Derek – Friday 2nd July 2021

What to do about the snails which are attacking the butternut squash and sunflowers in the square raised bed? I put copper coated mesh around the edge of the bed. It didn’t work; there were snail trails across it. I tried coffee grounds, that didn’t work either. In the meantime, I have been utilising plastic bottles, buckets and containers to cover the plants at night. I am sure, though, a few are getting under the covers and eating the plants.

Online, I find a host of remedies for snail problems. There’s metaldehyde, a very effective poison, and not just to snails and slugs, but also to pets, birds and children. Not a possibility for a community garden. Quite a few gardeners go out at midnight with a torch and collect the snails in a bucket. You then have the problem of what to do with them. Some kill them, some throw them over the fence. When I find them, I deposit them at the far end of the garden.

There are those that swear by sand, crushed egg shells, and other abrasive substances. And others who say they don’t work. My experience tends to go with the negative. A snail travels on a cushion of slime and it is likely that this slime protects it from abrasive substrates. I have seen their trails over the copper mesh that I laid, and that is abrasive, but it doesn’t keep off snails.

A remedy for raised beds is metal sides, in the shape of a long prism about 4 inches high, going right round the bed. Snails, it is said, don’t like the point and give up. There are various round barriers, mostly plastic, that fend off the gastropods. These are quite costly as you need one for each plant. I could imagine buying them, building the number up over the years if we had a continuous snail problem, but this is a one-off for the Americana project. I need something which works now.

I am persuaded to try beer traps. I am given some out-of-date beer. I put the beer in the bed in peanut butter jars sunk within a few centimetres of the soil surface. After two nights, there are no gastropods in the traps.

I try out an experiment. I find about a dozen snails and some slugs under a large pot. I put them in a large rubber tub, the sort we use for carting compost, weeds, and as planters. And then among the gastropods, I put in a dish of beer.

I watch the action.

The snails and slugs ignore the beer completely. Not one of them goes to it. All of them are trying to climb out of the tub which is about 18 inches high. I keep putting them back in, they keep scaling the walls, like prisoners with the guards off duty. Up to this point, not a single one has gone to the dish of beer, so I put half a dozen in the dish of beer. Three climb out fairly quickly, a couple of others are now attracted to it and climb in. After 20 minutes, there are just three gastropods in the dish. If they stay much longer, they will drown. So I take them out and they recover. The experiment is now over, I take all the participants down to the far end of the garden. I thank them for their co-operation and let them go.

This beer doesn’t work, as I clearly saw. I am told slops from pubs does. I am reluctant to go to the pub and ask, though I might yet. Instead, I make up a mixture of yeast, sugar and warm water, and let it ferment for a couple of hours. I then put this in the ‘beer’ traps as well as putting some in a couple of dishes at the bottom of the raised bed. This proves slightly more successful as a few slugs are found in the traps the next morning.

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