Lowther: Slugs do have purpose

I have had harsh words for slugs and pill bugs in the past, but given how many inhabit these

I have had harsh words for slugs and pill bugs in the past, but given how many inhabit these parts I figure they must fill some vital niche apart from the intrinsic value of being alive for their own sake and providing tasty snacks for snakes.

Apparently slugs and pill bugs help break down detritus in the compost heap so that fungi and yeasts can have at their wastes and spent bodies. Pill bugs have a remarkable ability to digest contaminated soils, breaking heavy metals down into harmless crystals to create topsoil that will neither blow away as toxic dust nor leach metal ions into ground water.

Logically speaking, I should be happy that these garden gourmands infest my heap; my problem lies in spreading their numbers over my garden along with the compost come spring. Fortunately I learned that as compost breaks down the plague of slugs and pill bugs decreases, and the longer the pile sits the fewer of these menaces survive. Therefore a well-made and kept compost heap is a necessity.

Compost can be made with all kinds of materials, but if you want to grow the very best nutrient-dense vegetables possible it’s worth making the effort and spending a bit, because the money you spend is an investment in your future good health.

My bins are made of wood and lidded with plywood because that’s what we had, so last year I covered them with a tarp to keep out the rain. It looked good, but water dripped through and my compost became cold, damp and heavy. I turned the heap twice, encouraging it to heat up with some burning invective invoking various fertility deities and ended up with fairly good compost, although some nutrients probably got washed out.

This year I will nag David into making me fibreglass lids to keep the rain out. You know your own spouses best, but I have found that a whining tone after breakfast can be very effective. He’s easier to manipulate when his blood sugars are up.

By the way, I’ve seen a picture of a greenhouse with a built-in compost heap that keeps the greenhouse warm. Although I’m told that a well-working heap doesn’t smell offensive, David draws the line at having a heap in our lovely conservatory. He also balks at a one-lane swimming pool in our greenhouse, like the one I saw in a book: the water is a heat-sink when the sun shines, keeping the greenhouse warm at night, and you get to play in it. Talk about a two-for! Perhaps I can talk him into a hot tub. This may take a few breakfasts, but I will keep you posted.

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