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Slugging it out in the garden

Outdoor Living

LAST SUPPER Capturing and feeding slugs can yield ghoulish rewards for gardeners.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Our mild and damp weather has created ideal conditions for slugs and snails to increase their numbers, leaving fans of fruit and flowering plants in something of a quandary: How to get rid of them without resorting to chemicals?
We have a team of helpers, in the form of a family of thrushes that call at first light and scour the garden for an early breakfast. They wake me daily, tappetty-tapping on the path. That’s what it sounds like to me, anyway. I imagine the snail inside the shell being used to beat the tattoo hears something terrifyingly different, for his life is at an end. I could intervene and save him, but choose not to. He has grown fat at my expense, filling himself day after day with my strawberries, salad crops and sweet peas.
So the song thrush continues its plunder, searching out one unsuspecting snail after another and smashing them out of their shells against a variety of hard objects. It would take a hungry and hard working legion of such birds to make inroads against the marauding band the snails have become, and even then they wouldn’t go near the slugs, which appear more numerous than ever. I must admit the barrel of slug pellets on offer in the garden centre looked appealing.
But I don’t want to harm my thrushes.
Here, then, is an interesting recipe for the environmentally conscious.

You will need the following:

  • A bucket with some kind of lid with holes in the top; this will form a temporary prison for your slugs. (Don’t think you can get away without the lid – your captives will scale the walls and escape the moment you turn your back.)
  • A pair of rubber gloves. (To avoid leaving fingerprints. You wouldn’t want the rest of the slugs to find out who kidnapped their cousins and come after you, would you? You can run, but you cannot slide – and they can. It might take time but once their minds are set on hunting you down these animals will not give up their pursuit. You’ll be looking over your shoulder (or beneath your feet) for a long time, and you’ll never know the moment they finally have you surrounded…. No, the gloves are to avoid messing up your fingers.)
  • A cold and ruthless streak. The following experiment is worthy of Mary Shelley.

One dark and damp night, which shouldn’t be hard to find, venture into the garden with your bucket and a torch. The more sedentary among us might like to lie in wait and pick victims at leisure as they slither past, but the actual hunt is far more fun, and can even be made into a competition with prizes of beer for the most, the biggest, the greatest diversity and so forth. The more slugs you find the greater your chances of success in this entire endeavour.
Place your complete collection in your bucket and give them plenty of food. Leftover salad with a sprinkling of flowers will keep them happy. Just make sure they have enough to keep them going and add more if you need to. Feed them well. They are paying dearly.
Add an inch or two of water to the bucket, but don’t overdo this, or your slugs will drown and bring your hard work to nothing. At least some of your catch will already be carrying a load of parasitic nematodes, or eelworms, and these will find their way into the water and from there the others in their overcrowded cell will soon become infected. Within two or three weeks your slugs will start to succumb, giving evidence that your evil potion is ready for use. It will be potent, so can be diluted considerably before being used to water the border. As long as the soil remains damp the distributed nematodes will lie in wait for any slug within striking distance, and once they find their way through to its inward parts the animals days are numbered.
I asked Mrs B, whom I know to be a fastidious gardener, what she does with her slugs and snails. ‘Oh,’ she said with a kind expression, ‘I just drop them over the wall when I find them.’
‘Into the neighbour’s garden?’
‘Well, there’s so many I don’t suppose he’d mind a few more. I expect he comes along and drops them right back.’
I want to tell her about my nematodes but cannot find the right moment. It would bring an end to our stumbling relationship.