Posted: Friday 27 July 2012
by Kate Bradbury

In a normal year, I like snails. They don't trouble me as much as they seem to trouble other gardeners and I don't grow hostas.

Garden snail, Helix aspersa

In a normal year, I like snails. They don't trouble me as much as they seem to trouble other gardeners and I don't grow hostas. I'm happy living with the odd chewed leaf. But this year I've reached breaking point. There are too many snails and I'm taking action.

First there was the mangled dahlia. Then I accidentally left a tray of cosmos seedlings out to harden off, overnight (they were all gone by morning). But it's the lack of runner beans that's getting to me the most. It’s late July and I’ve not got a single bean plant.

It’s not through lack of trying – I weeded, I hoed. I even made a trench. And yet I’ve emptied two seed packets. Of beans.

Surely runner beans are the easiest vegetable to grow? They certainly have been in the past. Every June I pop a few seeds in the ground and don’t give them much thought until harvest time. (I water them, of course.)

But not this year. The rain and lack of sunshine in early summer kept the soil cold, so germination was slow. And then the snails came. At first, only a couple of plants were affected, having just a few chewed leaves. “They’ll pull through”, I thought. Then the snails employed a different technique – they ate the plants from the top down, leaving yellowing stumps at the base of my lovely new obelisk.

I sowed more seeds. Some I pre-soaked, to aid germination; others I raised indoors. All of them ended up in the stomachs of snails.

Birds, bees and butterflies are having a hard time after this summer's wet weather, but slugs and snails are thriving. According to one report, sales of slug pellets are booming, and there’s a national shortage of nematodes.

Slugs aren’t a problem in my garden, the frogs seem to be keeping them down. But snails have free rein. This morning I found a nursery of snail babies: my orange tree. Nearly every leaf had a little baby on it.

I’m not a slug pellets kind of a gardener. And I won’t be killing the snails, even though they have ruined this year’s dreams of eating bowls and bowls of buttery runner beans. I don't even want to rid my garden of snails, I'd just like to have fewer of them, at least for a while.

So, this weekend, my snails will be going on vacation. I’ll gather them up and take them to the park, about half a mile away (it’s thought that snails have a homing instinct, but won’t return if you take them more than 10 metres away). There’s a nice wildlife area in the park, with plenty of log and leaf piles for them to live in. But there are no dahlias, no cosmos, and no runner beans. The snails have had their banquet, it’s time for me to have mine.

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donutsmrs 27/07/2012 at 18:42

I know how you feel Kate, I too have had a battle with them. Unlike you, I do have some runner beans growing, though I did think at the start I wouldn't have any left. I must admit that I did put a few pellets down at the start but now I am using broken egg shells and it does seem to keep them off my French Beans and my lettuce are doing fine as well.

Charlotteg 27/07/2012 at 20:04

Today I bought runner beans from a roadside stall. The first I have bought for 40 years. I have one sad surviving (just)runner bean plant out of my ususl 40. I will not use any pellets as I have a garden full of baby birds. I pick them up most nights. Spinach and leeks are doing well but they have had the squashs and pumpkins.

sculinky 27/07/2012 at 22:18

I have lots of snails and slugs but instead of inhumanely getting rid of them I've decided to plant the garden with things the little critters will leave alone, I don't mind losing the occasional plant here and there as I enjoy having all sorts of wildlife and don't want to change the garden environment too much. I am a little bit disappointed about the lupins I put in for the first time this year but it's all part of the fun!

chainsawsal 28/07/2012 at 14:51

I have so much feeling for your 'plight'. This has been a bumper year for slugs and snails. Somebody told me that they would disappear when the sun shone. Can somebody please tell me when that's going to happen in West Central Scotland. I have one single sweetpea and three nasturiams in the kitchen garden. We are all desperate for some heat and sunshine.

ChapelGirl2 29/07/2012 at 22:40

Indeed, even here in the Savoie we have had a bumper year for snails and slugs.  Unfortunately Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has proven beyond reasonable doubt that it is not possible to render even the largest slugs edible.

Egg shells, coffee grounds, wood ash. They fart in their general direction, in my experience.

I have used the so-called "bio" pellets.  I'm not 100% happy, but if you take into account the cost of bags of compost, plant trays, seed, water, and the man-hours in nuturing the seedlings, then it (almost) compensates for the not completely boi-neutral nature of the product, in my view.  Ok, so I sold out.  It's my garden and i'll cry if I want to.


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