Still fighting with slugs in the garden

The last few years my garden has been a dud. This has been due only in part to my busy schedule. While I haven’t attended to my garden enough, what I have cared for, slugs have demolished.

A few years ago, I wrote a column on slugs. Researching for it helped me learn about these garden pests.

That year I was having trouble with slugs in the garden, but each year since it has gotten worse. At first I tried handpicking them off the plants, and feeding them to my chickens. My feathered ladies rushed over and gobbled them up — I thought this was a solution. It meant a little more work for me, but less feed to buy for the flock.

Then, suddenly, the chickens’ attitude toward the slugs changed; they abruptly stopped eating them. They started clacking their beaks. The slime from the slugs seemed to stick the chickens’ beaks together slightly.

Next day, I brought more slugs to my gals, in hopes they would decide the slime was worth the easy treat. Alas, they turned up their beaks and wouldn’t touch the pests.

I tried beer traps in my garden to drown the slugs, but didn’t have much success. My plants must have been more attractive to the slugs than the good quality beer I sacrificed. Crushed eggshells around plants also didn’t work to deter slugs. Neither did ashes nor sand.

This year I’m finding it nearly impossible to grow anything. The little luck I’m having has come from transplanting larger seedlings, which have a slightly higher chance of surviving slug damage than small seedlings or direct sowing.

My direct sowing of lettuce (I planted a whole bed) only yielded three plants. I started some in jugs — winter sowing style. The seeds popped up quickly, but started to get leggy, stretching for the sun on my shady porch. I moved them out to a sunny (elevated) spot, and by the next day slugs had mown down one jug of seedlings entirely. The other sustained partial damage — I caught the culprits before they ate all of my seedlings.

In one garden bed, I had a cover crop of collards growing. At any time of day I could go out and find the plants absolutely covered in slugs. They also demolished some dill seedlings planted in a large pot by my house.

I understand populations boom and dwindle. I’m really hoping my garden slug population is approaching its peak, and will soon decline.

In the mean time, I’m looking for new ways to encourage a population decline, and save my garden plants.

My mother shared some articles on using coffee to repel or kill slugs, and I plan to give this method a shot. Coffee contains high levels of diterpenes, a chemical plants naturally produce to deter pests.

From what I’ve read, it seems like grounds around plants can help deter slugs, and spraying coffee onto plants may also reduce damage.

The problem with this solution is the problem with any pesticide — caffeine can kill other insects as well, including ants and bees.

To minimize the impact on other creatures, I plan to start with small quantities around my tender plants, and see how little I can effectively use.

Another consideration is soil health. Coffee is acidic, so I’m already wondering if I should apply eggs shells or garden lime at the same time, to balance out any pH changes.

I will try to track my success (or lack thereof) at repelling slugs and reducing their damage, and report back.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, exploring possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email [email protected].