When designing your growing space it’s important to remember that you are designing a carefully balanced eco-system and considering the wildlife around you from the outset will promote a healthy garden for years to come.
Do – create space for wildlife, but keep the wilder areas away from your main production areas. Remember that the predators that eat the pests need a regular supply of food to survive, so leave some areas where both can survive. Predators are usually larger and faster than prey, so while the pests will only slowly migrate into your production areas, their predators can easily venture out and patrol for anything making its way to your vegetables.
Do – keep your production areas clear of rubbish, hiding places, unnecessary large plants, weeds and structures. That way, if a potential veg muncher strolls onto your patch the predators can easily spot them and catch them.
Do – encourage predators by creating habitats such as hedgehog hotels, ponds for frogs, dragon flies etc. and nesting sites for black birds and other insect eating birds.
Don’t – use raised beds with wooden sides unless you absolutely have to. They create excellent hiding places for slugs, snails and woodlice.
Don’t – site your compost heap and other material storage near your productive beds, the wildlife area is much better for this.
So called pests serve a very important purpose in the cycle of life. In the same way that we’d be piled up high with corpses if the flies didn’t use them to feed their young; we’d be surrounded by dead and dying plants if it wasn’t for the creatures that ate them. Pests and diseases only attack plants that are already weakened by either age or poor growing conditions. If your plants have pests the likelihood is that your soil is not right for them. Put 2 inches of compost on the surface of the soil each spring and autumn and the majority of pests will have little effect. Those that do arrive will soon be followed by their predators, so you don’t have to do anything. For a more in depth look at how to care for your soil join us for our regular workshops.
Slugs and snails are nature’s way of thinning seedlings; they just don’t do it in neat rows like humans do. If you want neat rows you have to protect plants while they are young and getting going. Protection methods vary from plant to plant and garden to garden, some will be listed later. In the meantime, here’s a few do’s and don’ts:
Don’t – use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or artificial fertilisers, especially those with an NPK ratio above 10. These will kill the soil food web right from the very bottom. Natures’ clear up team will then move in to clear away the mess, which (being a silly thinky thinky human being) you’ll mistake for another problem that you’ll have to fix with yet more “clever” human solutions.
Don’t – think you’ll ever understand the entire great mystery that is the ecosystem of which you’re a part of. Simply observe it, allow it, and lend a hand in helping it to regain the balance which it had before human intervention.
Don’t – plant your whole batch out at once, put a few out and wait and see what protection you might need. When you do plant the rest of the batch out protect accordingly and pot on and hold a few plants back to fill in gaps where you lose the odd plant here and there.
Do- use compost, actively aerated compost teas and other “microbe herding” techniques to create the ecosystem that the plants that you want to grow require. To learn more about these methods attend our tailored workshops.
Do – water rarely, for many reasons that are too lengthy to explain here, but with regards to slugs and snails, if you have to water, water really thoroughly. Allow the surface to dry out and leave it that way unless you see your plants are desperate for a drink.
Do – companion plant and interplant wherever possible. Nature doesn’t do monoculture, if you create one you’ll create an imbalance and nature will come and fix it in its own inevitable way.
Do – remove lower and dying leaves so that they don’t give hiding space and food for slugs and snails.
A few protection methods and their pros and cons:
Slugs and Snails:
Wool – Wool can be either bought in pelleted form or simply collected from sheep fields
- Pros: Gastropods don’t like crawling on it, it dries up their mucus and irritates their foot, it can be found for free and doubles up as a slow release nitrate.
- Cons: It can blow away leaving plants exposed, it’s not 100% effective and the pellets are quite pricey.
Coffee Grounds – used coffee grounds can be sprinkled on the ground, and given the option the slugs will avoid it.
- Pros: It’s cheap and easy to come by, it breaks down as a slow release nitrate and it helps to prevent weed germination.
- Cons: Uncomposted coffee grounds prevent germination of your seed as well as that of weeds and more than 5% of it in your growing medium inhibits growth. It’s not as affective when on wet soil.
Crushed Egg Shells – Slugs don’t like crawling over sharp or gritty stuff, that includes egg shells, but you have to crush them quite fine.
- Pro’s : They’re cheap and easy to get hold of, they break down leaving calcium and trace elements for plants and they aid drainage once taken into the soil.
- Cons: They’re not 100% effective and processing them can get smelly and tedious.
Sharp Sand: Sharp sand acts in the same way as egg shells, and although it doesn’t break down into nutrients as quickly, it does still aid drainage at the surface.
Brambles – all those tiny spikes make a little barbed wire fence against slugs and snails.
- Pros: They’re cheap and easy to get hold of and they’re very effective if positioned correctly.
- Cons: They can be fiddly to deal with, especially if you have a lot of plants to protect.
Copper Tape: Gastropods don’t like climbing over copper; they receive minute electric shocks if they try.
- Pros: It’s very effective, tape can last a while and it’s easy to apply.
- Cons: It’s expensive as it has to be pure copper; it also has to be non-corroded so it only suits places such as around propagation benches where it won’t get too weathered.
Bottle Cloches – Bottle cloches help to harden off, get plants established and offer some protection against pests too.
- Pros: They’re easy to make, cheap and very effective.
- Cons: They need air holes in them and sometimes blow away so slugs still sometimes get their dinner.
All of the above methods help to get plants established and work best in a garden that already has a well-balanced soil food web. In extreme circumstances however, more drastic action may be needed to reduce the gastropod population. This is where nematode herding comes in. There is a type of nematode that is naturally present in nature that feeds by entering the gastropods’ body and farming bacteria while inside, effectively breaking the slug down and killing it. To do this you need to collect around 50 slugs or snails, and if you can’t collect anywhere near that number you don’t need to take such action. We can show you how this is done, and give you a slug that is infected with the nematodes to get your own brew off to a quick start.
Other protection methods for various species come in the form of nets, fleeces and specific companion plantings. Let us know what you’re struggling with and we’ll show you the solutions.