Slugs and snails
Slugs and snails serve a really useful purpose in the eco-chain and are only “pests” when they’re in the wrong place – your vegetable and flower beds.
Voracious eaters, they will decimate your tender seedlings and munch on your established plants too.
So here are our top, eco-friendly ways to deal with our slimy friends:
Use bronze tools
We’re bound to say this, but the proof is in the pudding and our bronze tools are well known for deterring slugs and snails. It's the copper in the bronze that is the magic ingredient.
Apparently 20% of gardeners throw snails over the garden fence. However, this time-honoured and un-neighbourly tactic is less effective than you might imagine, unless you can throw them more than 20m. (Yes, a study was done involving snails and Tippex). Any less than this and they can find their way back – presumably hungry after a long slither. Better than this, place in a bucket and relocate them to a new home away from edible crops.
Go out at night, preferably after some rain, with a torch (a head torch is best as it leaves you with both hands-free). You’ll be amazed or appalled at just how many slugs and snails there are. Pick them up and drop them in a bucket with a lid - latex or rubber gloves will help the squeamish and you could always pay children per slug or snail to collect them for you. Either dispatch them or relocate them - the slugs and snails not the children.
Make a beer trap
Sink a container of cheap beer into the ground, loosely covered to keep the rain out. A slate resting on stones works well. Keep the edge of the container raised above the soil to prevent bottles and other insects falling in. Snails will sniff the beer, follow the scent, fall in, drink and drown. Our antipodean friends don't like to waste beer so use vegemite!
Frogs, toads, hedgehogs and birds will all happily feast on slugs and snails. Create good habitats and these predators will prove willing helpers. Hens and ducks work too but need to be managed to prevent them doing as much damage. Slug pellets are the enemy of natural predators, so avoid using them. We had a healthy, decent sized pond about 15m from our vegetable patch in a London garden and had absolutely no problems from slugs and snails.
Slugs thrive in rough, lumpy and poorly drained soil, so improving soil structure and drainage makes sense. So mulch your beds and get your hoe out. Remember that hoeing when there are no weeds means there'll be no weeds.
Get rid of old piles of stones and rubble and stacks of old plant pots. These provide ideal homes for slugs and snails. Also, avoid using wood chip on paths as it, too, provides great habitat.
Protect young, vulnerable plants with simple bottle cloches or other barriers like copper rings or grit or granules.
Use half a grapefruit skin or an old roof tile as a daytime hiding place for slugs and tempt them in with something like a lettuce leaf. Include this in your night time check and dispose of those sheltering there.
Effective against slugs but not snails, nematodes are a great natural, biological control. But make sure you follow the instructions and keep the soil moist for 2-3 weeks after application. Particularly good for enclosed spaces - raised beds, greenhouses, courtyards etc.
Ferric phosphate-based pellets can be used and are deemed OK by organic growers, but they can be harmful to pets and aren't good for earthworms. Use sparingly if you must.
Metaldehyde or methiocarb based products. Frankly, these should be banned, they are toxic, harmful to the natural predators and pollute watercourses (it's showing up in drinking water). People also use far more than is recommended - I've even seen people pour rings of them around plants.
We've never used these but have heard good things about them. They're also useful from a water-retaining perspective and do rot down and fertilise/improve the soil. However, their effectiveness against slugs and snails is apparently quite short-lived.