Slug it to me

When I was little, guys working on the roads in winter always started by setting up something called a brazier in which they lit a fire to keep warm. I also remember that my mother wore a brazier – the two words sounded the same so I assumed they were spelt the same. For years I harboured the notion that she filled this brazier with hot coals to keep her chest warm in winter. I now know that what she wore was a brassiere, not a brazier.

All of which would be totally irrelevant were it not for the fact that “brassiere” is now a name for a type of restaurant. Another type of restaurant is known as a “plant”. This type of restaurant is frequented by many members of the bug family and also by creatures known as slugs and snails. Both of these slimy creatures cause havoc in our gardens but, for some reason, it is generally the slugs that get the worse press. Is it a social thing, I wonder, that people look down on the homeless? If slugs had shells we might not think so badly of them.

Slug fact: Slugs evolved from snails, not the other way round as is popularly assumed!

Maybe it’s because the nightly task of picking the marauders off our brassicas is much less squeamish when you’ve got a nice hard shell to grab hold of as you drop them into the little bucket of highly salted water. That’s generally how I despatch them. After they’ve been nibbling my plants I see no reason to let them die happy by drowning them in beer. Actually, I don’t have that much of a problem with slugs and snails thanks to a healthy local population of hedgehogs, frogs and other voracious eaters of the slimies. Even my hostas now suffer no damage though I regularly notice the volumes of little black sausage deposits that the hogs leave behind after their nocturnal feast.

Slug fact: 95% of slugs are underground nibbling away at roots and juicy seedlings just about to break the surface of your seed bed!

Perhaps not surprisingly, most people would identify the black slug as the one that does most damage and needs most to be eradicated. This may be because it’s a biggie at its normal 12-13cm length (it can grow up to 20cm long). But in fact this dinosaur of the slug world is only a problem in spring when its favourite diet of rotting vegetation and fungi are not around much and so it eats the little seedlings and emerging plants.

Most damage is done by its three smaller cousins – the garden slug at around 3cm long, the field slug at around 4cm and the keel slug at around 6cm. The keel slug spends almost all of its time underground and relishes potatoes and tulip bulbs. So, arguably, if you find a big black slug in summer you should leave it alone as it’ll be doing you a favour. You could drop any you find into your compost heap/bin. They’ll love it and help your compost production efforts in return.

Slug fact: the average UK garden is home to around 20,000 slugs and snails!

So let’s face it, we are never going to win this battle. Collecting and killing 20-30 in a night is a successful venture for most of us. Even if the slimies didn’t reproduce, at this rate it would take us over 2-and-a-half years to clear our garden of these critters. But as slugs are hermaphrodites, they don’t need a partner to mate and, after a bout or two of self-gratification, will lay batches of up to 100 eggs several times a year.

Slug fact: A slug has around 27,000 teeth. Which offers a remarkable business opportunity for someone wanting to set up a slug dental business.

So I’m not going to waste beer on these blighters. I’ll continue to work in partnership with the slug eaters in my garden and enjoy the sense of achievement as I hear all those little plops into my salt water bucket. And I’ll be kind to nematodes as well.

And if the other 26-odd species of slugs found in the UK don’t bother me, then I won’t bother them.