A new approach to slugs.
I have decided that I am approaching slugs in the wrong manner. Many folk deal with slugs by poisoning them with various types of slug pellets. I have always been dead set against this method because anything that eats the slugs will also suffer effects from the poison. One of the great things about a garden is the birdlife. In fact the birdlife can be a great help by predating on the pests that plague your garden. It is therefore not desirable for the birds to be poisoned by pellets all over the garden.
Another method of dealing with slugs is the beer trap. This has always been my favoured method of getting rid of them because they can sink into oblivion after a night of drinking. It doesn’t seem like killing so much as enabling. This illusion is helped by the way in which so many of the slugs seem to just get drunk and then go and sleep it off under the lettuce rather than falling into the beer.
The method that I have found to be most effective is to remove the slugs from the garden. Sending them all over the garden fence keeps them away from my plants for a while. Luckily for the slugs I have a nice big grassy patch behind my house for them to spend some time in. If not for that I would be torn between gifting them to the neighbours and throwing them on to the road at the front. I feel far too sorry for the slugs to send them into the poisoned death traps of my neighbours’ gardens. Other folk might feel sorry for the neighbours being invaded by slugs but I have some neighbours who I favour slightly less than the slugs. The road is also not good as I feel sorry for the slugs hitting the tarmac as they soar over the hedge; I also wince every time I hear one hit a car roof or bonnet and worry what the drivers will think when they come out in the morning.
The problem with relocating the slugs is that they apparently have a rather good homing instinct. I have therefore decided to focus on my new approach. It turns out that there are about 25 different varieties of slug in the UK. We are blessed with the kind of damp weather that most slugs love so they have done very well in our climate. We are even picking up new varieties that are coming up from Spain. It can often feel like there is only one variety because they all seem so similar. We assume that the smaller slugs are younger versions of the big black ones we are used to seeing. In actual fact it is the smaller ones that are the most trouble. They are adults and they are a destructive army in their own right.
When targeting slugs it is very easy to go out and pick off the large black ones with a torch late at night. This can help quite a lot, but it is actually the smaller ones that are most likely to be doing the greatest damage. There are three or four different species of slug that are around 3cm or smaller and it is these that are the trouble makers. Any gardener will be used to seeing slugs that are over 10cm in length but from my research it seems that these larger ones are less likely to be causing so much trouble.
The smaller varieties will feed almost exclusively on things that I would rather grow nice and large to feed myself. The larger slugs will often favour rotting vegetation, dead animals, and even other slugs. They will only eat your nice fresh vegetables when they do not have access to enough of their preferred diet. There are some larger slugs who will prefer nice vegetables instead of rotting matter but they are far less numerous than the tiny 3cm slugs that focus solely on your seedlings. The irony is that as the larger ones are so much easier to see and catch it is they who have been taking flying lessons while the smaller slugs have been allowed to remain largely untouched as they go around eating my salad leaves. They have probably become even more prolific in the absence of all the giants I have evicted.
My new approach is to keep the large slugs. Rather than send them next door I am creating slug ghettos in which they can be put to work creating compost for the garden. It always frustrates me how long it takes compost to break down. If slugs are going to help me by digesting it then I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I have already noticed that some of them, particularly the paler ones seem to remain exclusively in their ghetto areas.
Step two of my plan which I intend to put into action soon is to cultivate the more favourable of the slugs. The premium slug is the leopard slug. It is lucky that it is this slug that is most beneficial for the garden as it is this slug that is most easily recognisable. The leopard slug is covered in dots and dashes, so that it does look as though it has a leopard like skin. The beauty of this particular slug is that as well as eating rubbish and rotting waste it will also hunt other slugs. As a killer of slugs it is welcome in my garden. There is always the danger that it might on occasion snack on some vegetables but this is a far lower risk than the risk of its prey eating my vegetables.
Hopefully the use of knowledge will lead to a lazier and more ecologically sound way in which to run my garden. If this works it will back up my basic belief that almost anything can be improved by taking a different approach and using knowledge of your barriers to success in order to design methods to achieve your ends that contain fewer of the usual harms inherent in the prevalent systems in place.