Why slugs are less of a problem in a 2 acre walled garden, than in my small patch – 4th week in May 2012

Dermot showing Green Agriculture Spokesperson, Séamus Sheridan and the rest of us a few unusual crops. See you at Sheridan’s Irish Food Festival, Sun 27 May Virginia Rd Station, Co Meath.

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.


One response to this post.

  1. 1) Trapping
    You can but slug traps – but far cheaper to make your own, easy to bait with beer.
    This is also how you collect slugs for the pestilence solution

    2) Targeting
    Go out at dusk with a torch, and kill them. For every slug you kill there are hundreds more that wont be born so it is worth it.
    Kill all slugs apart from leopard slugs, keep snails for food – easy, tasty and free.

    3) Cannibals and Predators
    Try not to kill too many leopard slugs – they are carnivorous cannibals and feed on other slugs – they will damage plants but its a question of numbers.
    Make your garden as frog and hedgehog friendly as possible

    4) Pestilence
    Leave to rot in a jar in direct sunlight, then water down and spread around e garden. The pathogens that have developed in the rotting carcass give the living slugs disease

    5) Biological
    Mr Middletons in Dublin sell a product called Nemaslug. This is a targeted parasite nematode that kills slugs, coverage lasts for about 6 weeks

    6) Chemical
    If you are going to use these, try a bird, frog and hedgehog friendly type.
    Using pellets that kill or sicken frogs, birds or hedgehogs is short sighted and foolish as having these creatures in your garden helps slug control – a hedgehog or frog are active predators for slugs, they are your allies – dont hurt them.

    Use a ferramol based slug pellet like those available from seedsavers if you really need to.

    7) Deterrence
    Make up a solution of chili powder and salt, say 20 gms salt and 2 tsp hot chilli powder per litre and spray onto footpaths, lasts as a deterrent for about two weeks subject to heavy rains

    8) Metallic
    Copper tape – expensive – can be used for pots and containers.
    Also, using copper tools leaves small amounts of the metal in the soil, slugs do not like these.

    9) Hygiene
    Keep the garden as tidy as you can, old pots, containers and bags should be stowed away from food plants as they provide shelter for slugs during the day.

    10) Active defense
    Buy ducks if you have space for them


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