Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Gardening with Intent.

There has been an outbreak of non-rain here, which feels, well, wrong. Nothing is dropping out of the sky. There are dry bits on the ground. It's not even properly cold. I recall another day like this, I think, although the memory is hazy.

So I have been making the most of it and harvesting the bumper weed and slug crops to make room for the greenhouse seeds, when they are ready. Seasons run a little later here, except winter, which is often early. Summers are warm and wet so the annual Slug War is about to begin and this time I intend to not lose quite so badly as usual.

Slugs are little slimy Satans who will eat a little bit off each plant rather than get together and obliterate just one. They used to take a bite out of every single strawberry until I gave up trying to grow them. Their evil doesn't stop there, oh no. The bit they most like to eat is normally the bit that joins the stem to the roots. You can often hear them singing in the night 'Oh I'm a lumberslug and I'm okay...'

I've tried various slug pellets, but the only ones I found to have any effect at all were .177 lead ones fired from a Gat. That does involve staying up late but at least a Gat is much quieter than an air rifle.

These days, of course, I'd expect to see black helicopters overhead and bulky men with guns abseiling down the side of my house shouting "Hut-hut-hut" as soon as the first slug died. Outraged protestors from Slugwall demonstrating outside my house and staging slime-ins in my shed. Little placards saying 'Slug-free gardens go to Hell' and 'Behead the Desluginator'.

(Pause while I picture a black-clad slug with the eyes poking out through a slot... Yes, well, Hell already has a whole suite booked in my name anyway).

That would set the snails off, naturally, and there'd be petitions about the fag-ends I routinely put out before dropping them among the plants. They'd want them lit. The sparrows would complain about the insecticidal properties of ninety-second hand smoke and how their food now tastes like Woodbines. Think of the cheeeecks.

I'll fill their bird bath with something that dissolves feathers if they don't watch it.

All these things would happen because a neighbour would see me in my garden with something that looks vaguely gun-shaped. Then they would be Offended, Horrified and Appalled and the whole ridiculous circus would begin.

Would the Mollusc League of Britain really be enraged? Would a neighbour really call the police to report a weapon of slug destruction? Well, we now live in a society that actually believes that in the game of cat and mouse, the mouse is having a good time.

The comments below that article can make you despair for the future of the human race. They are weak-minded enough to make the Eloi look like an inner-city drug gang.

So would that neighbour call? Yes, he would. So I won't kill the slugs.

I'll throw them over the fence instead.



Or maybe I'll try beer traps, then all the slugs will get done for drink-driving on the way home.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

You have too much time on your hands if you are blogging about cats and mouse play. Flay them both, they are no good to gardens. And heat guns (Paint strippers) work great against ant lines and slugs. But you can't be a Taoist about it. Just kill them and enjoy the product that replaces them...

Anonymous said...

I put a 7 foot salt trail down the other day to stop these slime monsters from finishing off my plants. They must have worked all night to get round it, but they did. Oh for a hedgehog.

Anonymous said...

Coffee grounds and other grit type substances are good. Fine sawdust from bandsaws... Carbaryl (bit hard on bees tho)

JuliaM said...

From that 'Mail' story: "'I left them playing together. I have no idea if the cat ate the mouse. I like to think it didn't.'"

I think someone from the 'Guardian' is lost! Shall we help him find his way back?

William said...

Didn't you just have a very cold prolonged winter?
Such events are known to kill of large numbers of pests without spines, politicians and quangocrats excluded of course, so the slug, snail and aphid populations will all have suffered a crash.

Beer traps attract so make sure you put it well away from your juicy young plants, you probably already know this so please ignore but they are really effective but not as effective as a duck. Ducks love to eat slugs so presuming you can lock a couple of ducks in your patch borrow a couple of Indian Runners for a few days and they will take care of every slug, snail, and slug or snail egg on your patch in short order.

Then give them back and book another visit for three months hence.

subrosa said...

Now I do have the answer to this one LI. Save your eggshells (get the nice neighbour to give you theirs too) and dry them out for a couple of days. Once dry break them up into fine pieces and then sprinkle round the stem of each plant making sure there are no gaps for the little buggers to get through.

The eggshells will eventually disintegrate.

Who said I wasn't green enough just because I refuse to spend my life washing out cans and sorting all different types of paper...

PT Barnum said...

I have been known to do regular mollusc collections around my garden and then deposit the bucketful into the garden of an empty house or an irritating neighbour.... Systematic depopulation was the only thing that ever made a real difference.

Anonymous said...

Slugs are where I draw the line - no mercy.

I use those much frowned upon blue slug pellets while the plants are young. I have tried beer traps which do work but I can't afford a barrelsworth to protect every plant in the garden,though large areas are left unguarded for the benefit of the toads.

I tried nematodes too but that was more revolting than the slug pellets.

Still,my lilies are worth the mayhem.

As for ants, I did have them but Cornelius Agrippa advises that if you "strew the houses of the pismires with Oregan, the pismires will flee."
And it does seem to work.

Rose

knirirr said...

My brother used to enjoy blowing slugs up with French firecrackers. The disadvantage of this was that he was often hit by fragments of flying slug, which was rather unpleasant.

winston said...

Going out at dusk with a bucket and small torch and collecting them up is best. A small headtorch is best lest your neighbours spot you and confirm their view that you're mad. Immediately smash the snails with a big stone. Don't throw them over the fence as they have 'homing' instincts and will come straight back. There was a report on tv about a University study that painted the house number on the shell of the snail. The snails were picked up and put in various properties in the street. About 80% returned to their original garden.
When I was younger I'd line the snails up on the wall and use them as target practice for my pellet gun before going out rabbit shooting. Probably get in trouble for that these days.
Snails love young laburnum leaves and can strip a tree over a couple of days. Put a circular cardboard cut out around the trunk and cover with axle grease. Don't put the grease straight onto the tree trunk ( as I was advised). The grease destroys the bark and leaves big holes in the tree trunk.

Stewart Cowan said...

"Think of the cheeeecks."

Haha. Love it.

Appreciate the slug tips too, especially the non-lethal options.

Anonymous said...

OT

Remembering all the excellent advice on rhubarb last year, being a novice grower and the plants having done the first year in my garden,it seems that I'm allowed to take one stick without weakening the plant.

My question is when?

I'm in Yorkshire, which I believe is two weeks earlier than Scotland.

Rose

Oldrightie said...

Some good advice there. My best efforts were inexpensive pea shingle scattered round the base of gourmet (slug) plants. Works very well and makes for soil conditioning later. Dogs, like slugs, have very sensitive hair like sensation that grit, or egg shells, play havoc with.

Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

The trick here is to remember your proud heritage as a biologist and mad scientist, and head straight on down the Aliens sort of theme.

For a very long time, it was known that pathogenic nematodes were a very, very likely organism for use in bio-control against slugs and snails. The nematodes themselves don't actually eat slugs, but instead each carries a small amount of a bacterium which does eat slugs. The two organisms work in concert together; the nematodes follow slug slime trails (it is unknown whether they know which way the slug went; my own experience of nematodes suggests that they simply find some slime and follow it until it runs out) until they fnd a slug.

Once there, they locate and enter the slug's lung cavity, the mantle cavity in aquatic species, which also houses the animal's anus. Once inside they inject pathogenic bacteria into the slug, then wait for the bacteria to take effect. Once this happens, the slug turns into a small pond of bacteria soup, which the nematode eats, and breeds in.

As is common with many nematodes, the larvae enter a dormant stage (I think it is larval stage 3, but cannot quite remember) and overwinter like this.

In turning them into a biocontrol product, the main challenge was sorting out a growth medium which could be produced in huge bulk, in which both the nematodes and the bacteria could breed happily. Both are obligate aerobes, so the growth medium has to be aerated for them to grow. The trick is then to maximise the yield of nematodes before letting the bacteria run out of nutrients and start to die off, triggering the dormant phase of the nematodes.

Once triggered, the growth medium can be gently dried at room temperature and mixed with a suitable bulking agent, and sold to gardeners.

Now, in use you need to hydate the mixture gently (rain water preferred over tap water; nematodes are chlorine-sensitive) and apply it to the garden in the evening, preferably before rain is forecast. What you're aiming for is hitting a period when the slugs will be active, and slime trails will persist on the ground.

If you hit it right, you should be able to locally extinct the slug population, in a manner which makes the film Aliens look tame.

Enjoy...

James Higham said...

Massacre the little bastards, I'd say and to hell with the consequences.

Anonymous said...

NO Slugs will get near my crop of Tobacco Plants (Tobaccium Taxium Avoidium.)

Road_Hog said...

Changing the subject slightly, has anyone had as many visits from the Census collector as I have. Four visits (that I know of) in the last 10 days.

Shinar's Basket Case said...

Concrete.

And if you are desperate for some 'green' then Astro Turf.

Really is a lot less bother than a hover.

sbc1 said...

Road Hog, just one so far.

Anonymous said...

This slug(Baillie) needs total eradication from the political arena.

http://f2cscotland.blogspot.com/2011/03/scottish-labour-endorses-smoking-ban.html

Chief_Sceptic said...

Inside greenhouse - rectangle of plastic guttering - set in soil and filled with salt - no slug will cross it alive ...

Outside greenhouse - (well away) lots of 'economy-sized' beer traps - only thing the supermarket own brand beer is good for ...

And take an occasional evening stroll round your patch, when it's perhaps a little damp but not raining, with an industrial sized salt shaker ...

p.s. - the big brown buggers are the worst by far ...

Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

The big brown buggers, also known as the Great Black slug (you probably have an unusual colour morph of them; they are quite variable) are mostly detrivores; they prefer decaying leaf matter. The ones you really want to be targetting are Deroceras reticulatum, the small pinkish-grey ones. They're the main pest of living plants, and they're small enough to hide down cracks in the soil.

Farmers hate 'em, the evil little sods, because the only thing that stops 'em is freezing weather. Most insect pests have a temperature below which they aren't active; not these slugs. They just move a bit slower, but they carry on munching all bloody winter! Worse, they're not killed by Frescon (which kills snails), slug pellets have only a limited effect (you only need three or four pellets per square metre, BTW; any more and you're wasting pellets as it won't improve the control level) and the nematode preparations don't get all of 'em, just the ones on or near the surface.

Sheffield Uni did an undergrad project a few years ago to see what beer works best as a bait; slugs are now officially the stupidest beer drinkers on the planet, being the only life form which actually prefers supermarket low alcohol lager over anything else.

Cranfield Uni, not to be outdone, tried to make a slug-killing robot. Part Dalek, part Terminator but mostly Heath Robinson and meccano, it hunted slugs by taking an infrared photo of its surroundings, waiting a minute, repeating and then picking up any bright spot (slugs reflect strongly in the infrared) which had moved. The slug was then dropped into a bio-reactor, the intent being to digest it and run the machine off the methane this produced.

It failed, through being unable to catch enough slugs to produce enough nutriment. Perhaps a re-think, the inclusion of solar panels and a lower-powered CPU off a smartphone might be an idea...?

Anonymous said...

Devon dry walls are lovely to look at but are in fact tower blocks for slugs. It certainly is the little ones doing the damage but for some strange reason after the coldest winter in 100 years in these parts their seems to be billions of them.
Eggshells, salt and tongs at the ready, tonight at dusk I'm going in.

sixtypoundsaweekcleaner said...

Hugh Fearnley-Thingummywotsit tried to do something useful with his garden slugs. He sauted them in garlic butter, or was it cooking them in a stew? Well, whatever...I had to change channels when he'd reached tasting time, I felt so physically sick. French snails are delicious, but I think they're a different variety altogether. British garden slugs on toast? Ewwwww.....

Anonymous said...

We used to have slug problem, but now that we have a lily pond, with lots of happy froglets cavorting about in it, the slug problem has definitely reduced.

Monty

Anonymous said...

Some years back I strimmed a slug; it was one of those big black fuckers. Jesus H. what an instant mess. It went everywhere ... not recommended. Yuk!

Then I read somewhere that slugs are 70% prick. Yuk yuk yuk - it went EVERYWHERE ... and it was 70% prick.

My brother was with me ... he got a face full... cos he was getting a closer look.

Leg-iron said...

The slugs and snails seem to have survived the winter here remarkably well. Perhaps they hitch a lift south with migratory birds.

SR - I've heard of the eggshells. Smashed walnut shells are pretty good too. Slugs can slide over sharp things but they don't like stuff that moves around. It's like driving a tank over ball bearings.

Blackbirds always mess things up. They'll pick up fragments and throw them around while looking for insects. They are the ones who breach the defenses!

Leg-iron said...

I remember once hitting a slug with a hammer while it climbed up a wall.

This is not recommended. Especially if it's at head height.

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