Pests: slugs appear to be forever

Growing vegetables means first getting a handle on the unwelcome guests that munch up our seedlings even as we plant them.

Garter snakes are a welcome sight in the garden

Garter snakes are a welcome sight in the garden

The recent cold snap ended new growth outside of my cold frames and greenhouse, but hopefully will reduce predation on my winter crops. Growing vegetables means first getting a handle on the unwelcome guests that munch up our seedlings even as we plant them. Before we even think of gardening we need a plan to slow down trespassers like slugs, wood bugs and cabbage moths.

Ducks, garter snakes and frogs apparently love slugs, but most yards aren’t big enough to harbour a duck and we aren’t allowed to buy garter snakes or even chase one down to bring it home, since they are a protected species. From their lustful croaking all summer you would think there were enough frogs to do the job, but try finding one this time of year.

Frogs and snakes hibernate. Ducks migrate. Slugs appear to be forever.

I have risen in the dead of night, flashlight in hand, to pluck them off my plants. I have left saucers of beer for them to drown in and rolled up newspapers for them to crawl into for early morning disposal. Copper tape is expensive, and the first time a leaf or dirt gets blown across it the thrice damned slugs pour across the bridge to indulge themselves in epic gluttony.

If slugs are not enough there are wood bugs. Since the compost heap crawls with them, spreading unfinished compost may encourage proliferation. I have read that wood bugs are vital in breaking down the heap and that their numbers die off as the contents decompose more thoroughly, so the plants wood bugs like to eat, such as strawberries and seedlings, should get only well-rotted compost.

Sterilizing potting soil with boiling water kills off would-be munchers in my seed trays and when it cools I plant the seeds.

Another idea I read was spraying strawberries with diluted chili sauce. I even grew my own habanero peppers for it, only to discover that wood bugs simply ADORE hot sauce and everything it touches. I won’t be trying that again.

Such a sad litany of failures! Fortunately I come of strong Scots stock. If my foremothers were stubborn enough to survive the Sassenachs an invasion of slimy gastropods should be manageable, and I do have a great idea for cabbage moth prevention I am saving for a later column.

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