Looking around the garden yesterday I could not help feeling that there may be trouble ahead! Compare, for example, the picture of a young Herb Robert plant, above, with the chickweek trying to grow near by ….
The Chickweed, which clearly tastes much nicer than Herb Robert, has been munched by slugs: it has all but been defoliated! The Sweet Williams planted out in the vegetable beds have also suffered …
I compared the growth of the seeds that I sowed at exactly the same time and from the same packet in two different places…
On the left we have apparantly zero germination (next to a volunteer purple toadflax plant which I will allow to grow on). On the right we have the overcrowded seedlings in a large container. One reason for the difference might be the relatively cold wet and heavy soil compared to the free draining coir compost. However, close inspection of the soil from time to time reveals tiny stalks of the seedlings that have dared to put their heads above the surface, only to have their leaves immediately grazed off by the hungry slugs!
All of this will obviously have implications for the year ahead as I plan to grow tasty crops rather than Toadflax and Herb Robert, which I have no more desire to eat than the slugs have. To help reduce losses to slugs I have several strategies planned.
- As far as possible I will sow in pots and not put the plants into the ground until they are less tender and tempting. By then they should also be robust enough to cope with a little nibbling.
- I will use barriers such as copper rings to protect the most valuable and vulnerable plants. Although these are expensive they do last for a very long time. (My lovely dad bought me some for my birthday last year: he knows me very well).
- I will regularly remove slugs from the plot. Firstly, by visiting late at night with a torch in hand to catch them red handed. Secondly, by laying traps such as pieces of board which I can then lift to reveal the slugs hiding during the day.
- I will grow a variety of crops intermingled rather than too many mono cultures. A whole plot of lettuce is likely to attract an army of slugs: a few lettuces grown amongst some onions might not get noticed.
- I will use ‘sacrificial plants’ that I know are loved by slugs to tempt slugs to eat them, rather than my crops. These will also make night time visits more profitable as I am likely to be able to collect a lot of slugs from one place.
- Apart from my traps I will try and make sure there are as few places as possible for slugs to hang out by clearing up piles of rotting leaves and other places where they like to be. Of course, the deep beds we built nearly 20 years ago and which are surrounded by a brick path and wooden boards make such a lovely home for our slimy friends so this might not make too much difference!
- I will encourage hedgehogs, birds and frogs into the garden who I know enjoy snacking on slugs.
- Lastly, I will try not to get too stressed by the inevitable losses and accept that slugs are a part of a gardener’s life!