Slug Watch – never mind cute animals, Kate Humble and Bill Oddie get up your garden at night.

I’m going to be running a little experiment over the next few weeks – and I’m calling it Slug Watch, although it applies to snails as well. I’ve decided this year not to use any beer traps, barriers, biological control or pellets (organic or otherwise) to control slugs but strip the whole problem down to a few carefully picked techniques based on an understanding of slug habits. When its dry slugs don’t like coming out and are unlikely to bother plants in a veggie patch that is hoed regularly and free of any clumps of weeds (where they tend to hang out in dry conditions waiting to attack when its wet enough for them to venture out). When its wet and humid they’ll be out en masse, but rather than create a kind of fortress around my plot I’m leaving piles of cut comfrey around the edges. These act as a diversion. Slugs and snails absolutely love cut comfrey and will quite happily eat from a pile of cut comfrey leaves and leave your plants alone. At least thats the theory. I’m aware that I could end up with egg on my face with this strategy because most people use a variety of methods to control slugs. But I’m up for a challenge and my life wont be over if I lose a few plants. I’ve also left a strip of bare soil about a foot wide around the edge of my bed between the comfrey and my first seedlings. This is kind of like a no mans land along which frogs, toads and slow worms (all present in the garden) will be easily able to pick off slugs if they do head towards the plot. I’ve also got my compost bin near the veggie plots and the slugs love hanging out in there. This may be another factor in preventing slug damage. I’ve been running this experiment for about three weeks and it seems to be working, though it has been quite dry in Wales. A few nights ago we had a very humid wet night, perfect for slugs, and there was no damage in the morning. I did go up and watch the slugs and snails eating the comfrey in the night. One headed towards the veggie plot but seemed to get bored half way across no mans land and turned back. Then we had a couple of dry nights and all was well. Last night was really wet and this morning I went up there to find the edge of a leaf on one of my bean plants had been eaten. Now strangely, this may have been because the slug climbed up the bean pole arch support and reached up on to the leaf. This is what it looks like. But apart from that there was no other damage to the hundreds of other seedlings in the plot. So today I made a little bowl of comfrey leaves and I’ve put that by the beans to see if this works as a decoy. I’ll go up there tonight and remove any slugs or snails I find there. I’d love to hear any of your suggestions, or whether you’ve tried anything similar. About five years ago I organised CAT’s Bug the Slug campaign and put seventy of the best suggestions in The Little Book of Slugs. It would be good to know if things have moved on since then. What are you trying these days and is it working? I’m going to be making this my feature article in Garden News in three weeks and then carrying on through the summer. Hope you’ll join me.

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