task is the most effective anti-slug method I have discovered, but it is rather anti-social and you do seem like a proper nutter when you are bumbling around in the dark, torch shining, shouting Got you, you little bugger! and carrying out various victory dances.
So, taking this all into consideration, what’s the plan of action for this year?
Hopefully by combining the lure of the beer trap, electric shock of copper wire, killer nematodes and the discomfort of broken egg shells, my crops will be protected from the worst that the slugs have to offer. I shall make sure to mix up these anti-slug methods and use each in limited quantity; thus ensuring sanity of mind and buoyancy of bank balance.
And when these tactics are married with the occasional slug hunt and the hungry, prying beaks of my faithful chickens, I am quietly confident that I will not suffer the same losses that I did the previous year and I can look forward to a healthy crop of non-nibbled vegetables.
Famous last words!