Slugs

Slugs

Slugs – the one animal everybody loves to hate. Especially gardeners. These mobile eating machines can really do some damage to our carefully groomed plants. Most gardeners are waging perpetual war against them. But are slugs really as bad as they are made out to be?

Being a gardener myself, I have my share of sluggy-slimy woes. Every evening, at dusk, I go out and search my garden. Torch in one hand and a glass jar in the other, I hunt down those ravenous gastropods before they decimate my beloved seedlings. I scour not my young starts, but the grass as well, to catch the slugs waiting there in ambush. The following day, I release them about a kilometre from my house.

I can’t really tell whether the strategy is working. Every evening I collect roughly the same amount of slugs again. Where the heck do they come from? Nature’s slug supply seems inexhaustible – as if on tap.

But the other day, while on my daily slug patrol, it occurred to me that I actually know very little about these creatures. Quite shocking, considering that I have hand-picked about a million of them over the years.

‘Okay’, you might think, ‘what’s the big deal? What is there worth knowing about slugs, except how to get rid of them?’

Good question, and I had always thought along similar lines. But, as with everything in life, things become interesting the minute you invest interest in them. Before I knew it, I was going down a research slug-hole, discovering weird and wonderful facts about these strange creatures.
I watched way too many slug videos on YouTube and scoured the internet for gastropod-related papers and posts. To my growing amazement, slugs turned out to be far more interesting than I had ever imagined.

People, who study slugs, seem to be a special kind of nerdy and have a sense of humour, too. Just consider the term ‘gastropods’, the scientific term for all slugs and snails. There couldn’t be a better name for them. ‘Gastro’ means ‘stomach’, and ‘pod’ means foot. I can’t think of a more perfect way, to sum up what slugs and snails are all about.

The English word ‘slug’ is similarly general. There are gazillion species of slugs and snails. Currently, an estimated 65,000 to 80,000 different species exist, and they have managed to adapt to all kinds of habitats – even the desert!
In terms of evolutionary success stories, slugs are champions. Their family tree dates back to 495 million years ago, the late Cambrian period, when more complex life forms first evolved.  There are 721 known families of gastropods, of which only 245 have gone extinct. The others are still with us today – a remarkable feat in evolutionary terms. To put that into perspective, the class of primates, to which we belong, only emerged about 74 million years ago. (Homo sapiens has only been around for 300,000 odd years)

The very earliest slugs evolved in the ocean – like all life at that time. Sea slugs are truly stunning. If you have never seen them, do go ahead and check them out. They are out of this world! My current favourite is this cutie:

 

 

The sea-sheep dons a coat of leaf-like structures with which it can perform photosynthesis! But it did not learn the trick itself. Like corals, it acquired the ability by eating algae, which it integrates into its own body. Other species of sea slugs obtain toxins in the same way, which gives them a means of protection.

Our garden varieties of land slugs are neither as colourful nor as cute. But even so, they are much more interesting than we give them credit for.

Interestingly, the thousands of species of terrestrial slugs are not all closely related. It seems that slugs originally did have shells, but later lost them. Now all that remains is a vestigial ‘shield’, a kind of plate on their backs that they retreat into when they sense danger.

These squishy, slimy, globs of goo are incredibly vulnerable, yet that does not impede their survival. Their defence system is their slime.

Slugs produce two distinct types of slime. A thin one that oozes from the centre of their foot helps them glide and marks their trails. It guides them back home to their holes and also signals their presence to other slugs – which comes in handy when trying to attract a mate.

The other type of slime is produced from glands at the rear and front of their bodies. It is extremely thick and sticky, which makes it more difficult for predators to just pick them up. The slug simply glues itself to the spot. The slime is also distasteful to potential predators, such as badgers, thrushes and hedgehogs.

 

The slime plays a prominent role during mating, which for slugs is a very oozy affair. The interesting-looking keel-back slugs spin a slime thread from which both slugs suspend themselves during the act. Slugs are hermaphroditic, and thus have both male and female sexual organs. Both will give and receive sperm, potentially doubling the number of offspring.

You can watch their weird and wonderful love ritual here, courtesy of the incomparable Sir David Attenborough and the BBC. Thank you, Sir, you made my day!

 

Slug slime has also recently caught the attention of scientists, who have taken an interest in its properties. Slug slime is highly adhesive yet elastic and does not become brittle. It is also non-toxic, consisting of mucous and serotonin. The unique property of maintaining its adhesive powers, even on wet surfaces, makes it a promising candidate for a new type of non-toxic surgical glue.

In Britain, there are 40 species of slugs, but only about 8 of them do all the damage in the veggie patch. These little ‘mobile stomachs’ have a ravenous appetite, yet their evolutionary role is not specifically to destroy our gardens. We simply make it easy for them to access the juiciest, tenderest, and tastiest young plants. From a slug’s point of view, our gardens are a kind of Shangri-la.

Ecologically, slugs are important composters that help break down organic debris, and themselves morsels in the food chain, even if not very tasty ones.

Snails even form part of the human diet. I used to love them as a kid, until one day I got really, really sick on them. Slugs, however, only enter the human food chain accidentally by hiding in the lettuce and avoiding being washed off – due to their sticky slime. Slugs carry parasites, so the principle of ‘if you can’t beat it, eat it’, is not recommended, in this case.

But you are probably still asking yourself the one question we all want to know the answer to – how do you get rid of slugs?

To tell you the truth, I haven’t found the magic secret, but there are some methods that are somewhat successful.

Copper tape
Garden shops sell copper tape that supposedly deters slugs. Apparently, the slime reacts with the copper, giving them a little electric shock. I haven’t tried this method, so I can’t comment on it.

I have tried coffee grinds, eggshells, and dry grass cuttings as mulch.

A determined slug will not be put off by any of these, but is likely to look for a more readily available meal. I often leave bits of decaying plant matter lying around when I pluck weeds from my veggie beds, and I have watched slugs devour these. But, like beer traps, it might attract more slugs to the garden. Other gardeners insist that keeping a garden tidy is the way to get rid of slugs.

I have also noticed that slugs can smell a wilting plant, which they go for preferentially.

Sometimes, I leave things like chenopodium standing between my tomatoes. Slugs prefer this tender weed to the tomato plants, especially once the tomatoes are strong enough to create their own defence.

Eggshells, walnut shells, pine needles, and other prickly stuff deter them, to some degree.

Slugs shelter in dark, moist places, under bricks, tarps, and buckets or under planks that some gardeners put down as walkways between their rows of veggies. If you check these places before the slugs go for their forage, you can find a whole clutch of them without much effort.

Whatever you do, please don’t use toxic chemicals. They do kill the slugs, but also the birds and hedgehogs that either eat the slug or the pellets.

Even though we may not like slugs much, they do have a place in the ecosystem. Eliminating them would probably cause more harm than good. But only a few species are truly destructive. Most simply go about their business, or even feed on other slugs and their eggs. Slugs can’t help being born as slugs, any more than we can help be humans. We each have our niche but share an inherent right to exist on our amazing planet, which provides for both, humans and slugs. Slugs have been here a lot longer than we have, and managed to survive without totally decimating their ecosystem, despite their ferocious appetites. Judging by how our own insatiable appetite decimates nature, slugs will probably outlast us.

 

Gardening Jobs in May

Gardening Jobs in May

Gardening Jobs in May

What gardening jobs are there to do in May? Where I live, April has been unusually cool and wet. I didn’t get all my April jobs done, and my ‘gardening jobs agenda’ for May is rather full. The wheel of the year is turning, and the garden does not wait.

Potatoes

If you got all your potatoes planted in April, they are probably developing their first leaves by now. It’s time to earth them up now. Cover the leaves with soil, and only let the tops peek out. Repeat this process regularly as the plants grow and develop.

Sweet Corn

If you are planting sweet corn, you can now sow them in deep pots indoors. That will give them a head-start. Transplant them to a sunny spot in June.

Beans

Once there is no more risk of late frosts, you can sow all kinds of beans outside (runner, broad, dwarf). They like a sunny spot, but not too hot. Protect them from the slugs and snails—young bean shoots seem to be their favourite snack. If slugs are a big problem, it is best to start the plants in seed trays and transplant them only once they are strong enough to withstand a slug attack.

 

Warmth-loving plants: Tomatoes, Peppers, Courgettes, Aubergines

Your tomato, aubergine and pepper plants are probably growing fast now. There comes a point when they seem to yell, ‘get me out of here and plant me into the garden!’ Resist the temptation unless there is no more danger of late frosts in your growing zone. But, to appease them, you can harden them off. Take them outside during the day, but bring them back in at night until night temperatures are reliably around 10 °C.

You can also still sow cucumbers and melons—but keep them warm and protected for now.

Salad Veg and Greens

Sow batches of salad vegetables like radishes and lettuce, Swiss chard and Arugula/Rocket, to ensure a continuous supply.

Root crops

You can still sow root crops such as carrots, beetroots, leeks and turnips.

Winter Veg

Sow Leeks and brassicas for overwintering. It is best to start them off indoors to protect them from slug- and insect attacks.

Kitchen Herbs

It is also the perfect time to sow warmth-loving herbs such as basil and coriander. Protected them against attacks from ravenous slugs.

Weeds

May is lush! Everything sprouts and grows – including the weeds. But no need to curse them – if you can’t beat them, eat them! Check your garden weeds to see if they are edible and could go into a ‘foraged’ dinner. Bishop’s Weed, Stinging Nettles, Ground Ivy, Wild Garlic and Dandelion are all excellent in the ‘wild food cuisines’.

Flowers

Sow annuals like Californian Poppies, or nasturtiums in any gaps you might have in your borders for extra colour in the summer. The bees and insects will thank you.

Maintenance Jobs

There are always maintenance jobs that need to be taken care of:

  • If you have a pond, check for pondweed and algae and clean it out if necessary.

  • Build supports for climbing plants.

Keep bird feeders and birdbaths clean.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

Check out SeedsNow for your organic gardening supplies.

 

#Ads

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases and other affiliate sites.

Gardening Jobs in April

Gardening Jobs in April

The main gardening jobs in April are planting, sowing, and weeding. 

April is a busy month for gardeners. Hopefully, you have been able to prep your veggie plots in March, and they are now ready for action.

 

Seed Potatoes

Your seed potatoes should be chitted (=sprouted) and ready to plant. Now it is time to plant them. If you don’t have much space, try growing them vertically in potato grow bags, or towers.

 

Tomatoes, Chillies & co

Warmth-loving plants
Really, the best time to sow Tomatoes, Chillies, Aubergines, and Zucchinis is in the latter part of March, from about Equinox. So hurry if you want to grow them from seed. Start them under glass or indoors.

Alternatively, you can buy plant starts at the farmer’s market or garden centre next month. Or, perhaps one of your gardening friends has far more plants than space in their own garden and would be happy to share.

If you started your tomatoes very early, they begin to look straggly by now. Don’t be tempted to plant them out until all danger of night frosts has passed. Instead, pot them up to just below the first leaf node. This will encourage them to develop more roots and prevent the stem from getting too dangly.

 

Gardening Jobs in April: up-potting Tomato Seedlings

Onion Sets and Shallots

Continue to plant onion sets to extend your harvesting season.

 

Direct sowing

Beetroots

Sow beetroots directly into the prepared plots or containers. Sow about 10 cm apart, or thin seedlings out once they are about 3 cm tall.

 

Carrots

Carrots can be sown directly into the well-prepared ground. They prefer loose, sandy, well-draining soil. They will fork if the ground is too heavy or full of stones. The seedlings are very fragile and don’t take well to being transplanted.

 

Starting carrots in a gutter pipe is a nifty gardening hack. Watch here to see how it is done.

The contents of the drain pipe can be transferred directly to the prepared plot without having to handle individual seedlings.

 

Leeks

You can still sow leeks under glass now. When they have grown to about 15-20cm tall, transplant them into well-prepared soil. To get a long blanched shaft, plant them deeply into approx. 20cm deep holes 15cm apart. The rows should be about 30cm apart.

If you stagger the sowing and transplanting the harvest can be significantly extended. In theory, it can start as early as August and continue through the winter. Harvest them fresh, as needed.

 

Radishes

Sow radishes at regular intervals right through August to ensure a continuous supply. The seeds are tiny, so thin out the seedlings to about 2,5cm per plant once they are about 3cm tall. They are an ideal ‘gap’ crop or row marker as they grow fast and can be harvested long before a slow-growing main crop develops. Filling gaps with radishes also helps to keep the weeds at bay. Water regularly and keep an eye out for predatory slugs and snails.

Gardening Jobs in April: Sowing Radishes

Swiss Chard

Coloured varieties of Swiss Chard are beautiful edimentals, even if you like the taste. Sow directly into a well-prepared bed. They are tolerant of partial shade, so they don’t have to take the prime spot in the garden.

 

Turnips

Like radishes, turnips are fast and easy to grow. Harvested young, they can be eaten raw or cooked, and the leaves are edible as well.

 

Peas

Sow peas at intervals to ensure a continued supply. Unlike most plants, peas don’t mind growing closely together. There is no need to thin them out; growing them in thick bunches keeps the weeds down and increases the yield. Keep them moist at first. Later, they usually only need to be watered deeply once a week, especially once they start flowering. Mulch them to keep the moisture in the soil.

 

Weeding

Controlling weeds is a tiresome task. Get on top of it early, and you will save yourself a lot of time and effort later on when it gets much harder to pull them out without damaging your crops. Mulching is a great way to keep the weeds down and the moisture in the ground.

 Happy Gardening!

 

Check out SeedsNow for your organic gardening supplies!

Gardening Jobs for March

Gardening Jobs for March

Gardening Jobs in March

March is ‘busy season’. As soon as the sun comes out, and it’s warm (and dry) enough to be outside, every gardener itches to get their hands into the dirt again. But where to start?

Preparing the vegetable beds

Once the ground has thawed and dried off a bit, it’s time to get going with the preparations:

1) It is a good idea to get rid of the weeds early on (especially the perennial or biennial ones). They will be half the trouble later on.

2) If you haven’t done it yet, start tidying up the garden: dead-heading old flower heads and clearing everything that has died off. But, remember that butterfly larvae overwinter on old nettles and such. Nettles support some 40 species of insects and butterflies!

If fresh, you already have young nettles  coming up, make the most of this wonderful early wild vegetable. Consider leaving some standing year-round for the wildlife, if you have a spot where they are not in the way.

3) Work in plenty of good, home-grown compost into the vegetable plots and prepare the soil to get a fine crumb. This will make it a lot easier for your seedlings to break through the crust.

What to sow in March?

Your sowing schedule largely depends on your growing zone and whether you have a suitable space to start seedlings indoors. If you live in a mild climate, you can sow some hardier, early varieties out in the open, as early as March. But frost-sensitive plants, like tomatoes, should be started indoors. Lettuce and radishes do well in a cold frame. The shorter your growing season, the earlier you need to start your seeds indoors on the window sill. That way, they will get a head start and prolongs the growing season. By the time there is no more danger of late ground frosts, they will have developed into little plants that are more resilient by the time you plant them out. 

 

Indoors or under glass

You can sow fennel, broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage (early varieties), Savoy cabbage, Malabar spinach (late March), New Zealand spinach, carrots, autumn leeks, and celery either in the cold frame or indoors. Warmth-loving plants, like tomatoes, zucchini, aubergines and chillies, fennel, and bell pepper do best when started indoors in an environment of about 20°C.

On sunny days, don’t forget to open the cold frame to give your seedlings some air – otherwise, they will get baked under the glass.

Most importantly, make sure your seedlings never dry, after sowing them. Water is life – they cannot grow without it.

Outdoors

Onion sets can be planted out in March. Beetroots, Swiss chard, lettuce, (also Asian lettuce, peas, rocket, radishes, and nasturtiums are all hardy enough to be sown directly into your well-prepared veggie plots. 

 

Check out SeedsNow for your organic gardening supplies!

#Ads

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases on Amazon and other affiliate sites.

How to Plan a Garden – the basics

How to Plan a Garden – the basics

How to plan a garden – getting started

When I first started to garden, I went about it very haphazardly. I’d sow things here, there, and everywhere and did not pay much attention to what it said on the seed packages.

That’s how you learn – or rather, that is how I learned. I hope you are smarter than that!
Plants have likes and dislikes and different nutritional needs. Some like it cool, others hot, some don’t really care. Some are fussy, and some are persistent – they are all different, and it makes sense to get to know them. So, now I spend a lot more time thinking about the garden, and its needs, as well as mine.

Here are some things to consider:

Climate or Microclimate?

Before you plant anything, try to really understand your garden.

Do you know your growing zone? Or, do you live in a microclimate with weather patterns that don’t match the hardiness index? How much rainfall do you get? Which are the driest months? Have you traced the path of the sun through your garden at different times of the year? Do you know the sunniest and the coldest spots?

Growing zones

You can find out about your local growing zone with a simple google search. Due to climate change, such zoning is no longer completely reliable. Talk to the farmers or neighbours and listen to their observations.

I made my first plot in a south-facing spot, but later realized it was actually the coldest part of the garden. It lies lower than the rest of the garden and forms a dip where all the cold air collects.
Climate change has shortened our winters and made them milder. But we often get a late frost, even if the weather had been warm and spring-like for weeks.

Soil

Do you know what kind of soil you have? What is the pH level? Is it loamy or does it drain freely?
Plants don’t like wet feet. If you want to grow nutritious vegetables, concentrate on optimizing the soil. That alone will have a huge impact on your harvest.

Once you know your basic perimeters, it is time to choose your seeds. Part of the excitement of growing your own food is that you can experiment with unusual varieties. But always make sure, your local conditions match their requirements.

Friends or Foe

Certain species don’t like to grow next to each other, while others are friends. If you take the time to pay attention to their preferences, you will end up with a much happier garden. (I will write a separate post about this topic).

Getting the most out of the available space

Some plants mature quickly, while others take a long time to grow. But you can make the most out of your limited space by using a technique called ‘intercropping’.

Intercropping simply means sowing fast-growing crops like radishes among rows of slow-growing veggies.

 

 

Also see Gardening Jobs for January

 

#Ads

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases on Amazon and other affiliate sites.

Gardening Jobs in December

Gardening Jobs in December

Gardening Jobs in December

It’s December, and gardeners are longing for spring! The garden has gone into hibernation, and there isn’t that much going on out there. Or so it seems.

But wait, there is always something to do!

 

Sowing

Yes, in the midst of winter, you can do some sowing: if you live in a comparatively mild climate zone, you can sow broad beans outdoors – or under cover, if weather conditions are harsher.
Frost hardy lettuces, such as lambs lettuce and Asian salad mixes, are also good winter crops.

You can get a head-start on some long season crops like chillies or aubergines. But you might need a grow-lamp to ensure they are getting enough light.

December is the perfect time to start onions from seed. Sow them indoors to give them a nice head start.

If you have a tunnel or greenhouse, you can start garlic in trays to plant out later.

 

Harvest

Harvest your winter veggies now. Leeks and Brussels sprouts are ready now.

Any young Brassicas you might have outside are at risk to be eaten by hungry birds. Cover them with netting and remove any yellow leaves to prevent mildew and other fungal diseases.

 

Trees and Bushes

 

Pruning

Prune apple and pear trees, and berry bushes, such as Black Current, Red Currents, White currents and Gooseberries.

 

Planting

Winter is the best time to plant bare-root trees and bushes. Think of the wildlife when you make your choice! Hawthorn, Rowan, Hazel, Elder, and Guilder Rose provide food for hungry birds.

Speaking of Wildlife…

Many animals are hibernating. They might be sleeping right under a pile of leaves or under the compost heap, so don’t disturb them until spring.

The birds are hungry all through the winter. Keep the bird feeders topped up and put out some water – they still need to drink!

Prepare for spring by building nest boxes and insect hotels.

 

Planning

Winter is dream time. Think of the summer to come and what you would like to harvest next year. Planning the garden early means you can sow and plant much more efficiently and harvest all year long.

#Ads

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases on Amazon and other affiliate sites.

Pin It on Pinterest