Snails and Slugs and Bugs Oh My

Let me start out by saying I believe religiously in organic gardening. Pesticides and herbicides are doing terrible damage to the environment—which includes us. I remember, it must be forty years ago, my sister reporting from Minneapolis that she woke up one morning and realized she was no longer hearing birds.

And since there’s proof that some pesticides mimic estrogen, who do I sue for my breast cancer of 23 years ago?

I can honestly say that since I became aware of the organic way back in the very early 70s, I’ve never used chemical fertilizers, never poisoned anything in my yard. Mostly, it’s worked just fine.  

The garden last year was not so good—first year in this house. Tomato wilt, dying beans. Why? We discovered that a previous owner had laid down layer upon layer of black fabric weed block and the roots couldn’t get through it.   So we yanked all that crap out of there and things are doing great this year. My squash is big and beautiful. My tomatoes, divine. The chard is holey but good. The eggplant looks like it’s going to produce, the peppers are okay,  and the cucumbers are growing fast.  But my beans…ah, my poor beans.

We’ve now planted them four times, and that’s it for me. Looks like we’ll get maybe a dozen decent vines. Maybe.

The first batch of seedlings kept disappearing and since I found snails standing around on them, I guessed that was the problem. I had planted the squash next to the beans and the bigger the squash  got the more shade it cast on the ground and the damper it stayed.

I think snails are cute. I know. But I do. And remember, no poison in my garden ever. First attempt: copper tape all around the raised bed. Expensive and exhausting. That worked for several days and we got a few seedlings out of the second planting. But then it stopped working. I learned that the tape tarnishes and must be cleaned. Right. Then I learned that it should be about six inches wide. The stuff they sell for the purpose is a bit more than an inch. Useless. Next we tried egg shells. Crushing them every day and sprinkling them out there. Labor intensive and we would have had to eat a dozen eggs a day each to get enough. Failure. So much for the second planting. I finally conceded that stronger measures had to be taken. We put out the dreaded bowl of beer, on the understanding that I could not possibly collect the corpses in the morning. I felt terrible. But I rationalized that if they drowned while drunk, that was only partly my fault.

Unfortunately, I got to feel terrible for only one night. The next morning, yes, there were corpses. The morning after that, and several succeeding mornings, there was no beer in the bowl and no corpses. Either the snails had developed a prodigious capacity for drink or something more mammalian was partying in our vegetable garden every night.

Another generation of seedlings eaten. Next, we tried sandpaper, the wet-dry variety, since that had also been recommended. Much to my amazement, it seemed to work. That was when I noticed that snails were not the only problem. The competition eliminated for the moment, pill bugs rose out of the ground like avenging visigoths and swarmed the fourth generation of seedlings.

Rotten fruit! one organic gardening site recommended. Ripe plums were falling from our tree. We scattered them around the beans. The first morning, I was thrilled to see the plums covered with bugs. The second morning, not so much. We threw in some more plums. The bugs were not to be distracted again. They knew what they wanted. Our beans were their Rome.

One more thing. We constructed a rock garden this past week, under the redwood tree. I insisted on organic and nothing but organic fertilizer. Chicken poop and feathers. We left the bag on the ground overnight.

The dogs thought it was delicious.





10 Responses

  1. Shelley, I hear you! Something has been chomping on the leaves of my roses. I am organic, too, but I am tempted to spray. I also have to barricade. One evening I had a bunch of cherry tomatoes just about ready to pick. The next morning they were gone. I suspect critters!

  2. Hi – I’ve grown organic for years. You need to promote a toad. In a damp dark patch of the garden build a small shelter and then cover with vegetation and leave. A toad will move in or a hedgehog – both will get rid of the problem.

    Over the winter if you can borrow someones duck throw it/them into the vegy patch (where there are no vegys left) and they will eat the eggs of most of the creatures including slugs and snails. Remember to restrict the ducks movement though, otherwise he could become the pest. 🙂

  3. I’d love to have a toad, but I don’t know if we have them. Or hedgehogs. That environment sounds like something that would attract a salamander. Would that help? My neighbor years ago in Oakland had chickens and that seemed to help–and I have heard about ducks. Good thoughts–thanks!

  4. […] Snails and Slugs and Bugs Oh My ( […]

  5. If you figure it out, let me know. I am laden with snails this year. I also think they are cute…but they are losing that battle. I have been tossing them out. I am ready for beer. For the garden of course! Thanks for the tip on the copper tape.

  6. Mu garden was weakened by what I hope is the last of the weed block fabric a previous owner stuck under the whole bed. Last year was awful–the beans and tomatoes grew to almost full size and dropped dead from lack of space for the roots. This year we thought we got it all out but it’s clear we didn’t. Much better, though. Getting some squash and beans and tomatoes.

    • I have used weed blocking fabric in the past and never had a problem. But not here. Growing here is very different than SW Virginia, Maine, Florida and California! I have raised beds filled with manure, compost and humus. We have used straw and peat in some places. Straw seems to call the slugs and snails, I won’t be using it any more. My lot is very wooded and we will be cutting back more trees and shrubs this fall. I hope the additional sunlight will help!

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