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Help and advice

Positive beginnings made way for a sluggish end.

By Carole Hogarth

My allotment is on a parish council-run allotment site in the small village where I live, my husband has the plot next to mine and we spend most of our spare time gardening.

It is an old pit village with a long history of mining and quarrying and much of the land around us is now nature reserve with an SSI within a hundred yards of our garden. We are constantly invaded by slugs and snails which is understandable with a nature reserve on three sides. We’ve tried to stick to nontoxic remedies but occasionally resort to pellets in the greenhouse. We have edged the plot in wood chippings and that hopefully deters a few. I have a collection of beer containers strategically placed but if the weather is wet that seems to be less effective. Mostly I carry out a slug patrol evening and morning in the growing season and dispose of the blighters.

Having applied to take part in the Nematode Challenge I was delighted to be chosen and I awaited eagerly for the first batch. Unfortunately, the package arrived in the middle of a cold dry spell which meant quite a wait. Finally, after much temperature taking, we applied the solution on May 5. We are at quite a high elevation in the North East so soil temperatures take a bit of time to start warming up; the use by date on the nematodes was worryingly close when the east wind finally abated and the soil got warm enough to get on with it.

Along with the cold, we've experienced a very dry winter, so we had to water for the first couple of days, worried that this might reduce the soil temperature too much. But all was well. As I said, my husband, Michael, has the adjacent plot and the solution was sufficient to treat mine and most of his, which is a bonus. It would be terrible to fall out because of his slugs invading my plot! After the first couple of days we got much needed rain to help the blighters settle in and get to work. After a couple of weeks and at the end of a rainy day I went on my usual patrol. Neighbouring plots had slugs around them but I only found four slugs heading for the strawberries and two snails in the rhubarb patch which is highly unusual.

We applied the second treatment of nematodes on June 6 during storm Manuel. We thought it was a good time since it was raining for two days. We must have seemed a bit odd to anyone passing, watering in the rain! Over the following weekend I found numerous slugs which seemed in very poor fettle so I assumed the nematodes were doing their work. All looked good so far. By early July we were well into production and harvesting broccoli, cauli, carrots, beetroot, shallots, onions, swede and of course new potatoes.

Overall, we thought we had a definite reduction in slug damage on previous years. We were very impressed with the results. When the next supply arrived it was again very dry so we again had to hold off for a dry spell. The following month, however, we were sorry to say things were not looking too good on the slug front.

We put the nematodes on as previously during a fairly wet spell which was followed by the heat wave during which we watered. When we mixed the nematodes we noted that it seemed more difficult to mix and that, no matter how much we agitated, there remained a whitish substance floating on the top. Over the next few days of wet weather, we were swamped with slugs, although not so many snails. Michael collected almost 30 off the potato patch, and I found a number in the red cabbages. But the worst was when we removed a row of peas which had finished. We found dozens of them. We weren’t sure if there was a fault with the supply or it was just that we were getting too many new slugs coming in from the nature reserve overnight. We were really sorry and wanted to be positive, but it was disheartening. On the other hand, everyone was saying it was the worst year for slugs and the infestation may have been a whole lot worse without the nematodes! 

We continued to monitor and compare our slug problems with previous years and with other plot holders experience of this year. We continued to be troubled by some slugs for the remainder of the summer, but as time went on, we noticed that we have had no more snail problems and no evidence of any of the larger species of slugs. However, we are continuing to have trouble with the small black and grey species which has caused some damage to overwintering greens and a lot of damage to our late carrots.

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