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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!