The few warm, dry days we get in the spring always tempt me to direct sow a few seeds outside, but when damp, cloudy weather flops back on the garden like a wet blanket, slugs and sowbugs burst forth and mow everything down except my onions. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, so every spring I think, “Maybe this year will be different.” It hasn’t been so far, but you never know.
Fortunately I’ve taken a few steps to ameliorate the situation. To get a jump on the season and avoid early spring predation, I sow most plants in flats inside and re-pot them into succeedingly bigger pots until it’s dry enough outside and the plants are big enough to keep growing despite the few hungry maws still hanging around.
I keep a one-foot-wide path around most of the garden where I grow flowers, squash and stray garlic and kale sprouts that pop up unbidden. Once the dry weather kicks in, this barrier keeps out most slugs and sowbugs and attracts beneficial insects like lacewings and bees, as long as I use soaker hoses.
Before I discovered soaker hoses, I used a sprinkler or watered by hand. Both methods allowed weeds and pests like slugs to flourish, so in 1998 when we had late blight that destroyed tomato and potato crops all over the island, mine weren’t exempt. Water on the leaves allowed blight spores to adhere to the plant, so we learned to protect tomatoes from the rain by only watering the roots. We planted tomatoes farther apart so air could flow between the leaves and keep them dry. We grew shorter season potatoes and tomatoes so they could be harvested before cool weather and late blight set in.
I bought a soaker hose that only watered the roots and I was in for a surprise. Less water was used, fewer weeds came up and slugs and sow bugs looked elsewhere for a meal. I was so impressed that each year I bought another hose for a different part of the garden and figured out how to join them with regular hoses using adaptors, Y connectors and Teflon tape so one tap could water the whole garden. These hoses water precisely where I want and by the time it’s hot and dry enough to warrant a mulch, slugs and sowbugs have found better pickings in my neighbours’ yards that still get watered with sprinklers.
These hoses do have a few drawbacks, though. They require plants to be grown in a long line down the bed, so broadcasting seed over the bed doesn’t work. Neither does sowing in short lines across the bed, and one must be careful not to chop the hose when hoeing out weeds that grow along the hose. At the end of the summer, the hoses must be disconnected, drained, rolled up and stored away from the elements. They do kink easily, so one must be careful when rolling them up, but when I treat them like this, mine last about 10 years, maybe more.
Nothing’s perfect, but these hoses, set up with a timer, have improved my gardening life immeasurably because, once they’re set up, the entire garden waters itself and I can easily go off for two weeks in the summer, confident that I’ll return to a lovely garden.