Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Slug control information: How I lost my organic gardening bragging rights...

Monday March 26, 2007 - 02:38pm

Slug control information: How I lost my organic gardening bragging rights...

Well, it was a exhausting weekend with the front-tine rototiller we rented. Azalia and I have two beds prepared, minus the plants, and most of our wild roses in the ground.

The automated watering system is in place and seems to be working just fine, though I might need to check the last fifty feet of soaker hose on our roses. The test runs on the timer went off without a hitch, 6:00am to 6:15am watering schedule seems to be adequate to hydrate for a whole day in 90 degree weather. Good thing too, because it's going to be a hot summer from the looks of things.

Well, I wanted to go all organic with my garden by including pest control with companion planting, non-toxic natural compound fertilizers and pest sprays, paying attention to placement of gardening beds, intergrated pest management with natural predators, etc., but I have a big slug problem.

When I say big, I literally mean BIG SLUG problem. I have six inch long slugs crawling all over everything. They're awfully neat looking from an esthetic point of view, but they are voracious omnivores. I've seen these things devour a can of tuna fish, that I set out for one of our neighborhood cats, in minutes! I really don't want to kill them off, but it seems like the best idea if I'm going to keep my garden.

I ran a search on slug control using organic means and found tons of information, for example:

  1. Controlling your watering schedule to prevent having damp beds in the evening when slugs are active will reduce the number of pests you find in your garden. Water in the early morning(6:00am, maybe? Heh heh.) and your garden should be dry by the time slugs become active.
  2. Slug traps. There are a lot of different types of these devices. Beer traps are just jars or bottles of beer with an inch or two of beer left in them. Bury these up to their neck so that the slugs can easily climb into them. Slugs are attracted to the sugars and yeast-water , they fall in and drown. Another effective trap is based on slugs' need to be cool and moist during the day. An overturned flower pot, wooden plank or board, pieces of melon or fruit rind or even that thing your gutters' drain onto make great hiding places for slugs. Turn the tables on them by leaving these things out in your garden in the evening, and then pick them up and scrape the slugs into a plastic bag in the morning. Dispose of your slugs as you see fit, far away from your garden.
  3. Sand, grit, ground glass, lava rocks, etc., really anything that has a very coarse and sharp surface will do to reduce slug population in and around your garden. Because slugs propel themselves along using a soft membrane(their "foot") it is incredibly sensitive to lacerations. Imagine if you walked on your tongue and then got a whole bunch of paper-cuts on it, you'd avoid walking in that area again too! The added effect of this is it will result in dehydration and death to the slugs.
  4. Speaking of dehydration, salt, caffeine(powder or specially designed liquid caffeine sprays) or anything else known to dehydrate plants and animals is incredibly effective on slugs. Ever dump some table salt on a slug and watch it melt? Oh yeah, slugs avoid dehydration because dehydration is death. Slugs are primarily water, I'd give you the exact percentage if I had it, and must avoid dehydrating elements in the soil and on plants. Seaweed, which is both high in salt and when dry is very coarse, makes an excellent barrier to slugs. Just remember that when it rains or when you water, you'll need to reapply your dehydrating elements. Also, certain dehydrating elements will effect your plants too, so be careful not to over use this technique.
  5. Supposedly, Garlic is an effective slug repellent. I've not found this to be 100% accurate, as my slugs will eat onions, chives, garlic or any other member of the onion family just as readily as anything else. High concentrations of garlic extracts may prove to be more effective with direct application.
  6. Copper fencing or copper foil makes for an interesting slug repellent. According to recent studies, copper reacts with the mucus secreted by the slugs' membranes and creates an electric current! Ha! Electric fencing against slugs! Unfortunately, this is not a very cost effective pest control option for large gardens as copper is not cheap. For me to fence my garden beds with a six inch copper strip(the smallest recommended amount, with an inch or so beneath the surface to prevent burrowing underneath the copper guard) would run me nearly $400. No, as cool as this option is, I'm far too cheap to go this route.
  7. Another recent finding suggests using Iron Phosphate mixed with a slug bait. Upon eating the mixture, slugs stop feeding and die within a week due to starvation. How this works, if it works, where to buy it locally, etc., I don't know. I've only found it online at a few places. Search this one out yourself, I'd try it if it were easily obtained locally. I want to be able to go in and complain at someone if I have problems with a product, and this option isn't available in my area yet.
  8. I've heard of other various homebrew mixtures: Ammonia and water sprayed on slugs, oat bran baits, certain plants(Rosemary, Lemon Balm, Wormwood, Mints, Tansy, Oak leaves, Cedar chips), and others. I've seen people use these with and without success.
  9. Predators. Toads, snakes, centipedes, birds, and many others all eat slugs. Encourage your garden to be a habitat for these creatures and you should see a reduction in slug populations. The gardener's best friend is the toad. No other creature eats more pests in and around your garden. So when you're out and about and see one of these amphibians, escort him to your garden and encourage them to make a home of it.

As you can see, there are a few options out there to preserve your organic gardening project. I, however, am lazy and cheap. I went to my local Wal-Mart and picked up a 2lb. bag of Ortho Bug-Getta. Cheap, easy and highly recommended to me.

So, I've lost my organic gardening bragging rights. Oh well, I'll plan more diligently next year and try to incorporate more of the above options into my beds.

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