Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Of Slugs, Ducks, and Strawberries

    As a serious vegetable gardener in wet western Washington slugs are the bane of my existance. They are also one of the reasons I like to keep ducks.  We had a rainy day a few days back and I collected about 40 slugs from the immediate vicinity of our strawberry beds.  My primary remedy for slugs is to simply scoop them up with a garden trowel and dump them into the duck pen.  The carnage that followed was not a pretty sight. The ducks wolfed down the slugs with great enthusiasm and left no apparent survivors.   We used to let our ducks spend more time as free range slug hunters but that didn't work out very well.  The ducks did a great job hunting slugs, but something else did a pretty good job hunting the ducks.  After the loss of three or four ducks we now only allow them out for brief supervised slug hunts.

   I've discovered that slugs have a serious melon fetish.  I spread the leftover cantelope, watermelon, honeydew rinds as a sort of protective barrier around the perimeter of the strawberry patch.  This accomplishes two things. First, the slugs often stop for lunch before they get to the berries and fill up on the melon rinds.  Second, they are pretty easy pickings out in the open as opposed to hiding amongst the strawberry leaves.  It makes it much easier for me to gather up a pile of slugs for the duck pen in the mornings.

    In spite of the slugs we've had a pretty good strawberry year.  We've had friends and family pick the patch a time or two, we've had fresh strawberry shortcake on several occasions, we've had fresh strawberries on on breakfast cereal, and we've accumulated a few gallons of frozen strawberries in the freezer.  Spring and the earlier part of summer have been relatively wet this year so we've had more problems with berries going bad but I've rarely had to water them. There is an up side to almost everything, including wet springs.
     I must confess that slug bait is one of my few deviations from organic gardening.  When setting out young tender plants I often use a ring of deadline slug bait to protect the plants until they are big enough to withstand the slugs better. My favorite gardening book is  "Vegetable Gardening West of the Cascades", written by Steve Soloman, the founder of Territorial Seeds.  It was his opinion that the metaldehyde slugs baits were relatively benign in the sense that they don't persist in the soil or break down into noxious substances.  However, it is expensive to continually replenish slug bait throughout a garden.  Thus my primary slug strategy is still removal and death by duck.

   Several years ago I made some home made slug traps from two liter soda bottles and baited them with beer.  The traps were fairly effective, but disgusting to clean up and reuse.  I prefer the ducks. I'm somewhat of an obsessive recycler so I guess I just like the idea that even the slugs aren't wasted. 

1 comment:

  1. (I'm writing this as Luna serenades me with songs she learned from cousin camp....) Nature is awesome, isn't it? There's always a naturally occuring cure for every bain of our exsistence (i.e. slugs). Since my garden is located in a concrete jungle, I haven't had a significant slug problem as of yet.