Sunday, 8 May 2011

Slug's Eye-Level.

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.


Anne said...

A friend who runs a small organic farm here on the island has a small flock of ducks that he sends out to get the slugs. He says they go up one row and down the next, feasting on slugs.

I throw them over the fence, but my daughter says that somebody did an experiment and discovered that they come back to the same place over quite a distance. The tennis racket may do the job, though.

Zhoen said...

Found this-

pohanginapete said...

Yes, ducks and hedgehogs sprang to mind immediately, and the article Zhoen found looks excellent.

What they're for, however, is a trickier question, fraught with all kinds of philosophical problems. For whom, or what? For purely instrumental ("useful" to us) reasons? Do slugs have intrinsic value (I won't go into that can of worms ;^))? In what contexts (I'd guess most of our "pests" are problems because we've so greatly modified their habitats)?

Unfortunately, even for those questions that potentially have straightforward answers, we know too little.

Even though I doubt many people are fascinated by slugs, some at least are. But baving your garden ravaged by slugs must be disheartening.

Relatively Retiring said...

Anne: my pond is small for ducks, but they have been investigating and I will encourage them.
The low-flying slugs go on to, and possibly over the railway line at the bottom of the garden so it might be difficult for them to return!

Zhoen: thank you - some good information. Perhaps mowing the lawn at night might help.

P. Pete: Hedgehogs used to do a great job, but I haven't seen them in the garden (nor even squashed on the road) for about four years - a serious decline.
Yes, I have modified their enviroment by providing them with a monumental food supply.
And yes, some people love 'em. I remember one of them photographing slugs instead of the view!

Jane said...

Horrible slimy things - ever stepped on one barefoot? I'm using coffe grounds and egg shells to keep them off my pots of veg - I need a visiting duck (plenty of unwanted water here last week!).

pohanginapete said...

RR, this article about making slug traps appeared this morning on LifeHacker.

I'm sure that photographer had impeccable taste in choice of subjects ;^)

Relatively Retiring said...

Jane: oh dear - bad things to step on with bare feet....slugs must head the list, but bits of Lego run a close second.
I do hope the water levels have gone down?

P.Pete: thank you - I must get some beer.
I don't think anyone would ever question the taste or skill of That Photographer.

den said...

Slug slaying was my grandmothers only vice. I was truly shocked as a teenager, when I discovered her glee in sprinkling them on salt.
In the slug season I can be see carrying a red bucket up to the cricket field and dumping them in the hedge. One day I will look out of the door and see them marching home.

Mrs A said...

I have heard garlic and pepper spray is supposed to repel slugs and other pesties, i think my hubs would go bonkers if i used his beer!

Relatively Retiring said...

Den: I can't do the killing bit- the salt treatment is particularly nasty. Ifeel that batting them over the railway line gives us all a sporting chance.

Mrs A: the garlic and pepper sounds a bit like a recipe, but is worth a try. P.Pete's link has a recipe for a beer substitute which your husband might like?