Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Slug Buffets

Slugs are a major problem for gardeners here. We don't have cold winters, so we seldom get a break. We garden year around, even during times of drought. Because we rely on mulches and irrigation during droughts, the slugs never leave a garden alone. Some varieties are extremely destructive, especially the African snail. And a little black one seems to be able to crawl into every little crevice on a vegetable, nibbling holes everywhere.

Controlling slugs and snails in ground level gardens is almost impossible without resorting to slug bait. Muscovy ducks will eat one variety of slug, but not the others. We have predatory snails, which I assume help, but they obviously can't control the population. We don't have snakes, a gardener's friend for fighting slugs. We do have a few cane toads, but like the predatory snail, they can't control the massive population. I've tried wood ash, eggshells, sharp sand, cinders, and coffee grounds and none of it works. I've done experiments to prove their ineffectiveness. It's too wet in my location for using diatomaceous earth. And putting salt or ground glass in a garden isn't a good idea as far as I am concerned.

So it's either hand picking at night or slug bait. I've tried hand picking. I'd pick a jar full of slugs in an hour, every night!So there was no way I was going to make a difference unless I picked for hours every single night. The gardens are too big for hand control, being heavily mulched, and moist. 

So it's slug traps and bait.....what I like to think of as the slug buffet.

First attempt. Not so stable. Tips over easily. 

There are two types of slug bait. One is organic -- iron phosphate, and the other is a slug poison. I've used both. They both seem to work. So I opt for iron phosphate for safety sake. But when someone donates a bag of Sluggo to the community garden, it is not turned down. The community garden cannot afford to turn away donations. So any slug bait is used there.

The design that proved to be more stable. 

I discovered by accident that slug bait's effectiveness lasts longer if it stays dry. With that in mind, I came up with slug buffets. Not traps really, because the slugs are free to leave after consuming the bait. I use something to keep the rain off the bait while giving the slugs access. Lots of things would work. Since I had dozens of plastic coffee containers on hand, I used them. I simply removed the lid and cut holes for slug doorways. The reason I removed the lids was to keep rain water from pooling inside, wetting the bait. I quickly discovered that cutting the plastic so as to leave four or more "legs" kept the containers from tipping over. And a lava rock set on top kept them from blowing over. 

 A rock holds the slug trap in place so that the wind doesn't blow it over.

These are very easy to set up. They work on soil or mulch. Easily moved to new locations, they can be taken to where sensitive crops are planted and removed when no longer needed. 

Baby plants are being lightly mulched now. Deeper mulch will be added as they grow. Cardboard is protecting the aisleways until they get mulched. Red containers are slug bait traps. 

When the slug population booms, I plan to make lots of slug buffets. I have no idea yet just how many I will need, perhaps one every 6 feet in the row? More? Less? I guess I will be experimenting and learning. 

At the community garden, slug buffets are the only way to go because no one it there reliably every day to deal with other types of traps. But in my own gardens on my farm, actual slug traps also work really well. They are more time consuming to use, but highly effective. 

Slug traps-- beer, citrus cups, cardboard, mulch, carpet. I'll take photos of my slug traps on the farm and give you the lowdown on them in another post, 


  1. I see those cardboard slug-motels you made - will your chickens eat the snails and slugs that hide under there? Here in the PNW, slugs do abound, but the depressing thing is turning over some dirt to find those danged clumps of snail eggs - future trouble just waiting to hatch! I sometimes take a few of the bigger slugs down to the river, and tell them they are free if they can swim back to shore before the trout get to them. I don't think they are particularly strong swimmers. though.

    1. Surprisingly, I'm not finding slugs under the cardboard. I guess it gets too warm once the sun starts shining on it. But anywhere the cardboard is in the shade, lots of slugs. Easy to catch them this way. I usually invite the Muscovites over for a slug meal. But they are fussy which ones they will eat. Once they lose interest, I'll put the leftover slugs into a jar then later add them to the ground chicken food. I tried offering the fresh slugs to the hens but they spit them out, but willingly eat them cooked though.

      I did some grass mowing today in an overgrown area...grass 2 feet high. Afterward I noticed that there were dozens, dozens of those flat type slugs. I quickly herded the big Muscovy over to there and he feasted. Ate so many that he had a hard time swallowing the last few. Good duck!