Prepare your defences – slugs and snails are coming to a garden near you
May is a month where everything happens in the kitchen garden and it all seems to happen at once.
We’ve already had our fair share of everything weather-related in Barnet. Temperatures are still dropping to zero some nights and the rain, well, what can we say about the rain? Nothing for about six weeks and then a necessary deluge. Hopefully, things will become a bit more predictable from this week onwards, and we can look forward to the ‘great big plant out’.
What’s ‘the great big plant out’ you ask? It’s my term for the time when the baby plants we’ve been nurturing for the last few weeks and months can be planted outside, so they can carry on their journey to our plates. But it’s also the time we need to keep our guard up, as there are beasties out there eyeing up our future food. The rain-soaked ground is slugs and snails’ heaven, so we need to double our defences.
Although I have a keen eye for hunting out slug-slime, I also work under the assumption that I share my garden with my foe. They are a given in all growing spaces and, ultimately, they’re part of the natural balance in any garden, feeding birds, beetles and frogs, so I don’t worry if I see a few hiding in nooks and crannies around my plot. Despite what you may have heard, they’re also not all baddies. Some of them have no interest in eating your prized plants but make great digesters in your compost heap.
Before I list some ways to keep the enemy at bay, there’s one important point to note. If you want to support other wildlife in your garden, I urge you to avoid the blue pellets containing metaldehyde because other wildlife can be killed as a result. This may be directly, or more likely indirectly, when the poisoned slug becomes lunch for an unsuspecting bird, frog or hedgehog.
So here are a few top tips to prevent and control the greedy gastropods exploring your garden.
Plant out your strongest seedlings – they stand a better chance of remaining un-munched and once they’re established, slugs and snails will cause less harm.
Monitor for problems – keep a closer eye on newly planted seedlings, and if you spot signs of slime, head out at dusk with a torch to rehome any unwanted guests to your compost bin where they’ll have lots of green waste to feast on instead. Catching them this month also helps to stop future generations from taking over your plot later in the season.
Provide places for predators to live – adding a pond, bird feeder and a pile of logs will work wonders by attracting all kinds of slug-eating allies.
Use barriers and traps to give an extra level of protection – barriers can be as simple as plastic bottles chopped in half and put over small plants for a couple of weeks. I also use old copper pipes to give an extra obstacle for the slugs and snails to navigate. Some growers swear by spreading crushed eggshells, dried coffee or ash around plants, which slugs don’t like to travel over. Traps commonly include a can of beer to attract a passing pest but this can be costly.
Add nematodes where the pests like to hang out – tiny creatures that can kill and eat slugs if you get the conditions right. They are not very effective for snails and you need to follow the instructions carefully. Again, this can be a costly option so is often a last resort.
I’d love to hear your tips (find me on Instagram @HaveAGrow) or come and visit my community garden Incredible Edible Barnet. I’ll be there every Saturday from 10 am to 12 in May.
Whatever you’re growing this year good luck with your own ‘great big plant out’ in the next few weeks. Just keep an eye on the frost forecast as we’re still having some cold snaps overnight.
And it’s not too late to sow some seeds. Garden Organic is one of my go-to sources for seed-sowing timings, many of which can now be sown straight outdoors. Just don’t forget to sow a few more for any visiting villains.
Wendy is a trained horticulturist who promotes growing food to growers in Barnet and beyond as @HaveAGrow on Instagram. She grows organically with protection for the soil, nature and planet in mind and believes in the permaculture ethics of earth share, fair share and people care.
Wendy set up the community garden Incredible Edible Barnet in 2016 when she ran out of room to grow food in her back garden. With a small group of volunteers, she grows fruit, vegetables and edible flowers outside a church in New Barnet and she is available to support other people or groups wanting to set up growing spaces in the borough.
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