Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Slug menace: a five-pronged approach

Slugs and snails can completely devastate your crops with their voracious appetite for most things green. If you’re not prepared to kill them you might as well not bother growing vegetables. Best to hit them early in the spring before they multiply madly, so that your seedlings can grow in peace.

Habitat for slug eaters

1. Encouraging slug-eating wildlife

Lots of animals eat slugs: blackbirds, thrushes, frogs and toads, hedgehogs etc. Make your garden attractive to them by planting hedges and plants they like and by having a wildlife pond for amphibians to spawn in. 

2. Copper

Copper on cabbage
Copper gives gastropods an electric shock when they touch it. You can buy copper rings to protect your seedlings, but we use copper tape around a three-litre pot; it’s a lot more economical when you have hundreds of seedlings! If you have spare old copper piping lying around, you could open out and flatten this and tack it around the tops of your raised beds.

3. Beer traps

The dangers of alcohol
Gastropods love the smell of beer and follow it to the point where they drown in it (not the worst possible death, surely). You can make your own or buy them ready-made. We use the nicely designed and very effective Slug X. Fill with the cheapest beer you’re prepared to drink (there always seems to be a drop left over) and leave in infested areas. One fill will last about four nights and you can move the traps to a different spot each night.

4. Nightly killing sprees

The most slugs and snails you’re ever going to despatch in one go is in killing sessions at dusk after a rainy afternoon. Use your preferred method (stab with a sharp knife, crush with a stone or boot, drop into a bucket of boiling water...) and clear hundreds of them.

5. Slug pellets

There are two possibilities here, based on the active ingredient used. Metaldehyde-based slug pellets are definitely toxic to wildlife, pets and children, so if you use them at all, do so with caution and sparingly. They can be useful in areas where wildlife, pets and children don’t stray. We have been known use them on the inside perimeter of the greenhouse and polytunnel in early spring before we plant out in earnest.

More recently, we heard about iron phosphate-based slug pellets, which are recommended for use by 'organic growers'. As with seemingly everything else, when you dig around online, you find dissenting voices. There are claims around that iron phosphate-based pellets are not as non-toxic as the manufacturers would have us believe, particularly in the case of earthworms. There does seem to be a general consensus that they are at least safer than the metaldehyde-based pellets and therefore likely to be the better choice for cautious and sparing use.

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