Sunday, June 7, 2009

Slug Lord

We ate canned mushrooms growing up. I hated them. Their texture was like a slimy slug in my mouth, and I knew slugs.

As a child I'd wake up early to catch the school bus and invariably find slugs in bed with my dog's food-- seeking to share the leftovers after her palate was full. I'd escort them out (some had already made their departure after a night of gluttony) and then bring forth torture – Morton's Salt shaken vigorously over those obese beasts. I watched gleefully as they writhed toward death.

I'm older now – matured. I'm over it. I no longer have my abject hatred of slugs because of their appearance or because of the slime trail. With age, I've come to recognize them as one of nature's creatures with a purpose and niche to fill. In many ways we've come to terms. I've plucked them off my tent in early mornings and stuck my hand in some along hiking trails, and while generally accompanied by squeals as I extract them from my clutch, I haven't wished for their demise for at least 20 years, until recently.

The distaste I harbor now isn't for mushrooms (I've disassociated the two by only eating fresh mushrooms.), yet it remains for slugs. This revolt comes hand in hand with trying to have a green thumb. With three years of gardening under me at this current location, with scarcely much living by the end of each season, I was determined to make this spring count. What wasn't absolutely ravaged by the drought of last summer returned this year to my delight - mostly bearded iris, and pansies that I thought had expired entirely at the end of winter. The month of May also brought up some hostas and coleus I'd planted in March. I had bought the bulbs at Lowes and couldn't wait to get them in the ground until the planting dates specified on the packaging. Three bulbs of the 15 or so that I planted have produced anything to date.

You see, in the state my garden is, any living plant is a miracle, and I'm beginning to take a serious affront to invasions, especially ones I can't see. I was coming home from work daily to check the progress of growth and finding plants more shredded and ill than the day before. With no evidence of any other pests and after consultation with friends and family, I decided that I've got slugs, and it's time to take up arms again. My friend Andrea is especially dedicated and has taken to manually controlling them by heading into her garden with flashlight in hand at night to pluck them off her plants. I however, am less dedicated, and more poised for strategy sessions than action.

Now my approach is different from Andrea's and from mine as child. It’s a stealth approach to slug management. I bait and wait. I use beer poured in to container lids that are deep enough so that once the slugs crawl in, get drunk and drown (or whatever technically happens to them), they stay put until I toss their carcasses elsewhere.

Lately, their defense has been the rain which has been coming every evening. The rain is challenging my wits and my patience since I can't bait in the evenings when it will rain, as the beer bait solution gets diluted before the “poison” has a chance to attract and kill the pests. In short, Andrea may have the upper hand in strategy and action.

In one last stand to educate myself on slug behavior, I learn that they have four-noses, find large chunky mulch to provide a good hiding spot during the day, and that coffee grounds may act a deterrent. I also read that wood ash, crushed egg shells, sawdust, and hair may deter them. With this new armament of groundbreaking news, I revolutionize my war chest.

I have lots of chunky mulch, left kindly by the contractors cutting large L shapes in the trees around the power lines, which I liberally applied to my beds over the winter. This means I've got something worse than a slug motel -- maybe a slug slum, and I am the slum lord. They're everywhere, and I've been harboring them.

I resolve to scrap all the mulch off my beds, at least until mid-summer when the web sites I consulted said it would be safe to reapply mulch, and I start applying my morning coffee grounds around the plants I most especially want to save. I've also sprinkled Diatomaceous Earth on some other plants suffering similar fate as a bit of a “control” to see which effort is most effective. It seems that my combination of mulch-free beds and coffee grounds is producing positive results.

May your beds be free of slugs, your mulch be finely ground. May your plants grow strong and hearty. And may all your mushrooms’ texture be slime free.