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Slugs and snails: is it impossible to get rid of them?

Do you ever feel like snails and slugs are taking over the world? Well, you're right. There are more and more of them.
Naaktslak op weg naar basilicum
A slug closing in on my basil plants
There was no way to keep them out of the garden boxes. 
Until now: we made a mini-electric fence just for slugs and snails:
Unfortunately, it's all sold out. 

We spent a long time designing a new version - one that doesn't rust and is easy to assemble. This turned out to be far more complicated and expensive - than we expected.

At the moment we are working on a new solution that does not require batteries. 

What came before that?

I've written a lot about the slug and snail invasions. What you can do to fight them off, how you can build barriers, and what you can use to deter them:

Slugs and snails in the Planty Garden

Making a barrier to keep out slugs and snails

In 2016, during a major snail invasion, I wrote this:

The slug wars of 2016

At first, I thought of it as a game. But in 2016, it became a war. There was a real invasion: hundreds of slugs. They made my anti-slug efforts look pathetic. 
Slakkenborstel? Bakjes? No problem!
Spiky slug brush? Beer traps? No problem.
Hordes of slugs climbed over the spike barriers without a second thought. My plastic containers with the bottoms cut out, which had worked perfectly until then, no longer posed a threat.
Rucola, spinazie, peterselie: allemaal mjammie!
Arugola, spinach, and parsley: yum
Even the arugola, parsley, and radicchio - plants they had previously left alone - were full of slimy creatures. 

Eggshells? Coffee grounds? They just laughed.

The problem with slugs and snails

Just 1 snail can produce 600 eggs a year. They don't even need another snail to do it, since most are hermaphroditic.

The eggs hatch when it's warm and moist. Usually there are 2 generations of snails in a season. But during wet summers there can easily be 3 or 4. That's thousands of snails! And the same goes for slugs.

If you do nothing, you may never harvest a full head of lettuce again. 

Giving up is not an option. So, here's what I tried:

Beer traps

A reader said that her homemade beer traps worked great and the slugs left her plants alone. She used yogurt cups with lids, and made a few openings about 4 cm from the bottom for the slugs to crawl through. Then she pressed the container into the soil - in an area where she had a lot of slugs - and poured a layer of beer into the cups. The thirsty slugs would drown in the beer bath. Not a bad way to go 😉

I've never had much confidence in beer traps. I think the slugs enjoy it and then crawl out happier and hungrier.

Still, I tried it anyway:
Yoghurtbeker als bierval
A beer trap in action
And yes, every morning, I discovered a bunch of drowned slugs. 

A success? Not really, because I found more slugs next to the beer trap, alive and kicking. Well, alive and eating is more like it. The plants around them were all chewed up. 


Copper tape

I also got letters from people who were really enthusiastic about copper tape. So I bought a role made specifically to ward off slugs and snails. I stuck it on the side of a garden box with a sad, half-eaten pumpkin plant.

After 1 night of rain I saw this:
Wat doet die grote naaktslak daar?
What's that huge slug doing there?
"Wait Jelle, that could be a slug that was already in your garden box before you added the copper tape."

Okay, sure. But then we did a test. There were plenty of slugs around, so I stuck a few on the side of the garden box, below the copper tape. I used a munched-up leaf as bait. Then, I waited. 

Most of the slugs were too full and just sat there. 

But the 2 biggest - a snail and slug - soon were on the move: 
Links de naaktslak, helemaal rechts de huisjesslak
The slug is on the left, the snail is on the far right
Yup, the slug didn't have to think twice. It just slid over the copper like it was no big deal. 
Koperband? Geen enkel probleem!
Off he goes
The snail responded differently though. It seemed to be a bit more sensitive and turned around.  

Bedtime slug hunting

In 2016, there was nothing left to do but pick away the slugs by hand. Not the most fun. And they only come out at dusk.

So every night, before she went to bed, my mom would go slug hunting and check our garden boxes. 

She thought it would be soothing, but dreaming about slugs every night was anything but 😛

Chicken feed as bait

To make things easier for her, we put bowls of chicken feed next to each garden box. 

The slugs loved it. Way more than they liked the beer. They came in droves: 
Legmeel vinden ze wel heel erg lekker!
Slugs love chicken feed, even more than beer
It's not too pricey either. They sell chicken feed at a pet store down the road: € 4 for 5 kilos.

The first few nights, there were more than 400(!) slugs and snails. Then 300. Later my mom counted around 200 each round. Plus about 50 in the beer traps, plus the slugs I found during the day.

Where's the party at?

It went on like that for weeks. Where do they all come from?

My garden boxes became a slug and snail hot spot. It seemed like they had their own social media network where they'd post: where's the party? At Jelle's. Always Jelle's. 

Nematodes: good for fighting slugs

Another reader recommended nematodes.

Nematodes are tiny parasitic worms. Their life's mission is to find a slug, get in there, and reproduce.

So, when a nematode finds a slug host, the slug stops eating and dies after about five days. Then, the nematode goes in search of another slug. Yup, that's nature. Hardcore.

NB: Nematodes generally work pretty well, but only on slugs. That's because slugs hide on or underground during the day, and that's where nematodes live. 

It sounded good, seemed logical and I was ready to take a drastic step. I ordered them right away. 

Going nematode is 100% organic and sustainable. It only works on slugs and is totally harmless to plants, animals, and you.

A week later

The nematodes I poured into my garden boxes at the end of May did absolutely nothing for the first few days. Slugs ate my heads of lettuce at the same rate.

I had to leave any slugs I saw: if you remove them, you also remove their nematodes before they can multiple. 

So by the time the slugs died, the lettuce was as good as eaten.

After that, things went well. We only found a few slugs in the treated garden boxes. Until mid-July. Then it wore off. Which makes sense: no host, no parasite.

So, you have to repeat the process every 6 to 8 weeks. But nematodes are pretty expensive. And you can't keep them for later: they only last a few days 😐

Fast forward to 2018

I was completely fed up. I couldn't find a single product that always worked with every slug or snail. 

So, we took matters into our own hands.

Together with a design company, we developed a barrier that no slug or snail would dare to cross. We started in the winter, tested the prototypes, made some adjustments, and finally made something that works. 
After some adjustments and lots of testing, it works great. For the first time, I'm harvesting full heads of lettuce. Even the basil is happy.
Mijn testbak met schrikdraad tegen slakken
My test garden box with the electric snail fence
Unfortunately, it's all sold out. 

We spent a long time designing a new version - one that doesn't rust and is easy to assemble. This turned out to be far more complicated and expensive - than we expected.

At the moment we are working on a new solution that does not require batteries. 
Verschillende fases van het ontwerpproces
Before you say: "Oh, those poor snails", you should know we have a really big yard full of other tasty snacks. The snails can do their thing anywhere else, just not in my garden boxes. And, since snails and slugs have fewer and fewer natural enemies, the ecosystem is getting pretty messed up. Nature could do with fewer slugs and snails over here.

You can read more about it here.

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