Sunday, 8 May 2011
In the garden I try to be compassionate towards all creatures great and small.
I believe in organic gardening, eschewing artifical chemicals, letting the garden and its inhabitants find their own balance.
I feed the birds, feed the plants (on chicken manure), nuture the soil, compost everything compostable.
And then I face the slugs.
After weeks of unseasonable heat and dryness we have had glorious soaking rain, and the wonderful fresh greenery leaps back to life.
And so do the slugs.
They have hauled their slimy little bodies out of whichever damp crevices of the rockery they found for survival. They have got the old protective mucus going and now they are at it again.
This is a hosta leaf today, shining with health and succulence. By tomorrow it will probably be little more than a rib.
I really try to believe that most creatures in the garden bring some benefit. Even wasps pollinate things - I suppose?
But can anyone tell me what slugs are FOR?
Perhaps they are thought to eat decaying matter and tidy the place up? But they don't. They eat fresh young plant material faster than the plant can grow.
They might be useful for feeding thrushes. But they're not. They coat themselves in offensive mucus to make themselves inedible.
For a few years we had free-range bantams in the garden. They mopped up the woodlice and the snails, but they were appalled by the slugs. They went into a state of shock when they met one and would stand on tip-toe, staring pop-eyed, clucking anxiously before turning tail and running away.
Hard to believe, but it was thought (in Southern Italy) that swallowing a whole live slug would cure a gastric ulcer. It didn't, although the exact processes of this discovery are better left unexplored.
I know there are various strategies involving salt, crushed egg-shells, copper strips. I personally have faith in a strong pair of gardening gloves and an old tennis racquet (although sometimes they stick to it or, even worse, get sliced into slug goujons by it).
It still doesn't answer the question of what they are for.