Chug-a-Lug, Mr. Slug

Many of our indoor projects are on hold until the roofers appear to do repairs.  It’s been a wet summer here, so their schedule has been delayed.  The weather, however, hasn’t dampened our ardour; indeed we’ve been busy outside.   The potholes on the track are filled; we’ve taken down broken bits of the shed, replaced two gates, and done our best to secure the chicken coop against unwelcome guests.  We’ve also constructed two compost bins; one is full of decomposing matter and will be ready to place on the garden in the early spring.  The other is half full and just beginning to breakdown.  For now, it is the current dumping ground for all of the cuttings, clippings, biodegradable kitchen waste, and remments of the weekly chicken coop cleaning.

We’ve also finished building and preparing our raised vegetable beds and are ready to plant out our autumn garden.

Raised Beds

Raised beds now ready for planting

In planning our vegetable patch, we’ve read all the advice for success, which is clear:  consider the location of the beds, the quality of the soil and monitor for pests.  Full sun and protection from wind are critical.  We have the full sun (when it isn’t cloudy or raining), but not much protection from the wind.  Dartmoor soil tends to be slightly acidic, so we ordered a pH test kit.  Roger and Thomas, our young assistant who was visiting with his Mom, went about the task of testing our soil.   The results are that it is about 6.  Not ideal, but we aren’t in bad shape as most vegetables like a pH of 6.5.

Soil Ph Testing

Roger and Thomas in the laboratory

Our last step toward garden success is to put our attentions to controlling one of the sneakiest and most determined of all threats:  Slugs.  The slugs we have been seeing this summer are not featherweight chumps.  They are about 5 inches long and the size of mice.  Our plants are at risk from these beastly gastropod molluscs, and we haven’t even started.

Slugs

I once asked an expert at a Royal Horticultural Society information booth, “So, what’s the best way to control slugs?”  Answer:  “I admire slugs and think they are amazing creatures.”  Notably, this response did not answer my question, but did provide me enough information to know that I was not going to get anything beyond, “learn to live with them.”

Sunday found us outside working in the garden planting rhubarb, raspberries and a blueberry bush, when a group of men happened past carrying a keg of beer.  Odd we thought as we live a half-mile up a track with nothing but wilderness beyond.  Odder still, they were soon followed by another group of men, then a group of women, then one man with a keg on his back, and yet another group, all carrying kegs of beer.  We asked one group what was going on and they told us it was a challenge walk.  Interesting challenge!

Drink, drink, drink, drink.

Drank, drank, drank, drank.

Drunk last night.

Drunk the night before.

Gonna get drunk tonight like I’ve never been drunk before.

My Dad taught me, along with a few of my friends, this drinking song.  It is an unusual composition to teach ten year olds, but it is a catchy tune with fun lyrics.  But I digress.

Slugs are slimy, supposedly inedible, and destroy gardens.  Evidently, they are good at consuming dead vegetable matter, but they don’t stop there. They enthusiastically eat through anything that is leafy, flowering, or beginning to grow in a vegetable garden.  And, I’m not alone in the hatred of the slug.  Read any gardening website and it’s filled with comments from people at their wits end as they battle against the slug.  They are also filled with endless tips of how to stop them in their slimy tracks.

I won’t deny that I do like the slug pellet.  There is nothing politically correct or organic about them, but they work.  Sadly, they are poisonous and can cause problems for pets, wildlife, birds and beetles.  Our chickens like to scratch in the garden bed, and we’re concerned that they might enjoy a pellet or two as their last supper.

We’ve tried copper rings, ground up eggshells and gone out on the nighttime slug hunts.  This is when, at dusk, the keen gardener is expected to lift leaves, pick up the slugs, and put them into a sealed container to feed to the birds and chickens the next morning.  The one and only time I tried this, I picked off over 25 slugs and still haven’t recovered from the experience.

One thing I won’t try is to eat them.

I am a fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but draw the line at trying any of his slug recipes offered in one episode of River Cottage.  You can stuff them with herbs and spices, batter them and even add chili and garlic, Hugh, but a slug is still what you’ve got.

I wonder, is Hugh onto something, perhaps?  There is a story on Dartmoor about the ruins of a farmhouse from the 1700s known locally as Snaily House.  The story has it that the last inhabitants regularly enjoyed a tasty snack of bottled, salted slugs along with a few garden vegetables as their main sustenance.  The local farmers believed the plump inhabitants of this farm could only be surviving by stealing their sheep.  Imagine the community surprise upon discovering the true culinary delights within that home.

No, I still say we aren’t meant to eat slugs.  Case and point:  recently a young man in Sydney dared to do so and spent time in an Intensive Care Unit.   Maybe it was because the slug was raw or because it was just a slug.  But is it a coincidence that Slugulus Eructo is the charm in Harry Potter that causes someone to belch out slugs and their associated slime for about ten minutes?  I think not.

Cuz when I’m drunk, I’m as happy as can be.

Cuz I am a member of the Soused family.

Now the Soused family is the best family, that every came over from Old Germany.

With that childhood drinking song in my head and visions of hikers carrying kegs of beer, I reveal here our primary slug control approach:  the slug pub.  It’s simple: slugs love beer.  Like Homer Simpson, they are attracted by the smell of most yeasty liquids.   By placing a partly beer-filled jam jar into the ground, it is like turning on the neon open sign at the local pub.  Slugs can’t help themselves.  With luck they go for a pre-dinner drink and drown before setting out to munch on the garden.  The marinated slugs can make a nice breakfast for chickens and birds the next morning.  Let them eat the rascals.

“Giving up alcohol is cruel,” Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, once said. “One of the cruelest and most deceitful things you can do to your body. I’ve taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me. It’s a great gift of the gods.”

Singing Glorious!

Glorious!

One keg of beer for the four of us.

And glory be to god that there are no more of us,

Cuz one of us could drink it all alone!

 

As we move ahead, we’re hoping to win the battle against the slugs.  We will continue to encourage birds, frogs and toads and hope that they will feast on any and all slugs they find.  And, we’re hoping that the Bo-Jo’s of our garden come out to party, singing all the way!

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24 comments on “Chug-a-Lug, Mr. Slug

  1. Jenny says:

    Keep them coming Cathy..I have so enjoyed your adventures. And now thanks to you that song will be stuck in my head. I remember the many times we sang it at Cumberland. And Yes, your father sang it the loudest of all!

  2. Sheila Shepheard says:

    I hate slugs. Pi (the dog) nearly died from eating slug pellets – so be warned.
    This year they do seem to be especially long and disgusting. Nothing worse than coming down stairs barefoot and finding that silvery trail on the kitchen floor. Salt is the new seasoning of choice in my kitchen.

  3. Mary Ann says:

    Maybe trying to eat one…slug stew, slug pie, slug steaks…blech!

  4. Tim says:

    Hi Catherine,
    What you need is nematode worms — you put a powder containing millions of the tiny critters’ eggs in a watering can, they get into the soil, then into the slugs, and eat them from within — nasty, huh? But not poisonous to birds or dogs. I get them from this guy, who has lots of other anti-slug stuff — http://www.greengardener.co.uk/GGsearch.asp — though I see they’ve sold out for this year.
    We love your blog and think about you a lot, btw.
    And I got my hat back. How good is that?
    Love, Tim, June, Dara & Niamh xxx

    • Glad you got your hat back…it is a good hat. Not certain how I feel about the nematode, the slow 7-10 day death. Quick and drunk seems nicer somehow. Of course, evaluation of methods is always a part of the process. Miss you all. xx

  5. Carol Hynes Assmann says:

    Good luck with the slug pub, Babe. Slugs were dining on my dahlias nightly. So, I tried the humane method…saucers of beer. Domestic one night, imported the next. Not a highbrow breed, they preferred Bud Light. Nonetheless, every evening I poured ’em a brew; every morning I emptied saucers full of inebriated slugs. The drinking continued until one evening, I went out after dinner to provide the slugs with their nightly brew-ski…and the damn things were already in the saucers waiting for it!

    Defeated, I threw in the bar towel and resorted to “better gardening through chemicals”.

  6. yvonne payne says:

    jam jars? what about wonderful beautiful green china snails as your slug pub?

  7. rusty duck says:

    I’ve tried almost everything, including the nematodes, and nothing has worked for me. The beer, though, sounds promising – if I can prise it away from my Other Half!

  8. Julia says:

    While slugs are clearly a hot topic – all I can say is “look at ’em beautiful raised beds!” Now all you need is for beer to run over the edges like an infinity pool and the slugs won’t stand a chance…

  9. Joanne says:

    My mom used to sing that song. Slightly different lyrics. “For when I’m drunk I’m as happy as can be, cause I am the ruler of the Queen’s Navy.”. Thanks for bringing back that sweet memory.

  10. jennyv123 says:

    Hi Catherine- lovely to read your blog. Now slugs….my mother in law told me a story about how when she first moved to her house in France, that the garden was overrun with large speckled slugs. She spent hours, days removing the slugs and taking them down the lane only to be told by a neighbour, that they would get rid of the other slugs so it was best to leave them. Now, I dont mean to be contentious or perhaps risk your winter veggies but you may wish to explore this a little further…
    Speckled slugs are known as Tiger Slugs or Limax Maximus. Had a quick google on Wikipedia (known for its trustworthy and valued facts). Have cut and pasted a bit here as it makes for entertaining reading…aside from their ability to produce copious amounts of slime, they have some other qualities which may prove of interest:all was looking good re my mother in law’s advice until I read the last sentence…

    much love

    Jenny xx

    Behavior

    Limax maximus is a nocturnal animal which feeds at night.[8]

    It is inactive in its habits, not very prolific, and exudes a thick and glutinous slime which is iridescent when dried.[8] When alarmed, or at rest, this slug merely draws its head within the shield, but does not otherwise contract its body. When irritated, it is said to expand its shield.[8]

    The homing faculty is strongly developed in this species, which, after its nocturnal rambles or foraging expeditions, usually returns to the particular crevice or chink in which it has established itself.[4]

    Limax maximus is capable of associative learning, specifically classical conditioning, because it is capable of aversion learning and other types of learning.[15][16] They can also detect that there are deficiencies in a nutritionally incomplete diet, if the essential amino acid methionine is experimentally removed from their food.[17]

    Habitat

    The slugs are almost always found near human habitation — usually in lawns, gardens, cellars or in other damp areas.

    This species is not gregarious. It frequents gardens, damp and shady hedgerows and woods, hiding during the day beneath stones, under fallen trees, or other obscure and damp places. It does however exhibit a decided preference for the vicinity of human habitations, and readily takes up its abode in damp cellars or outbuildings.[4]

    In Ireland, this predilection for human dwellings is not exhibited, and the species is restricted to woods and other similar places. It may even be met with almost within high-water mark on the seashore.[4]

    Feeding habits

    Limax maximus is omnivorous. It is of benefit as a detrivore for it cleans up dead plants and fungi,[4] and as a carnivore for it hunts down other slugs with its top speed of 6 in/min.[18] However, it also eats young crops faster than they can grow and so is listed as a major agricultural pest by State Departments of Agriculture from Florida[19] to Oregon.[20]

    • Not certain we have the speedy tiger slug, but there is some belief that the Ash Black slug lives in parts of Dartmoor. These babies grow to 30 cm! I am certainly hoping not to encounter one of these rare and elusive slugs. No thank you….

  11. We are loving your blogs Catherine, almost as much as your new home. Thomas is particularly in love with this one and is incredulous that he is now on the internet… or at least the goggles and mask he wore are!

    Looking forward to the next installment, HC&T:)

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