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.

October 2

Giving up slug pellets

As I sit here writing, it is wild and windy outside and I have had my first day of not being able to go out for quite some time.  it has, however, given me time to reflect on the past 8 months and what I want to do differently next year.

In 2020 I decided to stop using slug pellets, even the organic ones. Taking on the wildlife plot forced me to think a bit more about what I do on my own plots for wildlife and the pellets were one thing that I could stop using. I didn’t think about it at all during 2020 because it was a hot, dry year and so slugs and snails were not a problem but this year has been a completely different experience.

I have two main areas that are a problem. One is the space between the fruit trees and fruit cage where I have not been able to plant out any veg and keep it (everything is eaten) apart from one lot of onions, and the other was the bed below the polytunnel with a row of lavender. No matter how often I cleared the slugs or snails from the lavender, the veg below the hedge was constantly eaten. I have solved one of these problems and am working on the other.

Reluctantly, I removed the lavender hedge. It stretched the width of the plot and often self-seeded so I had a ready supply of new lavenders.  When I dug them up, each plant had at least 20 slugs and snails in it, many with more so I wasn’t clearing them out anywhere near enough. To be honest, hunting for slugs and snails seems like a waste of time when you could be harvesting and enjoying what you have grown so the problem in this bed has been solved. These slugs and snails meant that I didn’t get any beans at all this year and have 5 chicories to last me all winter! The five that did last had copper rings put round them when I realised that I was going to lose them all so that is at least one positive and proof that in some circumstances they do work.

The other area is trickier to solve. I can’t see where the critters are coming from – is it the black plastic path alongside the raspberries or is it from under the fruit trees? One side is eaten first so I think they must be coming from the tree side.  This needs more investigation. I’m still struggling with the permaculture saying “The problem is the solution.” and “It isn’t an over abundance of slugs, it is an undersupply of ducks!” So, what to do bearing in mind that I don’t want to keep animals on the plots – difficult to have holidays and we have been overrun with rats this year. Today I came up with a list of things to do in this area:

  1. Keep looking for the source and deal with it when I find it!
  2. Reduce the black plastic in the area and use more shreddings/chippings. They don’t really like crawling over rough shreddings and so I need to use these on the paths around the beds.
  3. Change what I grow in this area. My rhubarb needs moving because it is a slug hotel itself particularly as I grow them at the end of beds with other vegetables in them. I might was well make the most of the sluggy area and  move the rhubarb to it and then the beds they have come out of can be kept slug free and provide a bit more growing space.
  4. Think more carefully about when I plant out the delicate, little veg transplants.  The onions that did survive in the bed went out in a dry spell in April where there was no rain for about 3 weeks and so they established quickly and were much bigger. The other beds I planted out before the rain in May and they disappeared over night.
  5. Consider borrowing a duck or two for a morning or afternoon, fencing off the area temporarily and letting them loose. There are some ducks not to far from me and the owners might be willing to do a deal.

So, learnings from this year about not using slug pellets:

  • Copper rings will work when you only have a few plants left that you want to save
  • Use weather forecasts to decide when to plant out
  • Reduce the slug and snail happy places which includes removing the lower, damaged or brown leaves on plants and inspecting under netting regularly

Accept the loss of some crops but not too many! I have grown some carrots at home where the slug/snail population is much more in balance (in favour of me!) although Foxy having a snooze on them might not help

  • If you lose a crop, sow it again but I do draw the line at a third time.

The next thing I want to improve upon in 2022 is harvesting and prepping what I have grown. I love the harvesting but hate prepping/cooking/preserving the crops – or even spending time generally in the kitchen. I recently read Steve’s Kitchen Garden and Seaside Allotment Harvest chapter in his ebook about how he harvests and think I might try it next year.

What do you do on days that you can’t get outside to garden?