The mild winter allowed many slug and snail eggs survive in the soil. As a result, many kitchen gardeners are currently traumatised by marauding molluscs devouring young vegetable seedlings. Not all gardeners are suffering equally, however. Last weekend, we headed to Inishowen, Co. Donegal, where I was giving a bit of a spiel on the history of walled gardens. The location was the 18th century walled garden where Dermot Carey, the highly experienced Head Gardener, grows for Harrys Bar and Restaurant, Bridgend.
Dermot grows organically and intelligently. The walls are where most of the molluscs hide out, so salads and other ‘softies’ are sown far away from the walls. Ferramol, the organic slug pellets are also used sparingly. However, Dermot reckons the small garden suffers slug damage more as the slug ratio per plant is higher.
Dermot may be right, but on behalf of all small (so-to-speak) kitchen gardeners, I have a few other tricks up my sleeve to foil the slugfest. For a start, the salad plants such a lettuces are sown on shelves in modules and the sturdy plants are then transplanted in to large terracota pots. Plastic ones would do also. A copper tape is wrapped around the rim, which electrically shocks any slug which dares climb the outside of the pot. Crushed egg shells are spread around young brassicas in open ground to repel the march of molluscs. I sometimes use beer traps ( whenever I have beer to spare)! Likewise Ferramol organic pellets work well even when used sparingly, as they are not cheap, €8 for 0.75kg or €14 for 1.5kg.
However, this year I am trying a new organic trick. I have bought by mail order Nemaslug, a pack of slug parasites which come with instructions for effective application. Therefore, before all the transplanting this week, I watered the soil well and then introduced the mollusc parasites to the soil so nature can take its course and the slug population will be knocked back for 6 – 8 weeks anyway, allowing the young vegetable plants to become established.
The way it works is as follows. The slug parasite Phasmarhabditis Herma-Phrodita is a naturally occuring soil organism. It is now possible to breed the parasite and it is available under the trade name Nemaslug. Due to its introduction into the soil in huge numbers it can cope with high slug populations. Once attacked by the parasite, slugs lose their appetites, stop feeding and die within 7 days. All that is required to apply the powdery Nemaslug is water and a 10 litre watering can with a rose head. The gardener must also resolve to keep the soil moist so the parasites can move around and attack the dispersed unsuspecting slug population, 90% of which lives underneath the soil at any one time. But sure you probably know that if you have been reading the slug behaviour chapter in ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’, www.orpenpress.com. Nemaslug is available from www.fruithillfarm.com or from garden centres. Be sure to keep it refrigerated and use it as soon as possible as the slug parasites die if kept in storage too long.