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The War on Slugs

In the annual war against slime, British gardeners use around 400 billion slug pellets to blanket bomb the enemy.  For such a slow moving target that's an awful lot of ammunition.  Those colourful little pellets must be earning a few people some serious money.

"Never, in the field of hostas, was so much money earned, by so few chemical companies".

Never was a bombing campaign so easy either.  Each spring you can see people in their gardens, sprinkling them on their flower beds like they were putting sugar on their corn flakes.

"My One Little Packet Can't do any Harm"

As with any chemical warfare, the weapon is indiscriminate, and it's often the innocent who end up on the casualty list.  Frogs, newts, toads, slow-worms, thrushes, hedgehogs - all curiously in decline.  Then there's pet dogs, pet cats, children... the list goes on.

Some ingest them directly, others get secondary poisoning through eating poisoned slugs.  Eventually we all suffer the effects because all those chemicals eventually end up in the soil, or in the water, and creep back into the food chain.  All 400,000,000,000 of them.  Every year.  Year after year after year.

How Slug Pellets Work

The most common poisons used in slug pellets are metaldehyde and methiocarb.  These chemicals poison the animals by disrupting the gastric organs and the nervous systems.
As you know, slugs love to eat nice young shoots, so the chemicals on their own would not be tempting to the slugs. For this reason the chemicals are put inside a brightly coloured pellet made from cereal.  Unfortunately this also makes them attractive to other animals.

Many gardeners are plagued by ever-growing slug and snail populations, but most that I speak to would prefer not to use slug pellets, knowing that they're a big threat to wildlife.  They simply don't have a better, or more effective alternative.  For these good people there's a few ideas below.  I'm not saying they're easier than dropping slug pellets - they're not.  But they are cheaper, and far less harmful to the planet.

Alternatives to Slug Pellets

Beer Traps - slugs walk into them, become intoxicated on the beer and drown happy.  Always use the ones with lids, and keep the entrances above soil level, otherwise beneficial insects could fall in and drown.

Crushed Egg Shells - placed as a barrier around plants.  The slugs find it hard to cross.  Other materials such as ash, sawdust, pistachio shells can be used in the same way.

Copper Rings - same as above, but the copper gives the slugs a small electric shock.

Old Planks of Wood - placed between rows of vegetables.  Turn them over in the morning and you'll find the slugs hiding underneath.

Empty Grapefruit Skins - same as above.  The slugs hide inside protected by the moist, shady conditions.

Early Watering - Watering in the evening provides a lovely moist pathway to your plants just as hungry slugs are becoming active.  Confine your watering to early morning.  This won't get rid of them, but it'll slow them down.

Torch and Gloves - This involves a night-time slug safari literally hand picking the slugs.  You might even be able to get the kids to help.

Next time you're visiting your local supermarket petrol station forecourt grab a few of those free gloves they provide.  Don't worry they can afford to lose a few. torch and gloves You'll also need an empty jam jar or plastic bag to contain the slugs you find, and a torch.  Literally shine your torch about and every time you spot a shiny slug, pick it up and put it in the container.  The best time for hand picking is two hours after sunset.

The catch can be released on an area of waste ground the following day.  If the kids are helping, offer a prize for the most slugs found.

Hedgehogs - great slug predators.  Encourage them to your garden with a dish of cat or dog food and a bowl of water.  Providing piles of leaves and garden waste for sleeping areas.

Frogs, Toads and Slow-worms - more natural slug predators.  Encourage them to stay with a log pile somewhere in the garden.

Thrushes - Attract them to your garden in the winter with raisins, oats, and earthworms.  You'll be rewarded in the spring when they stay to feed on the slugs.

Nematode Worms - a commercially available biological control in the form of a parasitic worm.  The nematode worm burrows into the slug, and once inside, releases a bacterium which multiply.  This is what the nematode feeds on.  The nematodes then multiply, and within 3-5 days the slug stops feeding and burrows underground to die.

Care should be taken before introducing any new species into a garden. Any introductions should be native, suitable for the local habitat, not harmful to beneficial wildlife, and not likely to become pests themselves.

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