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Wednesday, 17 November 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?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Trying my Hand at Winter Gardening

by Chiot's Run

I'm lucky that we have a year round farmer's market that opened up last year. I can now find local produce all winter long, which is wonderful in our cold climate. Last winter I happily purchased all kinds of wonderful vegetables from various local farmers to get us through the winter. I'm always trying to expand my gardening so I can produce more and more of our food. Since we live on a small lot and don't have much more gardening space, I'm starting to expand the seasons that I grow. I installed hoops over my raised bed specifically for protecting crops from our cold NE Ohio weather. A few weeks ago I covered my raised beds with greenhouse plastic in my efforts to grow all winter long.
Four Season Gardening
Most everything in these beds were seeded in early October, and they seem to be thriving in the cool fall weather. They do take longer to reach maturity, mostly because of the reduced daylight hours not as much the cold. I have 3 raised beds at my house and 2 in my mom's garden. They're filled with cold tolerant lettuces, spinach, bunching onions, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, celery, arugula and kohlrabi.
Four Season Gardening
I searched out cold tolerant heirloom varieties of vegetables for my experiment. I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to provide a lot of my own vegetables (mostly greens) during the long cold winter months. (If you want to learn more about four season gardening I'd highly recommend Eliot Coleman's book The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses)

Have you tried winter gardening? What do you use to protect your crops?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A community with UNlike-minded people

By Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone!

Readers of my personal blog will know that its been a very busy few months here for me. I'm at the final stages of closing a major chapter in my life and starting a new one. I'll be moving soon!

And as with any endings and beginnings, I can't help but reflect over the good and the bad of the last 15+ years.

One of the things I'm going to miss is my neighbourhood. For outsiders, this may seem very strange. At first glance, my neighbourhood seems to be an eclectic mix of very UNlike-minded people. We all lead very different lives and have very different outlooks. I am the only person in my community who is committed to ethical to consumption and simple living.

And yet, I do belong and am supported by this community. Let me share with you an example of what happened only a few days ago...

One day, after work, I decided to mow my lawn...but my lawnmower wouldn't start. My neighbour noticed and came round. With a bit of tinkering he figured out what was wrong and it finally started.

...so I started to mow my lawn. And 5 mins later, I hear another noise of another lawnmower...the neighbour who helped me start mine has gotten his lawn mower out and was mowing the other end of my lawn (I have a VERY big front lawn).

And with 2 mowers going we finish the yard in record time...and we notice that our other neighbours' lawns were also unmown....

So we took both our mowers across the road and we mowed their lawns. And when we finished that in record time, we then took it to the next house and mowed the front lawn there too. And while we were doing that, his wife came round and got my kids weeding parts of mine and her gardens so I can continue mowing other people's lawns.

Then it got dark, so we trudged back to my place and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine.

The next day, I come home from work and I noticed that another garden bed of mine had been weeded...the neighbours who's lawns we mowed finished the job of weeding our gardens for us.

My front lawn nicely mowed and weeded.

And that's my community...they may not believe in simple living or ethical consumption - indeed, we often (good-naturedly) clash on these topics (and others including religion, politics and most contentious of all...home and garden decor :P).

However, I have since learned how far a bit of kindness, generosity, tolerance and a sense of humour can go in building a community with people who are very different from me. They may not live the same kind of life as I do, but they still help me live that life.

So as I prepare to leave this community, I can only hold on to those same community building values and hope that my new neighbourhood will one day, also be my community.

I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Taste of Summer

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Summer is fast approaching here in Australia. For us, how we eat really marks the seasons. Here are some warm-weather favourites!

Avocado Dressing
1 medium avocado
3/4 cup water
1/2 tblspn olive oil
juice of half a lemon
3 tsp fresh herbs (1/3 tsp dried herbs)
sprinkle of salt to taste

In blender or with stick blender process avocado & water. Add oil, herbs, salt, lemon juice. Process until creamy.


Sweet Corn & Bean Enchiladas
6 sheets Mountain Bread
1 tbspn olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 red capsicum, diced
2 zucchini, grated
pinch chili powder
400g tin diced tomatoes
400g tin corn kernels, drained
400g tin red kidney beans, rinsed & drained
salt & pepper to taste
salsa
1 cup grated tasty cheese

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Heat oil in frypan, saute onion, capsicum & zucchini. Cook for 3 minutes. Add chilli powder and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add tomato, corn, beans, salt & pepper. Stir & simmer briefly then remove from heat.

Greast a large baking dish. Place 1/4 cup filling on a piece of mountain bread. Roll up and place in dish (seam side down). Repeat with remaining bread and filling.

Spoon salsa over enchiladas and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 15 minutes and serve. immediately with side salad.

Frozen Mango Slice
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups water
3 cups mango pulp
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
300ml thickened cream

Combine water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until dissolved into a syrup. Boil for about 5 minutes. Let cool. Process mangoes in a blender, add syrup and lemon/lime juice.

Divide mango mix into two. Pour one half into a tray (plastic square biscuit container or similar). Freeze.

Keep the other half of the mix in the fridge until the first lot is frozen. When it’s set, add the cream to the second half and pour this mix over the frozen half. Freeze until set, then cut into squares as you want it. Store in freezer.


Macadamia & Date Bars
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup macadamia halves/pieces
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1/2 cup raw sugar
120g butter
2 tbspn honey

Mix the dry ingredients. Melt butter and mix in honey. Add that to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spread into greased shallow tin and cook at 190 degrees C for 20 minutes. Cut into squares or bars while hot (carefully, it crumbles at lot at this stage). Then let cool completely before lifting out to store in airtight container. Can freeze.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Land Efficiency

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

You have probably heard of energy efficiency, but what about land efficiency.  Are you really using what you have in the most efficient way.  Or do you ever dream of selling up and moving to the country to settle down on a few acres?  Do you really need a house cow or goat to live a sustainable lifestyle?  

I never have.  Sure I may have dreamed about it for an odd minute or two, but never seriously and I just don't have the room for livestock.  At an early stage of my greening, my family and I decided that we would do the best we could with the space we had available.  Our space is a 779 sqm or 8385 square feet or 0.19 of an acre.  More than most around my area where the houses are getting bigger and the land getting smaller.  McMansions abound because property developers have gotten greedy!  To some this may sound like a lot of land.  It is all relative I suppose.

Anyway, I have managed to squeeze a lot of things into my normal sized suburban block of land.  Click to enlarge. 


Here is an aerial shot of the house which I sourced from www.nearmap.com.  Near map have detailed aerial photos of most Australian urban centres.  North is at the top of the picture and I have marked our boundary in red, with some of the stand-out features labelled and circled.  Hopefully it has put all the other outdoor photos of my garden that I have taken for my blog into context for those who are regular readers.

There is not one bit of land that is unused except for the most of the pool space where I store extra water when the tank overflows and the new citrus trees are against the back fence.  However, before I had to fork out a small fortune for dental work a few months back, I was going to put another 5000 litre water tank in this area, but I will have to wait until I save up a bit more cash before I reconsider my options. 

There is room for improvement in the front yard, as I am planning on planting in some fruiting shrubs and putting some drip irrigation in for the existing fruit trees.  I have 11 fruit trees in the front yard with the tallest being 2 metres (7 ft) and the shortest only 30 cm (1 ft).  Only a lack of potable water is holding me back at this stage, which seems like a funny statement considering the size of the pool.  Unfortunately, it is a salt water pool, so not much good on plants!  If worst came to worst, I would convert it back to fresh and just use it as aquaponics and water storage. 

We also have no lawn.  That's right, not a blade of grass to be seen except for the nature strips which I just mow and don't water.  I ripped up the rest years ago.  Such a waste of space and water. 

However, all in all, I wouldn't have it any bigger and certainly not much smaller and I find that I can manage it in the spare time that I have available.  I am happy with what we have and couldn't want for any more land.