As a newbie gardener, I’ve quickly come to appreciate the destructive potential of slugs in a vegetable patch.
At this time of the year in the southeastern states of the country, most of the brassica family – cauliflower, cabbage, kale and brussel sprouts – are sitting targets for these slimy pests.
Broccoli seems to cope better, but is also vulnerable in their presence.
After spending the winter nurturing cauliflower and brussel sprout seedlings into a lush cornucopia of promise, it’s disheartening to watch them shrivel.
Slugs will destroy your brassica bed if left unchecked.
They attack the brassica leaves at night, so you will never see them in action because they can’t handle exposure to light.
Many gardeners take to spreading metaldehyde pellets to kill them off but this treatment is particularly dangerous to dogs and cats who can die from ingesting the pellets.
This stuff is poison and if it is used regularly, will also contribute to a build up of toxins in your soil.
I say scrap the pellets and go for a cheaper organic solution.
Conniving practitioners of the dark arts of public relations often resort to feeding journalists plenty of beer as an advance strategy to keeping scribes at bay.
Garden slugs can be controlled using a similar strategy.
Slugs love chomping into cauliflower leaves, but they are also incorrigible beer addicts.
The easiest way to keep your cauliflowers and cabbages intact is to transform your brassica bed into a boozy nightclub for the slugs.
A friend put me on to this idea at the end of July and it has saved most members of my brassica patch from an early retirement.
Here’s what to do
1. Make a six centimentre cup by cutting above the base of a plastic soft drink bottle. One cup will protect up to six brassica seedlings that are spaced about a metre apart.
2. If you have planted 20-30 seedlings, place a cup in the ground on each side of the bed because this will ensure that any slugs planning to migrate to patch for a feed will drop into the pub first.
3. Dig a small hole for each cup to sit in and pack soil up to the top edge so that the slugs can slide in for a drink.
4. Fill each cup with beer with four centimetres of beer and spill a little of it around the cup so the flavour circulates in the soil.
5. You might also place one or two cups inside the brassica bed for insurance.
6. The slugs will slide into the cups and drown.
7. Refill the cups as slugs accumulate or after a bout of rain.
Which beer works best?
My beer garden opened for business in early August when things looked pretty grim.
Just about every leaf in the bed was perforated by the winter-long slug picnic.
I started the slugs on Victoria Bitter, which produced an average nightly headcount of about four slugs per cup, but this did not seem to stop the chomping of the brassicas’ leaves.
A few days later I cleaned and replenished the cups with Melbourne Bitter.
Over the next few days the party that started fairly well almost stopped.
My total harvest of slugs was only four for the three days that Melbourne Bitter was on offer.
I decided to go up-market by introducing my target market to a couple of bottles of Corona. The results were pretty much the same as for VB.
A Chinese brew – Tsingtao – kept the party going for a few days without any improvement on the slug yield.
The final trial saw me revert to another Aussie brand – Foster’s Lager. And with that brew, we hit pay dirt.
Foster’s is the killer solution for controlling slugs – in my backyard, at least.
Each cup has been taking up to ten customers a night and, in the second week of September, a cauliflower head emerged on the thriving plant.