En route to retrieve my iPhone from the glove box in our car the other night, I took a quick tour of my garden – torch in hand – to investigate whether it was indeed sneaky slugs that were munching their way through my young brassicas. It took a few seconds for me to see their shady selves, but sure enough, there were ten-to-fifteen of the slimy monsters caught in the spotlight. And not just slugs; a rather large snail was clinging on to the spindly remains of a tiny cauli leaf in a rather King Kong-Empire State Building fashion!
I promptly picked off their slippery, cool bodies one-by-one and flung them onto a section of grass suitably far away for the birds to hunt them out, come morning. Not a grand solution, I’ll give you that. Next time I will be better prepared.
Before I raced out to my garden with a homemade, slug-trapping device, I looked into what they mean to my garden environment. My gut instinct suggested that I seek and destroy in the most effective method that I could find, but I wondered if they actually served a purpose.
The Encyclopedia of New Zealand says that our country is home to around 30 native species of slugs; many of them patterned to look like leaves for effective camouflage from predators, like birds. They move about on a muscular foot, aided by slime for movement and traction, and they consume insects, fungi, algae and other organisms located on and around plants with their teeth-laden tongue. Like snails, slugs have at least one set of tentacles and are hermaphrodites; meaning that they have both male and female organs.
These crafty, shell-less molluscs are known to chomp their way through leafy greens during the night hours, making a nuisance of themselves – and a visual mess of your precious vege patch. However, their process of eating organisms is said to create nutrients for your soil and soil-dwellers (like worms and insects) and their plump little bodies provide a tasty takeaway for birds and hedgehogs.
In my ignorance, I’m not so worried about the hedgehogs, but I do like the idea of feeding the hardworking earthworms and the birds who visit our garden, begging for food and singing all afternoon until dusk. That begs the question: where’s the happy medium? Can one have it all when it comes to slugs and their digestive paradox?
Wrangling slugs, eco-friendly style
A serious online search returned absolutely no idea on how you can entertain slugs in your garden to feed the worms and birds, without enduring their nocturnal attack on your plants. I also came up short on innovative ideas for achieving these goals, so will continue to think on it. However, for now my focus is trap my targets and feed the birds. Since I cannot tolerate the slugs simply continuing to crawl around at their leisure, the earthworms will have to do without their highly nutritious number twos (sorry, you have the well-rotted chicken poop to enjoy instead). Life is all about priorities!
There are many strategies on offer for remedying a slug infestation. They seem to be split into three camps: trap, destroy or discourage. Because I want my slugs intact and as fresh as possible, I fall into the trap-and-do-not-destroy-them camp.
When it comes to bait, I found that yeast is apparently higher on the list of desirable dining delicacies for slugs than leafy greens, providing an excellent “come hither” for the critters. A fit-for-purpose adaption of this idea provides the perfect solution for my needs. I simply swapped slug bait for beer-soaked sponge to attract the slugs and leave them alive. Voila!
A good result. Several slugs (and cockroaches – yuck!) were found inside the bottle the next morning alive and well. I just need to remember to pluck them out before the sun gets too high in the sky!
For now, I am happy with this arrangement – and so is the birdlife!