Slugs are a constant annoyance to many gardens, but they are especially threatening during springtime… when your plants are at their most vulnerable… when they are seedlings. Most of the slugs in your garden will be underneath the soil surface at any given time. Some species will eat seedlings before the seedlings emerge from the soil, and some will even eat seeds… so begin dealing with slugs before you plan to have your seedlings emerge.
For plants that you are not going to start directly in your growing beds, if you do not have an enclosed greenhouse, start your seedlings in an enclosed tray with a clear lid. If you anticipate using it outside and not in front of a sunny window, make sure it has a sturdy enough lid that you can weigh it down with a few sticks or stones so that it will not blow away in the wind. I have lost a few of the cheaper ones to spring storms only to find them later in the brambles somewhere… shredded and unusable.
The best seedling propagators I have used are a sturdy seed tray with a heavy plastic cover with adjustable sliding vents in the top so you can control temperature and humidity. I like these sturdier domes because they are heavy enough they won’t blow away in the wind. But while they are heavier, they can break. I bought the one I used, before it broke from me dropping it, from a local shop… but I found two online that look similar, in two sizes:
Without the heavier dome, it is a bit of a chore to weight the flimsy domes down, as they are very weak, but if wind is not a big concern, the flimsy ones are inexpensive and effective. Yes, the cheapos work well enough most of the time, even if you need to get a little creative with them to keep their lids on when it is windy. Some of them come with little starter soil plugs. With the cheapos… sometimes the bottom tray will crack over time if you try to pick it up without supporting it firmly at both ends… when I find one of these, I just line it with a small plastic trash bag and it continues to hold water the way it was originally intended.
Also, when using a clear plastic lid… if in very hot or full sun, be sure to make several small holes in it, I use a nail heated with the stove to melt through the flimsy plastic. Put holes around the bottom and at the top. The holes will protect the seedlings from heat buildup.
I live on the north coast of California… usually a very rainy place… there are a lot of slugs here, both non-native and native species, including the natives known as banana slugs. There are so many slugs that if not dealt with religiously… well, then we wouldn’t have any gardens to garden… we’d be mere slaves to our slug overlords.
This is a large slug common to our area.
Slugs produce slime all over their bodies… which serves as a defense mechanism among other things… the point being that slugs are very slimy creatures and their slime does not wash off… it has to be wiped off… it is very annoying. In dealing with slugs, I choose not to touch them if at all possible. Rather, I choose to provide for or attract them to their deaths… I am not killing them, I am distracting them… or providing for their becoming another creature’s food… or for their self-induced demise.
Because ecoculture is about ecological sustainability as well as self sufficiency, our choices are limited to methods that are ecofriendly, which means that our methods must be:
In remaining Earthfriendly… and just plain smart… avoid any commercial product manufactured for the purpose of being ingested by slugs. Don’t believe any of that crap about their product only being toxic to a certain species of slug or whatever. All products intended to kill anything are toxic to the ecosystem and other animals including humans, even though they are advertised as being otherwise.
Keep in mind that some species of slugs are carnivores and even eat other slugs! I’m not sure about the particular feeding preferences of all the local slugs here, but being aware of this fact is another good argument against indiscriminately killing them and being more observant and knowledgeable of your locale and its denizens.
Offering The Option Of Suicide
At one of our project sites… The Farm… the landowner is practicing a no-kill policy… it is “a no-kill facil”(ity) as she likes to call it. So we don’t kill anything at The Farm… not the rats, not the slugs, not anything… .
But, it is allowed to provide for pests to commit suicide, as long as there is no perceived suffering involved… or so she speculates since our method provides for the “happy suicide of being intoxicated to death”. I suggested building water bucket traps to reduce the number of rats, but because the traps involved drowning… a terrifying experience, my suggestion was denied. I know it is a bit eccentric for most people to think in these terms and a bit overly rational… but I respect others’ beliefs and so when we are working on other people’s land… we do it their way just so long as their way does not conflict with the core tenets of ecoculture… in the circumstance that their way would, then we would not work with those people.
What about diatomaceous earth?
We have used diatomaceous earth with some success… but it did not last long in the rain, and it took a long time to spread around the base of the plants without getting too much on the leaves. But I decided not to keep using it even in a limited capacity because it kills the slugs and other insects by cutting them up over a period of time… sounds like a painful death to me, so not using it.
So how is providing for the self-induced demise of slugs accomplished? With BEER! Setting beer traps is great because they are very effective… so effective in fact that they will also trap other critters, some of which might be desirable, but the numbers of pests caught by the beer traps has far outweighed the numbers of beneficial bugs caught by them… and I mostly find only slugs in the traps. Setting a beer trap is as easy as putting beer in a small bowl and setting it in the garden where you don’t want slugs.
This slug found this freshly poured beer even before the foam settled!
You can cover it with something with side access to keep the rain out and keep it dark… which slugs love.
Another trick, because it is better to make the beer last as long as possible, is to use two identical containers in one, so that one fits flush within the other, with the inner one poked with holes (I use the tip of a large nail heated over the stove… hold the nail with pliers and wear a thick leather glove… it will get hot!) so that the slugs can be strained out while not wasting any still effective beer. Otherwise it is hard to remove the slippery slugs before they rot in the beer… turning it into a very messy, smelly, ineffective yuck!
Beer traps works so well, that after one season, the next season, we had very few slugs… practically none at all! BUT.. we had a abundance of snails! And I observe that snails do not like beer!!! Oh no. Thankfully, unlike the slimy slugs, snails have shells so they can be picked up with no mess. They are also easy to crush in a instant death. Chickens love to eat snails, so I just throw the snails into the chicken area if I don’t crush many of the snails at once as they hide during the day under a board set for them.
Leaving Older, Eaten Leaves
If a seedling survives being assaulted by slugs when it is very small and grows large, oftentimes the only portion that is eaten are a few of the outer leaves. Most traditional gardeners tend to see these leaves as ugly or unproductive because they have no desire to eat them, and so they pluck them off and even resort to poisons in an attempt to kill whatever is eating them.
This is a mistake… all in the name of aesthetics… stupid. The better choice is to let those leaves remain on the plant. That way the pests that are eating them won’t have to find a fresh new leaf to eat away at.
Newcomers to gardening might ask you why you don’t remove those large ugly outer leaves that are filled with holes. And when they do you can explain to them the general idea behind your ecological gardening strategy… they are decoy leaves… and in my experience the pests that visit them are creatures of habit and won’t willingly spend energy looking for other leaves just because… they will usually only look for another leaf if the leaf they regularly fed on had been removed or if they have depleted it.
The idea behind having decoy plants is about anticipating that if you are gardening without poisons… which we are, and which you should be doing too… you can expect about 1/3 of your plants will, to some degree… feed the natives… the slugs, the earwigs, the cabbage moths, the aphids, etc. So, what to do??? So, plant 1/3 more plants than you want to harvest. As your skill increases at implementing ecological gardening techniques, you might proportionately find that you will be able to harvest more and more of that extra 1/3 as well!
Plants That Slugs Do Not Eat
One of the surest ways of dealing with slugs is to grow plants that they do not eat… garlic, chives, onions, leeks, strawberries (they do like the fruits though), potatoes, nasturtium… I have not seen any slugs eating these plants, but it could just be that they prefer other plants. We grow different species’ of companion plants close enough together that it is a natural chaos of harmony… don’t put all your eggs in one basket… so they say.
Providing For Predators
This involves making your garden a habitat for wild critters that eat slugs… frogs, toads, snakes. Mulching your garden with the “weeds” that you replace with more desirable plants can provide some cover for beetles, frogs, spiders, and salamanders. Also having a pond or stream nearby helps to encourage the amphibians to live in your garden. Snakes such as garter snakes eat slugs… and she will be happy to lay her eggs in your compost just so long as you don’t turn it… build a better backyard composter.
We keep the area around our gardens as wild as we can… we provide the means for predators such as frogs, toads, salamanders, and snakes… all slug eaters… by having a few small ponds, piles of sticks from trimming the willow trees back before or after they get too tall and break in the wind, blackberry brambles here and there… it is all about managing your wild spaces so they provide a maximum of shelter, water, food, and reproductive cover for the critters that eat the pests. It’s the law of the jungle, baby!
When we first built this garden, there were slugs everywhere, eating most of our plants. Then we started implementing the strategies I have just shared with you, and despite the fact that this garden is surrounded by a wild wetland on the north coast of California… we have very few slugs eating our plants.
I hope these strategies work for you too… happy gardening! 🙂