Under Attack

Just a little update on my garden, for which I had such high hopes this summer after the bounty and lessons I gleaned from last year’s efforts. Not to be too dramatic, but so far, my hopes have been dashed.

After a storm on Mother’s Day (widely accepted as THE day to plant your garden in Colorado to be safe from future frosts), which accumulated over half a foot of snow and multiple days of below-freezing temps, I already had my concerns for the seeds that I optimistically placed in the then-warm soil the week before. However, after the melting of that late-season snow, as I saw some little green sprouts forcing their way out of the ground, my confidence in their perserverence was lifted.

Then, came Public Enemy #1: Commonly referred to as “slugs,” and known around these parts as “Erin’s Worst Nightmare.”

Artist Rendering

Artist Rendering

I saw a couple of the slimy, nasty little suckers in the garden last summer, munching the leaves of some late-season zucchini. They did some damage, but nothing that could slow the growth of the aforementioned relentless zucchini plants. I put out a bit of organic bait/killer, which seemed to have slowed them down enough for me to make it through to the last harvest without much loss.

This year, they came back with a vengeance.

After coming home from a week-long trip, I returned to find the leaves of my preservering little sprouts completely chewed up like swiss cheese. The hardiest of my plants – the kale and runner beans that generally sprout the quickest and seem to make it through anything, were struggling from the attacks. Other plants, like my watermelon, squash, zuchinni and spinach, were nearly all gnawed down all the way to the ground. What’s more, these normally night-dwelling creatures were bold enough to show themselves in the light of day, literally hundreds of them sliming their way through our yard, along the sidewalks, and across my plants, right in plain sight. Let me tell you – there is nothing more revolting than seeing these evil, slimy little creatures devouring all of your hard work and the beautiful home-grown produce on which you planned to feast all summer long.

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Immediately, I googled every slug killer and repellant tactic anyone had ever posted online. And then, I tried it all.

The most common advice was to trap the slugs in a vat of beer. In short, apparently slugs love beer, and the idea is to bury a vessel up to the lip in the garden near the site of the attacks, fill it with beer (preferably the cheap kind), and then let the slugs jump in, get their fill, and drown a drunken death. However, apparently my slugs have a very high tolerance because, while I caught a few of the little nasty guys, I saw several more climbing their way out of the beer vats. I guess they thought I was just setting out a brewpub alongside the produce stands, and were drinking on the house to wash down their stolen snacks.

After a few mornings emptying out nasty jars of beer filled with a couple slugs but way more beetles and potato bugs, I tried a couple other tactics. One suggestion was that slugs hate animal fur — something we have in no short supply here between the husky-type that never stops blowing her coat, and the gray diva cat who demands to be groomed — so I started collecting this hot commodity and sprinkling it around some of the slugs’ favorite foods. I’m not sure if the slugs were making sweaters out of the fur, or just collecting it for later, but it seemed to vanish gradually and the slugs continued eating the leafy greens. Similarly, other suggestions were that slugs hate crawling over rough surfaces, and I saved a bin of eggshells in my refrigerator, crumbled them up and scattered them in careful, witch-like circles around the bases of the plants. These super-slugs clearly were not deterred, and appeared to have moved the shells away to create paths into their plant prey for easy access.

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Eventually, I resorted to a more barbaric form of warcraft – I would wait until darkness fell, strap on a headlamp and some heavy-duty rubber gloves, and head out to the garden to take them on, one-on-one. Picking slugs off of plants and smashing them on the bricks with my garden shoes was a pretty gross yet disturbingly satisfying form of pest control, but an unsustainable one.

In the end, I’ve returned to the slug reppellant pellets that seemed to have made a dent in the slug population last year, and have been applying it faithfully. In addition, the relentless and uncharacteristic Colorado monsoons seem to have let up for the time being, and I think the slugs have begun to decrease in numbers as we return to the drier conditions that are more natural for this area. For now, the garden seems to be making a little progress, but nowhere near where we were this time last year, and we haven’t gleaned more than a couple strawberries and some (slightly holey) spinach leaves so far. Between the dirty little slugs and a nasty hail storm a couple weeks ago, my plants have a hard road ahead of them to start producing any fruit among their shredded leaves.

In short, I hate slugs. I hate them with all of my being. Of course, still not being dramatic in the least.

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