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Jack First On Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails header
Jack First writes this month on ‘some old ways of dealing with slugs and snail’s

The gardeners of the past had a few tricks of their own and in order to understand the methods used we must first take a closer look at our foe. The slug like the snail requires a constant supply of moisture to enable motion. After foraging and sensing a shortage of moisture a snail will quickly shut up shop. That is why they can often be seen half way up a tree or wall. Here they remain until evening dew or rain enables motion. The slug on the other hand has no such luck. At daybreak, they must find a place of safety but often they can be found on a path or pavement. One can see their slime trails heading in all directions in a frantic race for a damp hiding place to rehydrate. They can often be seen totally desiccated having used up all their water reserves. So to start with we can be 100% certain that slugs and snails need moisture in order to carry out their nightly foraging. So why do water in the evening when the ground remains wet all night. We are inadvertently inviting these pests to a smooth wet path to dinner. Best not to water seedlings or young plants in the evening.

The old books referred to frequent stirrings between the crop rows. There are different tools to carry out this job depending on soil type or structure and once mastered is a speedy task with many benefits. The aim is to loosen the soil with a hoe or tine but only very shallow, no more than an inch deep. Slugs and snails as well as other pests lay their eggs close to the crop, the stirrings bring the eggs and lavae to the surface which perish or are consumed by birds. The gardeners of old were convinced that regular stirrings stimulated growth as more air was introduced to the soil. This is certainly the case when after heavy rain some soils become capped and stirrings permit air again. Most importantly from the slug and snails point of view getting to the crop is much harder. This top layer of soil being light and airy soon dries out. It is no longer smooth but for the slug more like terminal moraine, hard and difficult to traverse.

There is the old trick of light dusting of lime using a hessian sack. Many gardeners used to keep hens ducks or geese which if carefully managed soon clean up a patch. I witnessed this myself in Keighley where our Italian neighbours, Autoro and Lelia kept hens. When foraging for food hens scrape the ground then quickly step backwards eyes peeled to the ground consuming all that moves. Autoro would guide his flock for about ten minutes between the crops. Hens are opportunistic and will peck at the greens so they must be kept on the move. Needless to say Autoro and Lelias plot was fairly free of slugs. If you can get hold of daggings or wool you will find these a good deterrent. The last thing a slug or snail needs is to be dragging a wooly coat around. Seriously though, works well and also eventually rots down well.

Jack First

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