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May 22, 2012

I'm trying to re-position my website to fit in more with what we now do at Montrouch Organic, which is developing nicley into an organic small holding growing aromatic and ebible herbs. As such I will be writing more practical articles on low cost, recycled and re-using solutions for organic gardeners. Rather than wisdom from on high I would like these to be work in process with readers adding their experiences and ideas to build up some useful guides. Please read this article on my experiences of dealing with snails and slugs and feel free to let me know what you think.

Snails and slugs are the bane of organic gardeners, basil, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces and other tasty leaves can be destroyed in one night-and their is nothing more disheartening than seeing the heads of tray seedlings fall victim to the nocturnal slippery slimes. Without the use of expensive poisons there is no simple solutions, here are a few ideas that organic gardeners can try and hopefully find the right combination that works for you.

The first thing to point out is that there are no hippy dippy solutions, slugs and snails cannot co-exist with a herb and vegetable garden, not if you want anything to eat at the end of all your hard work. It’s simple, it’s a them or us situation. Yes there are solutions below that aim to discourage them but ultimately displacement or death are the only two options.

What I have tried to do is come up with a range of solutions, some more deadly than others, no one solution will work on it own. Also as usual I tend towards low cost solutions, primarily as I have little spare money they are my preferred option, and secondly I’m not sure that the more expensive solutions are any better. 

Let’s start with the soft options. 

Keep a clean garden, slugs and snails love decaying leaves- indeed that is their main diet not your plants. So remove pulled weeds, fallen leaves and the like and pop on the compost pile as you go. If you have the space position the compost pile a way from your vegetable and herb,a keep a wild garden space around it. The snails and slugs will love it, but so will their predators- hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

Barriers and distractions

These solutions are designed to either discourage the beasties from going near areas or to encourage them to go to alternative spots where they can be collected and disposed of- that is destroyed or moved a long long way away. If you like snails of course you could starved them and then roasted with garlic, butter and herbs. Good with freshly baked crispy bread and a strong red wine, so I’m told.

Copper. The ultimate snail stopper. For some reason a copper band acts like an electric fence for snails and slugs, it gives them a shock and they will not cross it. Copper unfortunately is rather expensive. If you have a small space you want to protect, like a growing table in a green house, and some old copper piping you could wrap the legs in it and that would work. Probably a good idea of to give the table a good scrub down first to make sure there are not any little devils, or their eggs, inside the fence. If you have a large area, and a lot of old copper piping then you would be better to keep reading and take the piping to a reputable scrap metal dealer- it’ll get a good price and pay for all your seeds for a few years.

Salt. Salt kills snails and slugs, they won’t cross a salt wall. Sadly salt also washes into the soil with rain and can have a very negative effect of the soil. It’s not really a very practical solutions. See more on salt in the Homicidal Maniac’s section below.

Seaweed. A salty mulch. If you have the chance to live near the sea seaweed is a perfect mulch. Pile it round your plants, ensuring a little circle round the base so the seaweed doesn’t touch the stem. It will slowly dry and/or compost down. A very effective and fertile solution that keeps the roots cool and damp in summer and builds up soil fertility. The organic gardeners dream.

Sawdust and wood shavings mulch. Have been shown to act as mild deterrents. My one point would be that sawdust from chainsaws or mechanical saws that use a a vegetable oil lubricant are fine, but an oil base lubricant saturates the wood dust and would not have a good impact on your soil.

Wood Ash. Make a ring of ash from the fire- again prone to being washed away by rain- can enrich your soil when used in moderation.

Crushed egg shell. Really a solution for the green house. Snails and slugs don’t like to cross dry egg shells. Loses its effectiveness if wet.

Coffee. You don’t see many snails in Starbucks. Coffee grounds around a plant may ward off snails and slugs, equally a coffee spray can help protect plants greenery from bugs as well. I haven’t tried this as all my coffee grounds get put in with the worm food and the coffee in me.

Combined with a deterrent strategy to keep them away from your plants it is a good idea to have a distraction solution, to help reduce their numbers. 

Snails and slugs like damp dark environments, spending most of the daylight hours hidden away under stones, and under ground. 

False Shelters. You can fool them to hide from the daylight somewhere you can find them, a plank of wood laid down near where you have damaged plants, or an up turned plant pot both work well. Simply check every morning and remove them. You will rapidly see their numbers reduced, but never eradicated. Some will never fall for this, always returning to their preferred sleeping spot.

Citrus Peel. Another alternative is to put something down that will actively attract snails and slugs, if you make freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice then the remaining peel shells are very attractive to snails. Once again place them next to places in the garden or vegetable plot where there are signs of infestation, a couple of hours after dark, or at sun rise in the morning check them out and remove the offenders.

Homicidal Maniac Solutions- my preferred option

After suffering repeated set backs at the jaws of snails and slugs, whole trays of basil seedlings stripped of their early leaves, young cucumber plants eaten back to their stems, lettuces reduced to stubs, I have little love for snails and the like. However for kinder and more gentle readers I would suggest collecting the snails and slugs and removing them a long, long way from your garden- a road side ditch would make an ideal dumping ground for captured beasts. If of course Mrs Jones from along the way always beats you in the village show vegetable competition you could sneak over late at night and pop them over her fence- but that would be mean.

A few words on killing slugs and snails, just standing on them or crushing them anyway is not very effective. Sure you kill them but you may not kill the eggs they are carrying. A better solution is to carry a bucket of either soapy or salty water and pop any found into it to drown, this kills both the beast and any eggs it may be bearing.

Home made beer traps. Snails and slugs love the malty sell of beer, yet alcohol is a poison for them, as indeed it is for us drunken in sufficient quantities. To make a simple trap, take a plastic bottle, a liter pop or mineral water bottle works well. Cut two ’doors’ about three or four centimeters from the base and fold back- see image. 

Dig in place so the ’doors; fold out flat with the ground, fill the bottom with a cheap beer, not a non-alcoholic one. Check regularly and empty and refill as necessary.

 If you keep chickens, ducks or geese another solution to greatly reduce the number of snails and bugs on your land is to rotate your poultry over sections of the garden not in use in winter, the birds will pick through the soil and eat any tasty bugs, and their droppings can add to the nutrition of the soil.

Hedgehogs, frogs, toads and birds.

All these eat snails, slugs and other bugs. Rather than write a thesis on ways to attract and support these wondrous animals and birds take a look at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s website which is packed with information, and theRoyal Society for the Protection of Birds site, equally informative.

Night Patrols with a flashlight will always be a key part to any gardeners life, however judicious use of a number of the ideas above will greatly reduce the damage done and increase the yield from your garden. 

Suggestions for Patrolling The best time I find is the grey of pre-dawn after a damp night. Secondly slugs and snails are not fast movers and they tend to eat closes to where they hide out, if you find new damage you ralast rely have to cast about more then 2-3 feet from the plant to find the culprit. Follow the slime trail. Last but not least snails and slugs seem to love the cover we put out in the garden, probably because its close to dinner and get’s watered regularly- the underside of plant pots, seeding trays, garden furniture.

All the solutions above will help with reduce the number of predators eating your plants, none of them will eradicate them. Indeed you don’t really want them all gone, they are an important part of the eco-system and provide food for many other species.

Happy hunting.

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Posted: May 22, 2012 5:43am
Mar 30, 2012

StopDodo, the world’s leading green sector job’s site has launched a new social forum to bring the Green Economy’s key actors together. Have your say and find a new work opportunity at the same time.

StopDodo ’The Global Portal for Environmental Jobs & Resume’ have launched a new forum service, as the must go to site for all those looking for new work opportunities in the Green Economy this could quickly develop into an interesting, useful, and lively addition to the sustainable media space.

Here’s my first short contribution.

Has the recession killed the Green Economy? 

The Greenest Government ever may not be all it promised but the Green Economy continues to outperform the general economy.

The retail economy in 2011 shows that organic sales continue to drop (3.7% in 2011 to £1.67bn from the record of £2.1bn in 2008), but the Co-op’s Ethical Consumer Report shows an overall rise in the ’ethical’ sector 2011 of just under 9% from £46.8bn from £43bn. 

The Government figures for the LCEGS sector (Low-carbon and environmental goods and services ), albeit a very broad definition, say that employment has grown to 914,000 jobs, up 4.3% year on year, valuing the sector at £117 billion. 

The renewable energy sector continues to develop as large scale projects continue, the B2C sector of photo thermals, PV and heat pumps may be hit by the changes in the Tarriff regime going forward but new sectors are emerging, such as energy efficient cars and green funerals services, Fairtrade has weathered the recession well as has ethical financial services. Large businesses have not, as predicted, dropped their commitment to CSR, even Apple has finally instigated a report on its supply chain.

The Green Economy may not be developing as was hoped for before the financial crisis but reports of its death are most decidedly premature.


Co-op Ethical Consumer Report (PDF)

Department for Business Innovation and Skills LCEGS estimations 

Please feel free to give your opinions on the state of the Green Economy by joining the StopDodo site, you may also find your next great job at the same time.

StopDodo - The Global Portal for Environmental Jobs & Resume

StopDodo Social Forum 

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Posted: Mar 30, 2012 10:53am
Mar 30, 2012

With Spring almost appearing its time to think about taking cuttings. Here at Montrouch we have a series of strong mother plants awaiting a hair cut, the Rosemary, Mint, Thyme are all looking suitably shaggy. The problem however is how to maximise the survival rate and to ensure strong growth. For chemical gardeners this isn’t a problem, a good hormone rooting powder does the job, organic growers however have to be a little more creative.

Organic growers don’t use hormone rooting powders for a couple of reasons, firstly the most important active ingredients are synthetic plant hormones, produced in chemical plants nor real plants, and secondly many contain fungicides to prevent infection which can damage plant growth and yield.

One of the most important active synthetic ingredients of hormone rooting powder is Indole-3-butyric acid, fortunately this nippily named plant hormone is also naturally present in weeping willows.

Willow Tea

A willow tea can be made using either the bark of a willow, or preferably, as it doesn’t harm future growth the free spring yellow branch shoots. There are a number of ways to make the tea but this is the one I find works best

Simply cut the shoots into 3 centimetre lengths in warm water for a good 48-72 hours, leave for a day and then dip your cuttings in the tea and plant. Put in the fridge the mixtue seems to last for three to four days.

Honey Tea

A Honey tea is also a great way to get cuttings to take off, take a spoon of organic honey, dissolve it in a cup of warm water, leave in a dark place until cool and then use as with the willow tea. I don’t quite know why this works, I think it probably has something to do with honey being a natural antiseptic, and preservative. I use it on those herbs I have had problems with disease wise and anecdotal evidence from last years shows it seems to reduce rust on my mint. Warm the tea is great for sore throats as well, particularly with a dash of lemon and a splash of whisky.

Give it a lick

Saliva, literally licking the cutting end before planting some says has similar effect as honey tea, probably because saliva is an antisceptic. Personally I haven’t tried this one on large enough a scale to make any reasonable comment. Do 1,000 rosemary cutting and you will have one dry mouth, let alone the burning from all those traces of essential oil.

There are a number of commercially produced organic rooting powders from large scale horticultural suppliers. Vitaxand Sinclair, but rather cough up hard cash why not have a go at making your own?

This article first appeared on my website  

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Posted: Mar 30, 2012 10:44am


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