|A cabbage seedling, nearly devoured by slugs.|
Living in the Pacific Northwest has gardening pros and cons. With the amount of rain we receive and mild winters, slugs are unfortunately one of the most problematic of cons. Especially since I have moved to the country, where there is so much forest litter and shade. Go out at night with a flashlight and you will quickly see the 4 or 5 inch long slugs everywhere. And they say that slugs can consume their own body weight every day.
I cannot tell you how many seedlings I've lost this year due to these nasty beasts. So many lettuces, all of my eggplants (which I sowed three times!), most of my numerous bean plantings, all of my pickling cucumbers... the list could go on and on. But when I lost all of my gorgeous fall broccoli plants overnight... well...... that's it, slugs! This is WAR!
Slugs are an ongoing problem for every vegetable plant, every year. If I really want to grow a large percentage of my own food, I've got to get really serious about keeping them under control.
This is just the beginning of my venture and I will be regularly updating the site with any new information I find.
So I'm on a mission to try and get rid of these suckers as much as I can. And to find out what garden remedies work, what's a waste of time, money, effort.
Please note, before you begin your own mission, that not all slugs are detrimental to your garden. The Pacific Banana Slug, which I learned from Throwback at Trapper Creek is beneficial. Actually it sounds like this particular species performs work very similar to earthworms. Oops.
Reduce slug habitat:
My first mission, which will be laborious, is to reduce slug habitat as much as possible. Slugs seek out moist, dark places to lay their eggs and to hide during the day. Forest and leaf litter are prime examples (which also comprise part of their diet). They will also hide under anything: rocks, wood, ground covers, pots...
Sadly, this means I'm going to have to move a lot of rocks. I don't know why it is sad... I guess I just like the look of rocks in my garden. I have used, and am currently using, rocks as traps so that I can destroy them. But so many rocks is really very time consuming and probably does more harm than good since I can't find time to look under all of them. Using long, flat boards works better for me.
I've noticed that adult slugs like to lay their eggs in ground covers, as that is where I find the most baby slugs. So part of my regimen will be reducing grass around the gardens, which is where the new tiller is going to come in handy.
I will be working on keeping the leaves tidy this fall with my new leaf blower.
Search and destroy: I can attest that this is the least inexpensive and most effective way to reduce their populations. Unfortunately it is arduous and disgustingly gruesome task, which is exactly why I am not consistent with it. Yet I've noticed that when I am consistent the slug population reduces dramatically.
Since slugs come out at night, the simplest way to track down your prey is to go out at night with a flashlight and destroy the slugs you find. Or collect them as food for your chickens or other livestock. Bleck. I know, this is just the way you want to spend your evening. Just do it with a glass of wine if that makes you feel better.
On destroying them: some people use a salt shaker so as to not have to touch them. I've used this method before, and it works, but only if you use enough salt. How much is enough? Not sure. But I have seen them slither away after only using a few specks. And some people say that you shouldn't use salt because it raises the salinity of your soil.
The simplest method for me is to use scissors. Ew! Yuck! I hate doing it. But it is easiest. Just snip them several times (most humane, I think. no need for them to suffer if indeed they do suffer) and look away.
You could try squishing them, but once they are large it is hard to do. And gross. Just think of what happens when you step on a ketchup packet.
The best time to search and destroy is after irrigating or after a rain following a dry spell.
I find that using long, flat wooden boards placed wherever you need them to trap your prey works very well. If it is dry underneath the boards they won't come so you have to be patient.
Another trap/lure that is popular is beer placed in shallow cans. But I stopped doing this a couple of years ago. This is because I went out one night and placed every slug I found in the beer trap, thinking this would save me the agony of having to dispatch them. But, much to my horror and surprise, not all of them drowned. That's right! Many of them just slithered right out. So that got me thinking that it's possible beer may in fact just be feeding the slugs.
I'm revisiting the idea of beer traps. Perhaps the error in thinking is that the pan has to be shallow. Maybe they will all be attracted and drown if the vessel is deep enough. But I went to the grocery store the other day, with the intention of buying a large amount of cheap beer to make the lures. The cheapest beer was 71.5 cents/pint (which is two cups). I'm thinking my traps will at least need to be 8" deep, and with the amount of traps I need.... Well, let's just say I hate buying things. Sorta defeats the purpose.
I've read that some use their own yeast/sugar or honey mix for their traps. I'm going to do an experiment soon and will update you with the result.
Environmental predators include snakes, frogs/toads, salamanders, all of which live abundantly in my yard. If they didn't live here already I would be attempting to provide habitat for them. At the very least, I am hesitant to do anything that may harm them, such as using chemical baits for the slugs, which the beneficial predators may consume and die.
Introduced predators would include poultry (esp. ducks). Chickens will eat slugs if they are small enough. I've read that pigs will eat slugs, but don't know that reliably.I've also read about using beneficial nematodes in the soil, and I hope to devise an experiment soon if it seems financially feasable.
Iron phosphates: such as Sluggo or Escargo are the baits that are preferred for "organic" gardening. I've used them in the past, and they appear to work (again, another experiment in order!) but they sure are expensive. A visit to the nearest hardware store revealed nearly $20 for a 2.5# jug. Ouch. As I said, I hate having to buy things, especially something that comes in plastic.
Metaldehyde: is the "conventional" standard. But we've all heard how terrible they are. The previous owner left a box of Cory's snail and slug bait (a sign of things to come?) and I am terrified of it. I can't just throw it out as it doesn't seem right.
Other repellent methods:
wood ash (doesn't work), coffee grounds (myth), coffee, diatomaceous earth (didn't work for me), cornmeal, copper (no use), slug repellent plants. These are all "remedies" that I would like to do experiments on.
Anyone out there have any other tips on dealing with slugs?