Monday, January 23, 2012

Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

Just a quick post to address some of the most likely pests you'll have issue with in the garden.  Most garden pests are particular, tomato hornworms won't eat your lettuce, aphids may just stay centrally located on your rose buds, cabbage moths will lay their eggs primarily on the brassicas.  There are a few very common, very indiscriminate ravagers that you may come in contact with though: slugs and snails and pets.

Non-gardeners don't tend to think about pets as being garden pests, but take the word of someone with three cats: they can be the most destructive pests of all.  Nothing taunts a cat into tearing up tiny baby transplants like the soft, freshly turned dirt in a garden.  It calls to them to be turned into their own private toilet.  One of my cats even enjoys nibbling on the plants themselves.  Dogs can be a problem too, if your garden is in an area where your dog runs free it looks like no more than the perfect place to dig, poop, and roll around.  There are many suggested ways to keep pets out of the garden beds.  They range from motion detecting sprinklers, to hot pepper sprinkles, to sticking skewers point-up throughout the bed.  I've tried a few of these options, the sprinkler didn't make sense since my garden is so small and the cats enjoy the patio without causing any damage.  The skewers did work but I stabbed myself with them while weeding more often than I liked.  I was not willing to possibly do real harm to the kitties with hot peppers though.  This year I will go with what seems to me to be the most practical solution, it won't hurt them, or the plants, and isn't terribly expensive either.
This year I will build 4'x4' frames of 2"x2" wood posts, and wrap chicken wire around them in a small dome.  These covers will let light and water through to the plants, but keep out the destructive cats and as a bonus any other critters larger than a mouse.  They also can work as handy frames to stretch plastic or floating row cover over if needed.

Slugs and snails are a huge menace to new transplants as well, and are most prolific just when plants are put into the ground in the springtime.  Again, there are probably about half a million suggested ways to deal with these menaces.  I prefer to bait for them with organic-approved slug bait to keep the population in check.  You can also use beer traps, boards, and copper to manage them.  Beer traps are one of the best known ways to rid yourself of slugs, they are shallow dishes buried to soil level and filled with beer.  Apparently slugs have a real taste for beer and will drown themselves trying to drink it.  For a more hands on approach, and one that won't leave your garden full of beer dishes, you can lay a board across the soil and leave it overnight.  Each morning lift the board up and pick off the slugs that have taken shelter under its shade, then squish them or move them somewhere far away from your plants.  The one other method I've heard of to keep slugs and snails out of the garden is to surround plants with copper, which supposedly gives them a little shock if they slide over it.  I have yet to try this one out, so can't guarantee its effectiveness.  However, you don't have to go buy special copper tape for this method, you can lay down a circle of pennies that touch each other around each plant.  Some combination of any or all of these methods should keep even the sluggiest garden safe.  I plan to give the pennies a try this year; I'll bait like usual and then surround a few plants with pennies to see if it makes a difference in the amount of damage done.

Happy Gardening!

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