11 July 2011

Cold Blooded Killer

Gardening has changed me. And I don't mean that it has tied me closer with the soil or given me a greater appreciation for the work that goes into producing my food, although those things could be said as well. No, I'm referring to the unfortunate fact that gardening has turned me into a cold blooded killer. It's true. I've taken to stalking the garden just after dusk with a flashlight and a yogurt container, picking slugs and snails off my precious leaves. I'll spare you the details of what happens next, but rest assured that the crows have been eating really well. There have been slugs floating in beer traps, hopefully not agonizingly burned by the salt rings I've put around the basil pots (but if so, they really should know better than to slither into salt!) and painfully insulted when my temper gets the better of my tongue. And in case you didn't already know this, I am the girl who takes spiders out to the yard and ushers flies out the front door to avoid killing them! The love of my vegetables has turned me into a crazy killer. 


My poor basil was being devoured by tiny slugs!



Here are some things I've learned from trial and error as well as talking to some farmers at the farmers market.

  • Marigolds planted around and amongst vegetables will deter some flying pests and nematodes. However, slugs and snails LOVE them. This could be good or bad. The slimy little buggers definitely zone in on the marigolds, so it's possible that they will leave the other vegetables mostly alone. Or this could be drawing them into the veggie beds when they wouldn't have shown up in the first place. Hard to say, but for their other pest-deterring properties I think Marigolds are a good integrated pest management (IPM) technique.   

    Wine-traps, I discovered, do not work for anything except fruit-flies
  • Beer traps are effective slug and snail killers if you do it right. Many sources recommend digging shallow holes around the perimeter of your garden and partially burying a yogurt/sour cream/other plastic container, pouring beer in to a level 2+ inches from the rim, and then cleaning out the dead slugs/snails in the morning. I did this (minus the digging part) and was fairly successful. The first morning yielded 5 or 6 snails, one GIANT slug, several medium sized slugs and a bevy of teensy weensy little baby slugs. They had all passed on to slug heaven (a swimming-pool filled with basil leaves in the sky?) and I disposed of them by putting them out for the crows to eat. The second morning there were a few new ones but nothing like the flush of the first day. The beer was flat so I tossed it and put out fresh. Third morning... nothing. But this did not mean that the problem was solved, as we found out when we brought a flashlight out to the garden after dusk. Tons of baby slugs, all over my marigolds and far too close to my precious basil, beet greens and sugar-snap peas! Which brings me to...
    • Hand-picking: My least favorite but the most effective slug/snail deterrent. After three nights of picking the voracious youngsters off the marigolds they appear to be gone. It's been five more nights and we haven't found a single slug or snail around the garden. Our disposal technique isn't pretty and involves putting them all in a plastic yogurt cream container and crushing with a rock (I told you, cold-blooded!), then leaving them on the side of the street for the crows. They get scooped up right away, preventing the unpleasant smell that results when they are disposed of in the compost.

      • Salt is also highly effective, but at least for me, too inhumane to be used widely. I poured rings of salt around my two potted basil plants to deter slugs and snails, and it has worked very well. I'm hoping that no slugs have actually gone into the salt, which is supposed to be excruciatingly painful to them. But if the end justifies the means, then salt is the way to go, as I haven't had a single bite taken out of the basil since I poured the salt.
        • Copper is supposed to also be a deterrent to slugs and snails, but purchasing copper tape at the garden store is REALLY expensive. For enough to go around my four raised beds, I would need to spend about $50 - way out of my gardening budget. Instead, I purchased $7 worth of copper wire and wrapped it as tightly as I could around the raised beds. Completely worthless, as this didn't prevent entry via branches/leaves that would blow across the beds at night and it was impossible to stretch the copper wire in such a way that there were no gaps. If you want to spend the money for the copper tape this is probably effective, otherwise I wouldn't recommend it.
          • Egg shells and coffee grounds have gotten some attention as a chemical free method for deterring slugs and snails, as the texture is unpleasant to move across, but internet searches have shown inconsistent results. I haven't tried this one personally.
            I was thrilled to see that we'd attracted these pest-eating ladybugs!
            • Dr. Bronner's soap has worked amazingly for aphids! We found a ton of aphids on two of the garden's ornamental shrubs and were worried that they may make it into the garden. All you need is two or three drops of Dr. Bronner's pepppermint 100% castille soap in a spray bottle of water. All of the aphids were killed, and although they returned within a few days, we repeated spraying a few times and there have been no new aphids for about 3 weeks. The plants were unaffected by the soap spray.
                This mint may be helping to keep pests at bay!
              • Planting other pest deterrents such as mint or basil is something we've tried but can't really measure the results. I transplanted some mint along the edges of two of the raised beds and I have two potted basils on the other side. Word on the street is that it can work, and they're both delicious and fragrant! Dill is another that has been recommended and I think I'll try it soon. I love dill! One of the farmers from One Leaf Farm gave me this suggestion and said that this operates the same way as the marigolds, that is, to attract slugs and snails and keep them away from your other plants. 

              When it comes down to it, maybe the best thing to do is just accept that some of your plants are going to get munched, and that sharing is ok as long as you have enough to go around!

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