June 13

Slugs and Snails – 6 things to do to try and beat them

Walking along the sea front this morning I saw this (see picture to the left). It is wild Sea Beet, which you can eat, but look at all those snails having their breakfast.

In fact every single plant along the front looked like this and there are quite a few plants. They grow in the small crack between the pavement and wall and were covered in snails. In this picture they all look like a particular type with their whitish shells and dark spiral line. My money is on these being Striped Snails but I have been known to be wrong before. They are not the same type as the ones I have on my allotment which are the regular brown common garden snail but this wet spring has meant that I have lots of them and as I plant out all my veg, there is a very high possibility that a bit of it will be eaten.

I don’t use any type of chemical to stop the slugs and snails, not even the organic slug pellets, so here is a list of things that you can try to prevent heart break when you discover that all your lovely little carrot seedlings have been eaten away in one night.

  1. Watch the weather forecast and only plant out when there is a run of days that are not wet. Planting out when you have a few days of rain is asking for it. Below is the forecast for the next few days and it is dry enough to plant out. Even on the day when there is a rain drop, the likelihood of rain is 13% so it is fairly safe.
Perfect planting out weather.
  1. When planting out your plants, water the hole or row that you are planting into when you put the plant in but before you backfill with the soil.

Here is my Romanesco courgette being watered in. Once the soil has been put back, it doesn’t look as if I have watered it at all. There are two benefits to doing this. One, the compost and roots have the same moisture level as the soil and this encourages the roots to move out and search for the water going down rather than towards the surface. Secondly, the top soil is not damp and therefore does not attract slugs and snails that love a bit of moisture.

Obviously, when I water the plant when it next needs it I will water the surface of the soil but I will use about half a watering can in one go which will soak down and the plant will be a bit bigger and should therefore shrug off a bit of snail attention.

2. However, I do provide a bit of protection for my new plantings.

Sometimes I use copper rings which are supposed to keep slugs and snails off new plantings because it provides some sort of electrical shock when they travel over it. I don’t know if that is true but look at my dahlia shoots with not a bite in sight despite all this rain.

There are other things that you can use to provide a barrier between your plants and things that eat them. A few of my favourites are plastic bottles with the bottoms cut off acting as small green houses. It is just a bit harder for a slug or snail to get in, but not impossible, and it has been known for me to trap a slug or snail in there which then completely eats the plant.

I also use fleece to cover one or two blocks of planting, in particular lettuce, brassicas and onions as can be seen here.

3. After all of this, I then look at the beds surrounding the new plantings. Are they hiding places for the dreaded creatures? Well, in this case yes they are. If beds around have weeds on them, plastic coverings or piles of manure that haven’t been spread yet then slug and snail heaven resides all around. It’s not just weeds – rhubarb is a great hiding place.

On the bed above the planting I had black plastic and bricks and when I removed all of this to let everything dry out, I removed 173 slugs and snails. They were everywhere as was a slow worm but he moved too quickly, go figure, for me to get a photo.

So, I have weeded both beds, removed the black plastic and bricks and put the wood in its correct position. This should all reduce the places where they can hide. I collected all the slugs and snails up that I could find and dealt with them in my own way. You can place them in your compost bin or somewhere which isn’t on your plot (not your neighbour’s plot though!) but beware that research has shown that snails are homing creatures.

4. I go on hunts for slugs and snails in damp and wet weather. I know where they hide on my plot and which plants will have quite a few in them. I used to have a wonderful hedge of lavender near one of my beds. During a wetter than usual year I couldn’t get any seedlings to survive in the beds nearby even when I had been through and picked all of the slugs and snails out. In the end I had to dig them up and when I did I found hundreds that I hadn’t seen. Lesson learnt! So, learn where the hiding places are on your plot.

5. I sow extra seedlings of everything that I plant out and usually pot them on and keep them until I am sure everything has survived. If things are eaten, I plant new ones out having done a thorough search for where slugs and snails are hiding. Bigger plants are less susceptible to being eaten so they may survive in exactly the same place as the ones that were eaten.

6. There are other things that people swear by such as crushed egg shells, unwashed wool that you sometimes get as packaging, beer traps but all the research suggests that nothing really works. You can also buy nematodes that you water into the soil. This will be an added expense and might be worth it if you are a professional grower. You can encourage frogs and toads by having a pond, offer shelter for slow worms, all of which I have in order to try and provide a balance for nature. However, you need to find the solutions that have some results for you and your plot. They may not be the same as mine but we can all limit the amount of damage done by these pests that the RHS say they get the most questions about.

June 13

Gardening Book Club

I have written before about wanting to join a gardening book club but realising that I would have to organise one myself. Well, I have gone and done it.

Our first meeting is tonight to decide how often to meet and how to choose what to read. As part of the delight of book club for me is the introduction to books that I wouldn’t have chosen, I am hoping that we will all take a turn in choosing a book and this led me to thinking about books that I would choose. So here is my current list that I will dip into until I see something else!

A French Garden Journey: The road to Le Tholonet by Monty Don

The hero of Gardener’s World and a keen gardener, Don has made programmes about his visits to gardens. I much prefer his writing to the programmes. He has obviously spent quite a bit of time in France outside of work and so his love of the place shines through. The descriptions shine and I enjoyed the parts where he explained how he wrote.

I have a standard routine when writing about a garden that I have visited. Whilst I am there I fire off photographs without any thought as to pictoral quality or lasting value. I am simply making notes alongside the scribbles in my notebook. The pictures are downloaded and the notes transcribed. It is all stored and sometimes hardly looked at for weeks or even months. During this time the memories mature and if, as often happens, I am visiting a dozen gardens in as many days, they meld and merge with just the clear defining characteristics remaining. When it comes to writing, I put up all the pictures on my screen and edit them down. I have two large screens on my desk and the idea is that one has the pictures and the other the words. Memory, research, photographs and notes are all plundered to try and distil the essence of the experience on to the page.


It would make a great writing workshop!

The gardens where you can’t edit the images down because they all are so stunning and reflect the spirit of the place is a garden worth writing about. I bet it doesn’t happen often.

Rhapsody in Green: A writer, an obsession, a laughably small excuse for a vegetable garden by Charlotte Mendelson

Mendelson is a great writer. I have just finished The Exhibitionist by her and she carries this writing over into writing about her garden. As she says in the introduction, this is a book for people who dream of being self-sufficient but have a garden that is 6m2. The writing is romantic and you can just feel the warm summer days, harvesting whilst cooking.

It takes time to understand that the secret to edible gardening on a miniature scale is small, intense tastes. You can buy celery from the corner shop, bake a nameless potato: nobody will care. What will transform your soup or sandwich is two or twelve or a a couple of dozen interesting extras: sorrel, lemon verbena, orange thyme, Greek basil, japanese bunching onions, red oak leaf lettuce and green and pink Mexican tree spinach, cream-streaked mint and the pink buds of society garlic, black cherry tomatoes, bronze fennel fronds, purple hyssop flowers, and sky-blue borage. The joy a white Alexandria strawberry will bring, the satisfaction in a quince you have hand-reared like an orphaned kitten, is immeasurable. You can almost buy anything, except pride.


I can see and taste them now because whilst we might grow for all sorts of reasons, surely the number one reason is taste. We have just harvested Charlotte potatoes with the Vegetable Course delegates and each one has said how delicious they are. You don’t get Tesco potatoes tasting like that, not even potatoes from the big, fancy Farm shop near by.

This is a gardener who is forced to choose the fruit and vegetables that have the most value in terms of taste. There just is not the space to carry those that are a bit meh! No Jerusalem artichokes here.

P.S. I have to admit to not knowing what society garlic is!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Another prize winning writer. Demon Copperhead, her latest book, has won the Pulitzer prize this year and I suspect will win the Women’s Prize for Fiction on the 14th of June. This book was written in 2008 and details the American food system and the deplorable poverty in fresh food for some people. Coming from the Appalachians, which many people associate with poverty, she and her family write compellingly about eating fresh, seasonally and only what they have grown. It is my dream to do that one year. Only eat what I have grown. I would start the year in June when fresh veg are coming into full swing and continue until June the following year. This is an openly political with a ‘small p’ book about food.

You can’t save whale by eating whales, but paradoxically, you can help save rare, domesticated foods by eating them. They’re kept alive by gardeners who have a taste for them, and farmers who know they’ll be able to sell them. The consumer becomes a link in this conservation chain by seeking out the places where heirloom vegetables are sold, taking them home, whacking them up with knives, and learning to incorporate their exceptional tastes into personal and family expectations. Many foods placed on the Ark of Taste have made dramatic recoveries, thanks to the seed savers and epicurean desperadoes who defy the agents of gene control, tasting the forbidden fruits, and planting more.


Not much further along the page she talks about sesquiterpene lactones – who doesn’t love words like that? (It is the compound that makes lettuce weep a milky sap when picked.)

No Nettles Required: The Truth about wildlife gardening by Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson is a wildlife scientist and writer with this book being published in 2006 but still, science sometimes takes a little while to filter down to the general population. I manage the wildlife plot on the allotment site and several people have wildlife areas on their own plots so this book is of interest to us all.

Ken is a scientist through and through and only wants to do what science says works for wildlife. As he says, the internet is filled with opinions about wildlife gardening but not much solid evidence to back it up. I have found the research that he and others from Sheffield undertook into what works for wildlife in gardens fascinating and have used it to support what I do in the wildlife garden. If I said, just grow stuff and have water, you wouldn’t go far wrong although there is a bit more to it than this.

In the section that is about birds, Thompson states that the more people feed birds, the greater the range of birds present in the garden – unless you have three neighbour’s cats stalking in your garden like I do.

The primary concern of the bird-food and next-box industry, not surprisingly, is to sell you their products. Nor is there anything wrong with this. Install feeders, bird tables and nest boxes in your garden and your local birds will undoubtedly benefit. But you should never forget that even if you buy everything in the catalogue, some of the needs of many birds (and all of the needs of some birds) can only be met by the garden itself.


It’s a start and we have chosen Animal, Vegetable and Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for our first read.