Thursday, 26 July 2007

Unwelcome Vegetarians

It rains a lot in Scotland.

Now, rain is no problem for me. I grew up in a parched, hot, dry California city, and as far as I'm concerned, the more rain I get, the better. My family greeted every rainfall the way subcontinentals greet the onset of monsoon after a prolonged dry spell: shrieks of joy, mouths open, arms outflung. Please don't misunderstand me: rain is good. But there are a few drawbacks, as everyone knows, such as slugs.

Slugs are bad.

I am a firm believer in organic gardening, so when my hosta leaves developed perforations and every single one of my marigolds disappeared overnight, seemingly sucked into the earth but for the telltale leftover stems and shimmering white-silver tracks, I tried just about every environmentally friendly means to discourage them. Everybody and her sister has got a fail-safe slug remedy, and I gave them all a shot: sharp sand mixed with ground egg shells, beer in jars, wood ashes, overturned grapefruit and orange peels, sea shells, coffee grounds, and 'hand collection.'

I'll bet everyone has tried the hand collection method -- anyone who doesn't at least feel the occasional urge to thin out stray slugs manually probably doesn't garden. But consider this: some slugs can live over two years and during a lifetime, produce 40,000 baby slugs. And slugs are hermaphrodites, so all of them can reproduce. Given their impressive reproductive ability, do you really think you are going to have an impact on your garden's slug population by collecting them individually? By all means pick them up and plop them into cans (it is very satisfying, after all), but don't tell me this works. My husband and I practiced the collection method, in conjunction with other remedies, and we lost every single runner bean, our mangetouts, and the strawberries.

Up until now I've been endlessly tolerant. Reminding myself of the goodness of Albert Schweitzer, I've been kind and gentle and organically minded. I have tried to be philosophical, too: why should I mind a few holes in the leaves? Why begrudge these creatures their own chance to live and multiply? But then I saw my ruined pumpkin vines last week and something inside me snapped. Last year I had eight of the biggest, most beautiful golden pumpkins you ever saw, the pride of the neighborhood. This year I've got a handful of bitten-off stumps to show for all of my labor, each one sitting atop a small mound, surrounded by a moat of seashells, sharp sand, coffee grounds, and crushed egg shells. Telltale slime lines ran up and down each mound with its pitiful, ruined stump, and the thought of those nasty, fat-bodied little gluttons devouring every morsel of young pumpkin seedling was just too much for me to bear. I raised each and every one of those plants with tender loving care, and their stumps spoke eloquently of grief and pain for promised joy.

So now, ladies and gentlemen, the slugs in my garden had better be very, very afraid when they see me coming. No more Mrs Nice Guy; no more copper bands and oyster shells, no more sharp sand, horticultural grit, inverted orange peels, coffee grounds or jars of beer buried in the soil. I'm saving the beer for myself, and for the slugs, I'm going for the real thing this time: ferric sulphate -- and I'm going to scatter it freely too. Don't worry: it's supposed to be organic. I'll let you know how it works.

In fact, the slugs have driven me to doggerel once again, and for them, I have composed a poem. What a pity that the little buggers can't read.

Vegetarians I Would Happily Stomp on

Now in this world so fair and fine
Are many wondrous things:
Deep crimson flowers and warm red wine
And butterflies with wings.

Sweet birds who twitter in the trees
And children’s sleepy hugs
So tell me why, oh would you, please
God went and gave us slugs?

My garden’s treasures I will share:
Each dazzling marigold
Warm yellow poppies, sweet and fair
And zinnias, bright and bold

Green beans and peas grown in the pod
So vigorous and green
Were there one day, the next by God
Just stumps and slimy sheen!

A pea, a leaf, a tender shoot
I swear I wouldn’t mind
But chomping right down to the root
Is shockingly unkind

They’ve had my beer, my eggshells too
My gravel and coarse sand
They’ve felt the wrong side of my shoe
But still don’t understand

There is no moderation for
These gluttons of the soil
For them I make my fingers sore?
For them I daily toil?

I don’t begrudge the carnivore
The hungry ladybug
I only wish they could eat more:
Each greedy, gobbling slug.


Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

Made a mess of that first offering ! So here goes again .

I have spent a lot of time gardening -- sometimes quite enthusiastically .
Never really had a lot of trouble with slugs, some , but not a lot . There is a particularly large one I knew a Leopard slug -- fearsome looker .

Now may I ask-- are you talking slugs or snails ?

BTW in Oz I understand that our native snails are cannibals . Good thing too.

If your beasties are snails rather than slugs , you could always collect 'em and eat 'em with garlic butter -- suitably purged first , of course !


Christy said...

A friend of mine who lives in the US pacific northwest (where slugs may outnumber people), prefers to rid her garden of slugs with a pointy stick and a well aimed flick of the wrist. They go sailing into a lake. Seems like a lot of work to me, but it does wonders for her aggression level.

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- I like your phrase 'sometimes quite enthusiastically.' Gardening is a lot like cooking. It's great fun when you WANT to do it. When you don't, it still has to be done, and it is a pain in the neck.

I am talking about slugs. We do have snails, but they are quite rare. Yes, I have heard that slugs are cannibals (they have some pretty kinky sexual practices too, one slug biting off the penis of another when it becomes 'entangled' in the mating process -- how's that for weird?), but what a pity that they don't just eat each other up and be done with it.

As for cooking and eating them, I know that I could do that. But I hate to imagine the circumstances that would lead me to do it.

Christy -- Flicking your slugs into a lake must take a certain skill! My sister has a unique way of dealing with her slugs and snails. She collects them in a tin, then takes them to the park and feeds them to the ducks. I went with her once and it was almost cathartic watching those ducks gobbling down slugs. This is a very labor- intensive method, but certainly very satisfying.

Kanani said...

I hate slugs.
I used a slurry of diatomaceous earth, water and tabasco sauce. And yes, believe it or not it worked. I think the DE dried them all out.

Right now I've got some nasty bug eating a geranium. So I'll get out my slurry again and spray this as well!

library alien said...

I know just how you feel and I can't bear to kill slugs individually either, it's so barbaric, not that they have such a moralistic approach themsleves, so I throw down the non harmful slug pellets and whoop with guilty joy when I find slug victims over the next few days. They don't even crawl away to die. Absolutely no pride hath slugs. In between the pellets I hand pick and put healthy slugs in a special place for the birds, giving the said slugs a fair crack at escape but as you say, there are so many of the little tykes, it's a losing battle.

Mary Witzl said...

Kanani -- I have tried diatomaceous earth myself, but admittedly not with tabasco sauce. Speaking of tabasco, the little buggers ate up every last one of my pepper plants! Not that they'd have necessarily produced fruit in a Scottish summer; I planted them mainly for their nostalgic value. The problem with diatomaceous earth is that it works best when it is fairly dry. And where I live, it is almost never dry, so I'd need job lots of the stuff. But I might get mean enough to try tabasco on slugs...(No, not really).

Hello, Fellow Alien -- I used to collect the slugs I found and take them to a neutral zone, but after their recent pumpkin-fest, my heart has become hardened. My husband, who is almost as irritated by the slugs as I am, still flings them into the hedge for the birds. What I would never do, however, is put salt on them. That is just torture, and they look so naked and vulnerable, I cannot bear the thought of it.

Carole said...

I must say Mary, I pity you but not the slugs. Saying that, I don't like to kill bugs unless it is a necessity and I can't stand the idea of doing it cruelly (such as salt) but I am not sure that the slugs themselves have a preference to the way they die.

I love your poetry. I am a sucker for rhyming verse and verse that tells a story is also my favorite. So I got two for one with this post.

Kim Ayres said...

I just leave it all to Maggie...

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- Thank you for liking my doggerel, but I fear you are all alone! I love good doggerel, as long as it is firmly tongue in cheek, and I prefer it to tell a story myself. I grew up on it, in fact: everyone in my family memorized epic poems and recited them frequently, boring everyone else rigid.

Kim -- Well, they leave it all to me! My garden looks pathetic, but it is 99% a one-woman show. I have begged, bribed, pleaded -- and no one feels the slightest bit of compunction. The garden is mine, and after it rains, all the weeds and slugs overwhelm me.

Does Maggie do her own digging and hauling too? If so, give her a pat on the back for me.