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Showing posts with label slugs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label slugs. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Slugs: the Nemesis of My Garden

Warning, pictures of slugs coming up! Since they're so ugly, I just thought I would share a flower photo to butter you up.  

Hello everyone, I'm a new writer here and so I thought I would give you a short introduction about myself.

I was originally a city (Portland, OR) and career girl. Since I've had a child, become a stay-at-home mom and the economic recession, I've moved outside the city and am trying my best to raise my own food and become a modern homesteader. I started out not knowing much much about the subject, and am learning as I go. As I learn, I write about it on my blog at: www.MySuburbanHomestead.com. And I'm honored to be writing here, a blog that has provided much inspiration to me.

This first blog post is about one of my most frustrating experiences as a gardener: slugs.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather is mild, but rainy about 9 months out of the year. Since slugs love wet ground, this means that slugs here survive and proliferate throughout the winter, and are giant in size: many slugs here reach 4" long!

Cabbage seedling devoured by slugs. Many times I go out in the morning and there is only a little stump on the plant left, not even enough to take a picture of. 
I'm doing my best to live off my garden, and since the slugs here are so prolific and can eat their weight in plant material daily, slugs have shattered my plan more than once. This year I've lost all eggplant seedlings, at least half of my tomato fruits, countless sowings of lettuce and all my pickling cucumbers... the list goes on and on.

When I went outside a couple of months ago to discover that every one of my beautiful fall broccoli seedlings were devoured, I declared war on the slugs living in my garden.

Over the years I've read many different strategies to control slugs, but I've never noticed much of a difference in the slug population. So the first thing I've done is set up experiments to see how each "remedy" affects the slugs in my garden. Here is a list of the experiments I've conducted:

Copper: many sources will recommend using copper as a barrier around the gardens to deter slugs. I wanted to determine first whether or not copper really works. Since copper is very expensive, so I ordered a small amount of "copper slug tape" and adhered it to a piece of cardboard. I then put the copper with lettuce leaves placed on top in a box, added a slug, and put a lid on top. Here's what I found about an hour later.

A really ugly slug, munching away on the lettuce regardless of the copper. Thankfully I didn't spend much money! 

There are more "slug deterrents" that are popular. To determine their efficacy, I then set up very similar experiments with: wood ashes, diatomaceous earth, crushed eggshells and coffee grounds. I've photographed each one of my experiments on my blog, but I'll save you the agony: slugs could care less about any one of these so-called deterrents. 

I then attempted to find out just how affective it would be to use trap and destroy slugs. I placed as many boards (about thirty) and tiles that I could find in one area of my garden, thinking that I could trap the slugs the next day or two and then move them to a different area of my garden. But that also didn't work! After about two weeks, there were still slugs gathering underneath, and slugs were proliferating out of control in the other areas of my gardens.

So then I turned to beer traps. Oh people love those beer traps! The thinking is that slugs like to drink beer so much that they will crawl in and drown. And yes, some slugs do drown, but check out these photos:

A slug dunking its head over the side of my trap, drinking beer. 
These slugs have been in this box for two days. Notice many of them are fine, and that another slug is drinking out of the trap. That big slug never did drown, even a couple of days later! 

I think that most people assume that the beer trap method works very well because they observe slugs drowned in the traps. But what I don't think people realize is that not all of them drown, and beer can actually be food for some of the slugs!

Perhaps the beer traps work better in locations where slugs don't grow so large. But considering the expense of beer traps (the least expensive beer locally is .71 cents/pint) I've determined that my effort and money is probably best spent elsewhere.

My latest efforts are twofold: cultural control and baits.

By cultural control, I mean reducing the things in your garden that allow slugs to proliferate. Obviously, slugs don't care for light, so they hide during the day. They hide and lay eggs under rocks, weeds, boards, debris, pots, etc., and so I am doing my best to remove hiding places as much as possible. Unfortunately, this also applies to mulch. I know lasagne gardening and sheetmulcing are very popular methods, but unfortunately the mulch provides slugs habitat, and in the case of leaves, provides them with food. So all leaves, straw, etc., goes into my compost pile before it goes out into the garden.

Since slugs do like to feed at night, I frequently go out with a flashlight or headlamp and a pair of scissors. It's disgusting and laborious but free and effective.

This year I attempted allowing my tomatoes to sprawl on the ground, rather than propping them up. I've read that this works just fine for most, but did you know that slugs love tomatoes? I didn't until this year.
These were the tomatoes that were salvageable if you cut off the bad parts.  I never took pictures of the tomatoes that weren't salvageable, but I think you get the picture! 

My least favorite slug control method is slug bait. There are three main types of bait. Two of which are fatally toxic to pets and wildlife, so I've never used them. The other one, called iron phosphate, is reportedly least toxic and breaks down into fertilizer for your soil. Locally, the most popular product is called sluggo.

The problem for me is that sluggo is ridiculously expensive, which is why I've always avoided using them until now. Sluggo is most commonly available in small, 2.5 pound bottles. One pound costs around $8 and covers 100 square feet and needs to be reapplied every two weeks. You can probably imagine that this cost would add up pretty quickly.

A few days ago I called around find out the price differences. I'm pleasantly surprised to find out that there are huge variations in prices, but in order to get the best price (close to $3/pound) you will need to buy larger quantities. If you live in the States you can check out my post on least expensive sources of iron phosphate. There are also some sources local to Portland, OR.

My thinking now is that if I keep my gardens heavily baited throughout the next couple of rainy seasons that the slug population will drop then I can focus on just baiting the perimeter of the gardens.

So for anyone out there suffering a slug infestation such as mine, here's what I can recommend: keep the garden as weed free as possible (invest in a good, wide hoe), remove rocks, stray boards, mulch, etc. It you have the energy, go out at night to search and destroy. Seek out the least expensive environmentally-friendly slug bait. Protect seedlings as best as you can since they are the least vulnerable. And get those tomatoes up off the ground!

Do you have a pest that is particularly bad in your area? How have you handled the situation?