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May 2017 - SLUG SURVIVAL

by Pippa Greenwood

Now that spring is here and the weather has really warmed up, they’re out in force, using their tongue-like ‘radula’ (armed with approximately 27,000 tooth-like spikes) to rasp away at our precious plants.

But before launching an attack, there is something you should bear in mind – most slugs actually do little damage to living plants, instead preferring to feast on dead and dying material including flopped foliage and organic mulches. On the whole, the larger slugs tend to do the least damage to plants as they eat almost exclusively decaying and dead material. It is their smaller cousins like the greyish-black keeled slug and the pinkish-beige-grey field slug which are more likely to wreak havoc in your vegetable plot or flower border - they may be small but they are far from innocent. With estimates of about 200 slugs per average cubic metre of average garden soil, the situation can soon get out of hand.


Keeled slugs in particular love to feast below ground, as well as on plants above the soil surface. This means serious trouble, especially at this time of year when many of us are planting out young plants and seeds are starting to germinate. In no time at all slugs can eat through the base of a young stem, killing the plant in the process. As seeds germinate in the soil, these little horrors often eat the seedling even before it has had a chance to emerge above the soil surface! Later in the year, as potato tubers swell beneath the soil and carrots start to fatten they will begin to tunnel into these too.

To make matters worse, they breed quickly and very efficiently – each slug has both male and female organs and in extreme situations can even fertilise itself. Take a look on the soil surface, beneath drooping foliage and in amongst moist organic matter, and you’re likely to spot the clumps of eggs. Each egg is about 1-2mm in diameter and a clear, milky or off-white coloured sphere.

So what can you do with these squidgy little menaces?

• Go on an evening slug hunt. In particular, slugs are out in vast numbers after it has rained or you have done some watering, so you can collect up as many as you can.

• Choosing resistant varieties of vegetable is worthwhile too. Check seed catalogues and websites for varieties which are marked up as having useful resistance to slugs. With potatoes, main crop varieties usually suffer most, so try to grow mainly earlies. Some varieties are slug disaster zones e.g. Cara, Maris Peer, Kondor and Pentland Crown, but if you choose Charlotte, Kestrel, Sante or Wilja you are in with a much better chance.

• Try to encourage natural slug predators such as hedgehogs, frogs, toads, slow worms and ground beetles. If you keep hens consider letting them clear the ground for you – but obviously only before you start planting and sowing!

• Use the Nemaslug nematode control, a treatment I like because it is harmless to everything except slugs. It works swiftly and silently too and, if you’re a potato grower and you drench the soil around the potato plants about six weeks before anticipated harvest, the nematodes soon get to work and your potatoes should be virtually slug-damage free. Use it to clear a slug-infested raised bed or planter and apply self-adhesive copper tape around the rim of the container to keep the contents slug free. Find out more about Nemaslug and copper tape at www.pippagreenwood.com

• Barriers such as crushed shells, wool pellets, soot, pine needles or copper-impregnated fabric can also work well, but some of these may need replacing regularly and results seem to vary from garden to garden and gardener to gardener.

• Traps filled with beer can also be a fantastic way to reduce slug numbers in your garden dramatically and, apart from the somewhat messy (and grim) business of emptying them out, they are simple too. You can buy ready-made traps or make your own using inexpensive plastic beakers plunged into the soil, the rim protruding 1-2cm above the soil surface and filled with a well-flavoured beer. I did a mini ‘trial’ on Gardeners’ Question Time once and found that Guinness worked best - and interestingly alcohol free lager proved least effective!


Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com to buy gorgeous UK grown vegetable plants accompanied by weekly advice emails from Pippa, or to peruse the really useful selection of Pippa’s favourite gardening items including pop-up crop covers, SpeedHoes, SpeedWeeders, raised bed kits, Nemaslug, pull-out EasyTunnels, signed books and lots more besides.


 

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