Ground Effects with Heather Brown
Have you seen the Slugs out there?! They are huge this year and plentiful. We do have some large slugs that occur in our area naturally, and we also have those slimy greyish little slugs that have been imported from Europe (one can only hope that was unintentional). On the north island there is a rather handsome large black slug that has an orange foot. They look “strong” for a slug. When I lived in town a herd of them used to travel across from the woods behind the back fence, over ten feet of grass to my strawberry patch, nightly. They devastated the crop annually, until I figured it out. They didn’t touch the green berries, or the any of the leaves, just the large red fruit. Once I ruled out family members I checked into it in earnest, and that’s when I discovered the nightly slug foray. This is when I developed the “search and destroy” method of slug control.
There is an even larger slug in our area (of course) which I have encountered a lot since we have moved into a more rural setting. Oh my goodness they are huge. One can only imagine the amount of fresh veggies they need to consume to maintain their energy levels. They are referred to as Banana Slugs. You often see them after a rain, crossing the road or foot path, they can be over 7 inches long!
Recently I was walking by the flower bed and all seemed well, except, as I got to the far side I felt something was missing. I went back and had a closer look. There was a shiny slime trail leading from one Asiatic lily to the next. These are the tall (3 or more feet in height) lilies, with beautiful large fragrant flowers in shades of white and pink. They have about four or five buds per stem and when in flower they are a delight to the senses. I noticed last week they had buds. This week should be when the first blossoms open, but instead the buds were hanging down from stems that had been eaten through by a large slug. The leaves were stripped and consumed, large chunks of the stem were missing and just below the bud junction, the stem is chewed leaving the buds hanging by a thread. I have packed these lilies through 4 logging camps; they have been in buckets for more than 20 years of their life. The flowering season lasts about 2 weeks. About 5 years ago I figured that we should plant them in the ground as we have lived in the house since 1997 and I was tired of lugging around these pots and buckets. I prepared beds for them and in they went. Each year they come back and look lovely, but this year, not so much.
I do have other lilies that flower later in the season so I shouldn’t fester on it. The weather was exceptionally cold and wet this spring (summer) and it seems that’s the preferred climate of the slug, in fact cold, damp and dark is what they have written on their t-shirts. Other years I have spent an hour or so, 2 or 3 nights a week over the summer doing a slug patrol throughout the property. I used to have an ugly pair of garden gloves, an ice cream bucket with 2 inches of sea salt in the bottom, the lid, and a strong constitution. I would start near the house and work outward in a spiral until I reached the veggie garden. Wearing the gloves I would grab the slugs and toss them quickly in the salt, giving the bucket a shake every 10 slugs. When the weather was dry it was quick going as the slugs didn’t like crossing the dry grass or the cement driveway. Evening dew would bring them out from under leaves, pieces of bark or wood, any place where there was a bit of cool damp shade. When it rained they would be out in force in the evening and make up for lost time. I would count to 50 slugs and stop.
When we lived in town the lots were small and so a gardener got some relief there. I don’t use salt anymore or pick them up by hand, I honestly couldn’t take the brutality of it.
About 10 years ago I started to use the “beer method”. My husband was appalled, saying that using beer like this was sacrilegious. Really? Anyway, the beer method calls for small plastic cups sunk in the ground until the edge is about flush with the soil around it. I have old pottery mugs that I can rinse out and put in the dish washer at the end of the summer. I pour about a 1 inch of beer in each cup. The cups are strategically placed in the veggie gardens and around the flower beds. I mound a wee bit of dirt on either side of the cup and place a small board or shingle over the beer. The board a) gives the slug someplace to seek shelter from the heat of the day, and b) keeps the dog from drinking the beer. Slugs can’t seem to resist the yeasty smell of beer, cheap homemade brew seems to be the best lure (and that pleases my Scottish sensibilities). The slugs drown in the beer, and the dishes must be emptied when full. That’s where the ice cream buckets have come in handy. I poke holes in the bottom of a half gallon bucket, put the lid on it, and then bury it half way into the ground in a spot that is handy but out of sight. I use another bucket to go around emptying the small containers, as needed, into it. I dispose of the spent slug-beer into the bucket in the ground, remembering to put the lid back on. The slurry drains out over time and the bucket will actually start breaking down by the following spring. Apparently these days the ice cream buckets are biodegradable, who knew?! The sunlight, rain, heat, and cold stimulate the process.
There are a few methods of slug control. One consideration in making the choice in which one will work for you is how the product works. If it involves poisons (at one time there was enough harmful ingredients in some slug baits to kill a large dog) you may want to rethink your choice. There are baits that are in pelleted forms, in powdered forms (looks much like wheat bran) or in black thick liquid form. They work by attracting the slug, usually the smell, and when the slug takes the bait, they expire. Unfortunately the attractant used often entices other animals also. Always follow the instruction on the package to the letter. There are little “slug hotels” you can purchase to put the bait in so that only slugs can get in (and small snails, which are just slugs with a home attached). I really feel bad if a snail gets in, soft hearted I guess.
Copper is a slug deterrent, another interesting little known tidbit. You can buy it in a tape form, 1 inch wide by 50 feet long, with a sticky side. I have tried the tape form, placing it on the wood of the raised beds (after making sure I wasn’t trapping slugs in the garden with it). It does work as small slugs seem to veer away from the copper tape. I am pretty sure the large ones step right over. I could have put another strip alongside the first, but as the copper tape is slightly expensive compared to cheap beer, I only bought the one role. Two years ago I tried a copper mesh, meant for serious slug control. It looks like a long loosely knitted scarf made of copper. It required intense weeding, as any weed or leaf growing through or falling across the mesh, acts as a bridge. An interesting observation here; the slugs never ate the weeds that grew through the mesh, hmmmm.
For every gardener with a slug problem there is a slug solution, from the organic such as a flock of geese (they love slugs apparently) or beer or or throwing them into your neighbour’s yard (not recommended), even crushed egg shells, to the downright evil, like a stick with a nail in the end to skewer the slug, or a bucket of salt. One thing to keep in mind whether we are trying to cultivate veggies or a flower garden, keeping it organic as possible should be paramount, not just for our health but for our children’s and pets’ health. There is an old saying, that a best defense is a good offence, and in the case of the battle of the slug, a good offence might be accomplished through giving the garden paths a good raking over in the spring. Remove any debris the slug could take shelter under, or worse lay eggs under. Bark, old leaves, empty pots, weeds, all should be removed from pathways and garden edges. If we can keep slugs from multiplying in the garden there is a change of staying ahead of the damage done by their sheer numbers.