Pests & Problems Part 1

Pests and Problems Part 1 

Slugs & Snails


We start our Pest and Problems pages with slugs and snails. These little critters can cause most damage to a fledgling batch of chilli plants.

Slugs and snails can be a problem at any time. However you are far more likely to lose new growth on young plants and such an attack can decimate  your crop overnight.

There are many ways to deter such pests. We will assume for this page, that like us, you have your chillies in a polytunnel or greenhouse.  

If you grow them inside your house on a windowsill, slugs and snails won't be an issue but you might get greenfly / whitefly problems - a topic we shall come to on a future "projects" page.

There are various ways of deterring slugs and snails which we will discuss below  : 

Please note - We grow our plants naturally - we do not and never will use any type of pesticide.   We are fully aware that it is possible to buy such products but you have to think "what will this do to the taste of my chillies" aswell as any moral issues. Pesticides can often remove the good predators aswell.  The little beasties you want to encourage!
1) Chervil - This is a herb related to Parsley. It is grown for its culinary use as it is more delicate flavour and tastes of aniseed.  However we grow it for its slug repelling properties!   We have a bank of chervil at the ends of the polytunnels.    It does work but only to a limited degree.   

2) Beer Traps - We cannot comment on this because we do not wish to "kill" the slugs/snails.   The idea of a beer trap encourages the slugs and snails towards it, so they eventually drown in the beer.  We have had some success with lemons as an alternative. They are certainly attracted in the same way.  Each morning on a damp spring day, we may find as many as 10-15 slugs in a single lemon half.   

3) Barriers - Sand, salt egg shells, ash, pet hair - All these can be used to form barriers against slugs/snails.  They are all scratchy and sharp and can clog up their mucus gland and therefore prevent them from moving freely.    We do not tend to use barriers as they are unsightly as well as fairly ineffective.   Pea-shingle is a good method though. It looks good and will deter or at least slow down, all but the hardiest of slugs!

4) Soil Condition - Slugs and Snails like heavy, wet soils - especially to lay their eggs, so we recommend growing your chillies in raised beds which improve the natural drainage of the soil.  It is important to rotovate (or dig over by hand) the soil each season which grinds up and turns over and removes spaces and gaps in the soil.

5) Copper Strips - This comes in the form of a copper tape which is metal on one side and sticky on the
 other. This allows you to apply it to your plant areas to form a barrier which slugs will not penetrate. It is also possible to put a band of copper tape around the rim of each pot which deters the little blighters from crawling up the side. 
However we have found that whilst it deters small slugs and snails, the big slugs (which do the most damage), still slither across.  It is possible to create bands of copper, widening the area from which they have to cross and this helps.   One point though.. in time the copper fades rendering the strips inadequate. 

6) Copper fleece - This seems to be a new idea and takes the form of a mat which is made up of strips/flecks of copper material.   It expands on the copper bands idea and is very good. However it is quite expensive especially if you have lots of plants. 

7) Geese - We know a few people who have geese in their polytunnels. This is a fantastic idea providing you do not have your plants on the same level as the geese!  A goose will quite happily eat your young plants aswell as any passing slug.
Frogs love slugs!
8) Natural Predators - Slugs and snails have many natural enemies including birds, frogs, toads, badgers, foxes, hedgehogs, beetles and centipedes, so if you spot one in the polytunnel, this is a good thing. Hedgehogs will mainly eat beetles and caterpillars but they will also eat slugs and snails.

9) Water Barrier - We use water barriers more than any other.   For chillies in pots, we put them on shelving and put each leg of the shelf in a trough of water.  This effectively stops any slugs/snails from climbing up the shelves to reach the chilli plants. 

10) Biological controls -  Nematodes are parasitic eel worms which live in moisture surrounding soil particles, they seek out slugs and enter them under the mantle. Once inside the slug, the nematodes release a bacteria. Infested slugs will stop feeding within five days and go underground to die. The nematodes reproduce inside the slug as it dies and are released back into the soil after the slugs death to infect more slugs.  Nematodes are approved for use in Organic gardening.

We find the best way of controlling slug and snail numbers is to go out with a bucket late at night and first thing in the morning (especially a damp morning) and collect them by hand.  We then take them for a holiday at the bottom of our lower field! 

It is worth checking your pots and plant trays regularly as slugs can often be found hiding on the undersides ready to venture out at night to eat your chillies!
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