Slug City, with Remedies

(For coming attractions, please scroll down)  

Why is the number 40 beginning to echo in my mind? Why does the word plague, applied to the slugs and snails, seem especially appropriate?… Better not to answer, even if the ongoing rain, in both New York and Maine, is making one wonder if something – how shall we put it ? – special , is afoot. Having 3 hundred-year floods in less than 12 months does make you think there may be more to this than random luck.
We ourselves ARE lucky, actually, nothing wrong with our place except a soggy basement and a world-class collection of slugs and snails, on, among other things, a whole bunch of otherwise very happy hostas.

A happy hosta, in part because its leathery leaves are hard for slugs and snails to chew.
There are a variety of controls that do not involve metaldehyde, the most common mulloscicide, and this is a good thing because metaldehyde kills just about anything else that ingests it, including dogs, cats and birds. Dogs are especially vulnerable because the bait put in to attract the slugs also – they’re dogs, right? – attracts them, too.

So I spent years putting out tuna cans filled with beer, spreading diatomaceous earth, banding my raised beds with copper foil, doing all the approved organic things… but no more. Now I use what might be called Okslugbait, known to its friends as iron sulfate, marketed under trademarked names like Sluggo and Escar-go. It costs quite a bit more than old fashioned poisons, and you have to reapply it more often. But it doesn’t kill anything except mollusks and it’s environmentally benign, a fertilizer in the amounts needed to keep the average garden from being terminally ravaged.

The cost doesn’t make a lot of sense – iron sulfate is cheap – they just know they have you over a barrel. And have you they do, unless things have changed in the couple of years since I tried to buy some (which I figured I could combine with bait in the privacy of my own kitchen).
No dice. Googling turned up plenty of iron sulfate suppliers, but all of them sell it by the boxcar load. So if there are 2 or 3 hundred of you out there who’d like to go in with me…

I jest. But it is great stuff. Makes slugs and snails stop eating, so they eventually starve. The action takes days, however, and although they stop eating almost right away, they’re still THERE, thumbing their slimy little noses at you. So I also use the old-timer’s remedy, ammonia and water in a spray bottle. Near- instant knockdown, very gratifying and ammonia too is a fertilizer in the doses required. Most plants have no trouble handling the spray, though I’ve noticed that salvias and violets sometimes get minor leaf damage. The old timers mixed it 50-50; I usually use about 1/3 ammonia to 2/3 water, but as the “about” suggests, there’s no real need to measure.

Note: When we were preparing for the podcast , Dean reminded me I have already sung the praises of iron sulfate, at about this time last year. True. If we have this weather again in ’07, I’ll praise it again then, too.

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