Saturday, 29 December 2012

Organic Pest Control

Garden Problems

      The sex lives of worms seemed to capture the interest of quite a few people and this has led me to look a bit more closely at the private goings-on of other common garden denizens: top of the list must be slugs. Like worms, slugs are hermaphrodite, meaning that each one has both male and female sexual apparatus. Do-it-yourself however is not on their agenda, and two slugs making out will twine round each other in sexual bliss, exuding slime and  romantically muttering sweet nothings about things like cabbages and sprouts. In the case of the great grey slugs, this can go on for two hours before, in a fervour of excitement they consummate the act, hanging on the end of a length of slime suspended  from a handy shrub: a sort of slug equivalent of position 98 minus the wardrobe. They then both go away, smiling beatifically, and lay a cluster of little pearl-like eggs.

      Now, while all this is perfectly true and explains the frightening proliferation of slugs, it has little to do with the subject of this blog. It did get you reading though, didn't it?

Slug on the prowl

      A lady called Beth contacted me to ask whether I could suggest non-chemical pest controls in the garden, as she is trying to grow vegetables organically. A few things spring immediately to mind: nettles, soaked in water for a couple of weeks, yield an effective, though smelly, mixture good for controlling aphids (greenfly and blackfly), at the same time as acting as a fertiliser; rhubarb leaves (boil 3lbs for half an hour in 6 pints of water with a few soap flakes to aid adherence), provide another useful aphid control - then use the stems to control constipation; the dried, powdered leaves of rue (Ruta graveolens), spread on seedbeds, are said to deter birds and other seed eaters and rubbed through the coats of dogs and cats will get rid of fleas; even the ubiquitous marestail can be used as a tea to protect against blackspot and mildew, while soft soap is used to kill brassica whitefly and cabbage white butterflies. Apparently it acts as an enema so I suppose, like Elvis, they die on the toilet.

      This brings me back to slugs, as they must top everyones' pest list: while pellets containing metaldehyde are effective, there are ongoing concerns about the outcome when natural predators like hedgehogs and birds eat the corpses. On the other hand, slugs drowned in a beer trap (a) die happy - their eyes are still going round the following day - and (b) their corpses do no harm when placed on the bird table, although a blackbird may occasionally fly into a lamp-post. However, Gardening From Which worked out, some years ago, that, to completely eliminate slugs, you need a beer trap every couple of square feet. This means that, unless you have shares in a brewery, it's going to be a pretty expensive project. You should also know that slugs in posh areas prefer gin and it, while milk is popular in the American bible belt.

Slug Eggs

      Nematodes provide an effective alternative to beer: these are microscopic eel worms provided in a pack containing enough to protect a forty square metre plot for about six weeks. They are watered on. Unfortunately the effect on snails is not quite as good, because these slugs-with-caravans tend to move from plant to plant above ground, rather than making contact with the soil. Copper bands, available in garden centres and wrapped tightly round pots, cause an electric current to be created through contact with a slug's slime, resulting in them getting a shock and falling off . This doesn't actually kill them, but it certainly removes Hostas in pots from the menu. A couple of copper wires, used in the same way, can be equally effective. Additionally, a tea made from Artemisia and watered on is also claimed to deter slugs and snails, although I haven't actually tried this one.

Slug pub with inebriated customers

      The more I write on this subject, the more information comes to mind (thanks for the question, Beth), so more blogs will be devoted to garden problems and how to control them. I can even see the sex life of the aphid looming on the horizon.

      Calm down. You'll have to wait.


  1. Thanks so much for the advice. I plan on trying these this summer

  2. I would suggest pulling out as many appliances as possible and reaching as far behind the cupboards as you can, the further back you can keep them, the better as they give off a horrid smell. For your front and back doors, you could get draught excluders to close the gap, there are a few types, some have bristles on, some are thin foam strips, what you use will depend on how big the gap is.

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