by Mike Dunton
Slugs in the garden are a continual challenge
for us here in the damp, Maritime Northwest. They are especially a
problem in spring after unusually mild winters.
Since we garden organically as a
Naturally Grown farm, we do not use chemical controls. Trapping slugs using beer is not an old wives tale. It is one of the most powerful anti-slug weapons in
arsenal; one that we have successfully deployed for decades.
Any number of plastic containers that
you can rescue from being sent to the landfill.
Beer. Really cheap beer. I
would not dare to list brand names but I can tell you that I just watch for
sales of those mega-brands that are sold in "suitcases" of 24-plus cans. (Swill that would never touch my discerning lips :)
picture to the left is what can happen to a newly transplanted tomato
seedling in our fields in just one evening. For obvious reasons, this
cannot be allowed to happen.
That is where beer traps come in. I
could not possibly tell you where I learned about them. I have been
using beer traps for at least 30 years. It could have been some
organic gardening book I read as a kid. It may
even been a gardening friend or family member. Regardless, the slugs
in my garden prefer beer over plant seedlings, so that is what I give them.
Beer traps are cheap, simple, and easy to set
up. You can use just about any type of old food containers. The
plastic kinds that most people throw away are perfect. Since I use so
many for various purposes, I actually have friends and family save
containers for me. For more on repurposing and reuse,
container used in the pictures for this essay is a salvaged food container
such as the type that salsa or cottage cheese come in. Use your
imagination. Almost anything will work - even the small trays that
frozen meals come in. (Check out the YouTube video link below for
other uses for the frozen meal trays.)
The first step is to create a depression in
the soil that will accept the container that you have. It is then filled
with about one inch of beer and placed in the ground near the seedlings you
need to protect. For a good coverage, we typically place traps about
every eight to ten feet.
no time, as seen in the picture to the right, the slugs come out of hiding
drawn to the scent. I have read that it is the yeast that attracts
them. It attracts them so strongly that they get into the liquid and
I have not yet experimented, but I suspect
that mixing up yeast in water would work in place of the beer. This is
something to try in the future. But since I know that beer works, and
since I never seem to have the time at planting time (or the plants to
sacrifice to a failed experiment), I have stuck with beer.
As mentioned above, there are some years when
the slug populations are extremely high and extreme measures are therefore
called for. And if you have picked up on the not so subtle martial
tone to this prose, you are not mistaken.
There are years when it is all out war.
Us versus them kind of war. I am sorry if I offend slug lovers out
there. If you wish to come set up a rescue and relocation program,
send me your proposal.
I draw my lines, quite literally as seen in this next picture, and throw
everything I can at them. Along with the beer slug traps, I save the
wood ashes from our furnace and encircle the plants as another line of
defense. They do not like crossing them and it works as long as the
ashes remain dry.
I have also been know to head out after dark
with a flashlight and sharp pruning shears and engage them in one-on-one,
personal, hand-to-hand combat. I continue making rounds several times
during the night during the crucial time between transplanting and the point
that the plants become established.
And it is then, after the plants are toughened
up and growing, that I can relax my stance, extend the olive branch, and
draw a cautious truce with the slugs. Yes, we are are destined to
fight once again the following spring but it is at this point in the season
when I go ahead and gather up all of the containers. I throw them into
a bucket of water to soak for a few days before rinsing and then stow them
away for next year.
It seems that once the plants are off to a
healthy start, the slugs are no longer a threat and can be left alone to do
their job of breaking down plant and other rotting matter thereby enriching
the soil. (Like every living thing on the planet, they do have a purpose.)
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