Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Snails and slugs and moles, oh my!

After clearing, spading, hoeing, raking and fertilizing the large space where I want to plant my farmer's garden enclosed by boxwood, I first sowed lupins of an annual variety as green manure to fertilize and loosen up the soil.

Every morning I anxiously went out to the garden to water and see if there was any sign of growth. After about a week I was delighted to see that delicate reddish green sprouts were pushing up all over the plot!

But THEN I had the kind of shock that many gardeners go through at some point in their career: one morning many of the shoots had been eaten right down to earth level with a telltale trail of slime leading back to the undergrowth on the edge of the plot. It was definitely the slugs that are rampant here. And most likely the invasive species of Spanish slug (Arion lusitanicus), which is slowly driving out the indigenous German red slug. The Spanish slug is so robust that it often survives standard snail pellets, and is avoided by many natural predators due to its bitter taste.

Whatever - the incident filled me with irrational blind rage and lust to kill. I remembered someone telling me about setting beer traps (scroll down to the disgusting picture) for snails and slugs, so tried that. It at least seemed better than what our predecessors in the garden had done: they sprinkled poisonous pellets everywhere and had rusty pairs of scissors deposited all over the garden for cutting the slugs in half. But I found I couldn't stomach either beer traps or hands-on murder of the creatures.

Once again, I turned to that incredible repository of knowledge, the internet, and ended up ordering two wonderful books that changed my view of things and have led me to try a new, more pacifist approach to the slug issue.

The first book (in German), is entitled "Snail Whispering instead of Snail Pellets", by Hans-Peter Posavac. His thesis, in a nutshell, is that you don't want to spend your time in your wonderful peaceful garden, where you're trying to be at one with nature, being filled with hatred and murderous thoughts towards snails/slugs, much less devising gruesome ways to kill them, so why not try a different approach and learn to live with them. He describes his own odyssey through various campaigns - never really successful - to kill off the slugs in his garden, and his decision to try a new approach. The first thing he did was to find out all about these wondrous creatures, who have been on earth practically unchanged for millions of years, and themselves are completely peaceful, slow, persevering, and goal-oriented in survival. Then he started to practice what he calls "snail meditation", i.e. look for a snail or slug in your garden, then sit down on a mat nearby and just watch it. He found that doing this had a relaxing effect, also making him feel fond of the creatures. Then he started to talk to the snails in his garden.

However, talking to them was just part of an entire routine he developed to get the local snails/slugs (here it's mostly slugs) used to the fact that they should eat somewhere else, not in his flower and vegetable beds. He gathered them all up gently in a flat pan at dusk when they typically go foraging, admonishing them not to eat his plants, and carried them to a prepared feeding place with plentiful nourishment of the kind they prefer such as wilted lettuce, citrus peels, wheat germ, etc. He claims that after a few weeks they gave up and went directly to the feeding station. He also claims that due to genetic collective memory, subsequent generations showed the same behavior.

I'm not sure whether I'll actually begin to talk to my slugs, but I was so impressed by the book that I wrote to the author and offered to translate his book into English. The slug/snail problem is universal, after all. No reply yet. I'm not holding my breath, oh well.

The second book I bought, also in German, has the somewhat cumbersome title "Plants that snails like or avoid and tips for combating snails: The ecological solution to the snail problem - pleasure in your garden instead of snails devouring your plants", by Susanne Sailer. There are also many books and websites in English on this topic, see for example here, or here. Ms. Sailer has written a great book with comprehensive lists of plants that slugs usually avoid, including photos and useful information on planting, colors, height, etc. She did it by conducting an empirical survey of professional gardeners and gardening schools. She also has other good tips on how to lessen your slug problem without resorting to mayhem.

BTW I found out by reading her book that lupins are one of the most preferred meals of slugs. Here are some other things I won't be planting: marigolds, lettuce, radishes, zinnias, petunias. But I can have them on our roof-top patio at home. At least I haven't seen a slug up here on the sixth floor yet! (Click to enlarge.)

And what about moles? Well I mostly put them in to conform to the "Lions and tigers and bears" chant in "Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz", but ominously enough, our predecessors in the garden had installed mole deterrents, i.e. some kind of battery-powered contraption which supposedly sends out signals that moles don't like. Haven't seen a mole or molehill anywhere around, though.


  1. I strongly recommend the hammer and anvil method:
    (0) You'll need: an anvil of appropriate size, an apron, a hammer.
    (1) Put the slug on the anvil.
    (2) Hammer it down. (... you just found out what the apron was meant to prevent.)

    Method works with moles, rabbits, mosquitoes, wasps, nightmares, ...
    just buy a collection of different size anvils and hammers ... and watch your fingers!

  2. Dear anonymous,
    You obviously need a couple sessions of snail meditation to help overcome your violent phantasies. Discover the slug in yourself!

  3. Sick, anonymous, sick. You do know that serial murderers have always had childhoods during which they tortured/killed animals, don't you? Get thyself to therapy. Fast.

  4. nobody really counts slugs as animals.. so the chance of mister anonymous becoming a serial murderer is quite low i should think!

    cool site mom