I knew there was going to be a fatally as soon as I saw the lid of the compost bin fly up into the air propelled by the hose pipe which I had just vigorously jerked in order to reach the plants at the bottom of the garden. Two slugs, who had been sitting cosily in the curve of the lid, flew up into the air and whilst one of them was thrown free the other was unfortunately pinned beneath the heavy plastic lid as it came crashing to the ground. I turned off the tap to inspect the damage. As I removed the lid, I could tell that the slug had been fatally wounded. The other one managed to pick itself up and after a quick shake of his antennae appeared to make a full recovery. Once it found its bearings, the survivor slug slowly rushed to the aid of his companion. I then witnessed a fascinating event. The survivor circled the now prostrate slug several times as if in grave concern. I only watched a few of these circuits as they took some time to complete, but when I came back to check a few hours later there were a large number of silver trail lines weaving an intricate pattern around the dead slug. Others had come out to see what all the fuss was about, but unable to revive their colleague they started to eat him instead. The survivor companion however, did not share in this meal, but watched from a distance until well into the night. To me this appeared to be a perfect example of slug affection, although I know that some of you will doubt the truth of this.
You can probably guess that I don’t kill my slugs, well only accidentally. I abhor slug pellets as they cause a painful death and put toxins into the environment for years to come. If birds or hedgehogs eat slugs which have consumed pellets then the poison passes through to them. Even dogs have died if they have eaten a sufficient number of the ‘blueys’ Slugs serve a useful function in the great balance of nature and they are expert at recycling debris. Unfortunately, they can’t always distinguish between decaying items and your freshly grown vegetables. Not their fault. Slugs dislike gravel and one way to protect your plants is to lay sharp edged gravel around your new seedlings. I have managed to keep all my new ‘bee friendly’ plants free from slugs using this method. I can confirm that gravel will keep the area slug free, but their cousins, the elegant snails are more difficult to deter.
One warm summer’s evening last year. Yes we did have one, did you miss it? I went out into the garden with a torch to check on the wildlife. The quiet daytime garden had turned into a melee of slugs and snails all sliding in different directions and many climbing over each other, in search of food. Careful not to tread on anybody I made my way to the bird feeding area. A large number of molluscs were sliding round in search of bird seed. One particular character had a better idea. He had climbed up the metal pole on which the seed tube was hanging. He must have started at first dusk because he was now at the top of the pole. He just had to make the stretch across the chasm between the pole and the base of the tube. You will never do it, I thought to myself as I watched him reach out into open space. When his head finally touched the base of the tube he was clinging to the metal pole by just the tip of his tail. The weight of his shell was now in the balance as slowly it moved from rear end to front end. The snail did not look the least bit fearful as he let go with his tail and his shell swung to join his upper body which was now attached to the feeder tube. Just a short sprint round the corner and he could put his head inside the feeder hole to enjoy an uninterrupted feast.
With acrobatic snails in your garden it is a lot more difficult to protect your plants. They are able to climb up nearby fences or other plants and bridge near impossible spans in order to gain access to a juicy green leaf. Most pragmatic gardeners plant two for themselves and one for the gastropods. Protect the ones you want to keep with netting, gravel or whatever and leave easy access to the other one.
On the subject of crawling, I found the caterpillar. He was hidden under a flowerpot close to his potato bag hibernation site. Not easy to say if he was the same one I disturbed late last autumn, as his green onsie pyjamas were stretched beyond all recognition. In any event I was pleased to see him. The next day after I fed the birds I looked under the flower pot to check his progress but he had vamoosed. Then we started a game of hide and seek where the caterpillar disappeared for days on end, only to turn up again in unexpected places. I found him stretched out on the door inside the shed, which really made the game far too easy. To give him a head start I put him inside a large pot of herbs where he could actually find something to hide behind. He spent a few days in there, curled up with a number of slumbering snails, then he disappeared again. It wasn’t until I was cleaning out Sooty’s outdoor litter tray that I found him again, having a good stretch under the base of the tray. I was both delighted and concerned to find him there as I couldn’t put the tray back down without the danger of squashing him. I picked him up and gave him a little tickle to make sure he was still alive, then put him back under the flower pot. He didn’t stay there for long and I was beginning to think that the game was over as I couldn’t find him for several days, then I spotted him pretending to be a leaf hanging down from the recently planted sunflower. He hung there for a while, through wind and rain and sun until finally he did his last Houdini act and leaving behind only a slimy case, disappeared for good.
For more information on environmentally friendly ways to deter slugs and snails check out this web site. Say no to pellets!