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Mary Lowther column: The battle with garden pests begins

Apparently some slugs don’t like onions but mine devour every shaft
Slugs bring their voracious appetites to the garden in spring. (Andrea Rondeau/Gazette)

By Mary Lowther

It’s fairly obvious that Vivaldi was not a gardener, celebrating a mere four seasons. We are barely past our last frost, but slug and pill bug seasons have arrived with a vengeance, soon to be followed by cabbage moth, aphid and mosquito seasons, then gnat season just before the first frost finally kills the pests, or at least drives them into hibernation.

Various methods abound that purportedly control these menaces, none of which have worked as advertised. I spent considerable time amassing small plastic margarine tubs, cutting appropriately sized windows in the sides for slugs to crawl into and drown happily in the beer I bought to fill each container. I trapped more black beetles than slugs, and since beetles LOVE slug eggs the end result was the opposite of that desired. Empty grapefruit skins and rolled up newspapers in which slugs were supposed to congregate didn’t work, nor did sneaking up on them at night with a flashlight and a pot of soapy water to toss the unwary critters into. The weed whacker was a little more satisfying, but I recommend eye and mouth protection!

Apparently some slugs don’t like onions but mine devour every shaft; don’t even mention diatomaceous earth and egg shells because slugs et al just laugh at shards that are supposed to keep them out, while leaving trails of slime paths between lunch dates. One expert recommended winding copper mesh around my beds, but given the size of my garden and the price of copper that is clearly impracticable.

So much for the wisdom of the ancients; I had to figure it out for myself. As the rains abated and the soil dried out I laid out soaker hoses. Slugs and pill bugs avoid dry ground and stopped crawling around the inside parts of the garden but still loved the veggies near the ends of the beds, so I dug out the grass to create a foot wide dry section and that worked like a charm!

Black beetles scurry around in the grass and, since they love slug eggs, some gardeners dig little gullies around their garden in hopes that these beetles will run out of the grass, down the gully and into the garden, unable to climb back out. I haven’t tried this but it sounds encouraging.

I’ve noticed that slugs and pill bugs proliferate after I spread compost over the garden, so I’ve taken to spreading compost a week or more before planting, to allow the birds time to eat their fill of eggs. Since I don’t want to harbour surviving slugs and pill bugs under a lovely mulch canopy, I wait until the soil dries out and warms up a bit before spreading mulch over the beds. This helps keep weeds from sprouting too.

I need more bird feeders and houses. Garter snakes and frogs also dine out on slugs, but my garden has very few of these. I am creating small habitats to attract more; David tried to buy me some, but they are evidently a protected species and cannot be sold! Since then he has been gathering some whenever he finds them and bringing them to me, which I find a far more useful gift than flowers or chocolate (although somewhat harder to unwrap).

Cabbage moth, mosquito and aphid seasons are just around the corner, but we’ll save them for another column. Sufficient unto the day is the weevil thereof.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Slugs bring their voracious appetites to the garden in spring. (Andrea Rondeau/Gazette)