Saturday, July 15, 2023

Slugging Along.

Greetings! It's been a minute...planting season combined with the end of our daughters school year as well as all things summer seem to have burst into existence all at once. The pictures, projects and thoughts pile up as the moments of time available to drop updates seems to evaporate like the morning dew... but alas here we are!

Here is a throw back to the first of June where the temps began warming and our cold hardy crops were starting to gather strength as seeds were sown and seedlings transplanted.

And then came the rain... along with more rain and more rain.

After the last couple growing seasons having pretty heavy drought conditions,  the rain at first was embraced. Germination was popping, our hose sat neatly coiled and undisturbed... we got a spring flush of shiitakes from our logs. Things were shaping up for a bountiful season, and then it kept raining and kept raining.

Sunny days were far and few between and although the temperatures were not dancing with frost, the wet soil wasn't encouraging much growth of anything with one big exception.


Seemingly overnight, a slimy army of slugs engulfed the beds from end to end leaving devastation and slime trails in their wake. Perfectly germinated rows of heirloom carrots were mowed down in the blink of an eye. Seedlings were ravaged and flower buds destroyed. One of the downfalls of using fallen trees as raised bed borders along with gardening in a woodland setting has always been the creation of great slug habitat. We have battled them in years past in much smaller doses. Usually they find a niche and capitalize on it and we adapt but this was an all out assault that had me up at night researching methods of regulating them. Coffee grounds, copper strips, eggshells, crushed oyster shells, Sluggo pellets. Mixed results were reported with all these methods with the exception of Sluggo that supposedly is "allowed" in organic production but as I have stated in past posts, we try to never add anything other than compost and let the natural balance of the ecosystem we inhabit to even itself out. We also take great pride in the biodiversity of our soil and I do not know how a substance could devastate the slug populations in a treated area and not effect other vital organisms like earthworms and various other beneficial insects.

That being said, the abundance of slugs was mindboggling. From what I can gather among farmer friends and fellow home gardeners, we were not alone in this problem. After many days of finger picking slug after slug and having my hands and clothes covered in a yellow film of slug slime... I decided we needed a better plan of action. I choose the oldest trick in the book, beer! Integrating small dishes of beer in the areas getting the heaviest pressure helped for sure. The problem is when it rains everyday the beer gets watered down and overflows into the surrounding soil, compounding the problem and the few warm sunny days that appeared in between stretch after stretch of rain would evaporate the beer quickly leaving some pretty nasty science experiments to clean up. Yuck. However it did seem to alleviate a bit of the pressure after a couple 12pks of PBR and I would suggest it for that purpose.  Another remedy that helped a little was actually to pull back the straw mulch layer that typically serves as a barrier to help the soil stay moist in the hot midday sun. Since those midday sun events were seemingly non existent and the straw just added more shelter for the slugs, we pulled it back on most of the beds.

The best method we found overall was simply timing and persistence. Every morning before work for a couple weeks I would go through the garden with headlamp and chopsticks, constantly towing along a five gallon bucket to plop them into. Cassi would often do a once over later on in the morning and we all would do another round or two of patrols in the early and late evening. The amounts of slugs was mind boggling and even makes me a touch queasy looking back at some of these photos. 

It seems slugs were everywhere this June and even while typing this I am still picking a handful out of the beds on a daily basis... but again persistence and nature finding its balance seems to be paying off. That along with a recent stretch of warm sunny weather has some plants bouncing back from a slow start and new seeds germinating in hopes that a crop can be salvaged with a little stroke of good luck weather wise and a bit of proactiveness with things like pruning lower leaves to prevent soil born pathogens that tend to persist in these wet weather patterns. Adaptation and education. Every season is a different set of successes and failures and its observing these trials and tribulations that make gardening so fun and sometimes I'll admit frustrating!

Hopefully the worst of slugfest 2023 has passed and sunny days are more abundant in the foreseeable forecast. Blooms are blossoming and cucumbers are producing at a rapid pace with tomatoes coming close behind. 

Check back soon as I will be sharing some of the successes we are having as we look forward to a strong last couple months of the growing season!


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