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The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects

I don’t like to give in or be defeated by things but I think when it comes to slugs and snails, for this year anyway, I have. There was a time when I would patrol my garden as dusk fell, torch in one hand and trowel in another collecting these slimy creatures. With a bucket of salty water at the ready, they would be disposed of and I would go to bed feeling like I was at least on top of the problem. A sprinkling of organic slug pellets or water bottles, cut down to create a collar-like protection around particularly vulnerable plants, were further weapons in my armoury.

However, this incredibly wet summer has provided such perfect conditions for slugs and snails that it’s proved impossible to control them. I’ll admit my night-time forays have been few and far between, with other commitments taking up so much time. And if I’m honest the prospect of donning full waterproofs to go out and search for slugs in the pouring rain is not the most appealing way of spending my time. I’ve tried beer traps in the past but the disgusting gloop that results is difficult to get rid of. Where do you put a mixture of drowned slugs, slime and cheap lager?

Hostas

Shredded hostas

Even organic slug pellets which have proved useful in the past don’t seem to be working this year. I have a plastic trough that I grow salad leaves in and I’ve had to resow it threes times now. I’ve even tried planting into it more established little lettuce plants but this didn’t even work. I came out one day to find a slug, in broad daylight no less, manoeuvring its way through the compost, avoiding the slug pellets and hoovering up the lettuce. Seriously these creatures have no shame.

A slimy trail

A slimy trail

My hostas are taking on a shredded look, lamiums have been reduced to shreds and a salvia is now nothing more than a stump. I have plants that a slug or snail, the actual culprit is unclear, has crawled over the leaves at the base, up the stem and then eaten the much anticipated flower. Why, why, why?

It’s not like I want to completely eradicate these detritivores. I appreciate their place in the chain of organisms that breaks down plant material but what I don’t understand is, give a slug the choice between some rotting leaves and some lettuce seedlings and it will choose the latter. Maybe it’s the same as giving me the choice between service station sandwiches and a gourmet meal in a restaurant. My lettuce must just be too tasty to slither past. But surely my lamiums and salvias aren’t that much more appealing than a pile of decaying leaf litter. Maybe I just have to accept that there are some plants that I just shouldn’t grow.

Where's the salad gone?

Where’s the salad gone?

There was a time when I was pretty squeamish about disposing of slugs but the sense of frustration I feel when I come across plants that have been damaged when I’ve spent so much time nurturing them has led to a more ‘seek and destroy’ mentality. So much so, that scissors or squishing with a welly are now employed. I have more of a problem with snails though, partly because scissors aren’t going to work with that shell and also more because they look like a living creature rather than slugs, which just look like a blob of slime. Writing this though still makes me feel slightly guilty. I don’t like destroying life but when it is estimated that there are up to 1000 slugs per square metre in parts of Britain this summer because of the mild winter and wet summer, which could mean potentially 15 billion slugs in the whole of the country, I don’t feel quite so bad. (figures taken from the Daily Telegraph 23rd May 2012)

In some respects it is my own fault, the overpopulation of slugs is a sign to some degree that the little ecosystem that is my garden is not functioning properly. There simply aren’t enough predators to control the mollusc population. The difference between my garden and my allotment is striking. Whilst the plants up on the plot have not survived completely unscathed they have suffered relatively little damage, birds such as song thrushes and blackbirds are doing a fine job of controlling the slugs and snails. Even though I encourage birds into the garden, prowling neighbours’ cats seem to put many of them off rummaging about in the undergrowth and a back garden entirely surrounded by fences makes access for hedgehogs difficult. I did come across a frog today though sitting under some grasses by the newly installed pond. I don’t think one frog is going to solve my slimy problem though, so for now, I can only hope that at some point soon it will stop raining, the ground will dry up and the slugs will go into hiding for a while.

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