Out in the rain taking a few cuttings, I took the opportunity today to scoop up a few snails that were out for a wander. Slugs and snails aren’t a huge problem in the forest garden, certainly compared to the annual patch, but I like to try to keep the numbers down a bit. I don’t usually go out in the rain hunting them: my preferred strategy is ‘I know where you live’. I have ideal homes for snails dotted round the garden: a flat rock or slate resting up against another one with a small gap is perfect. I occasionally make a circuit of these and put the harvest on the bird table, which is set up with a few rocks and a handful of weeds so that it isn’t too uncomfortable for the snails while they wait for the thrushes to come. I don’t honestly know whether the thrushes do come – I’ve never seen it – and perhaps all I do is keep the snails busy for a bit while they climb back down, but it seems to work.
A Buddhist friend once protested that this treatment smacked of ‘extraordinary rendition’, but I had become concerned with the amount of nutrients I was taking out of the allotment by removing bucket-loads of molluscs. This way there is a chance that they get cycled around again within the garden.
It’s also very important to keep up a good population of animals that eat slugs, snails and their eggs in the forest garden, so a pond for frogs, a habitat pile for hedgehogs and rocks and boards about the place for beetles are essential parts of my mollusc-control strategy.
Last year we tried a more full-on approach to the problem and decided that if the allotment was determined to produce snails then it was rude not to try eating them. The biggest and healthiest were selected from the snail homes and fed on leaves for a few days to purge them of any grit or poisonous plants that might have been in their guts. They were dropped into boiling water to kill them as fast as possible: once cooked they were scooped out of the shells and prepared various ways – frittering and in a strong tomato sauce seemed to be the best. It certainly added some useful protein to our almost vegetarian diet, but it was impossible to get around the fact that they tasted rather, well, snaily, so this year the birds are getting them again.
The one time when the slugs and snails can be a pest in the forest garden is when getting new, small plants established and here I thoroughly recommend using slug collars. They really work, even in the rain, they are simple and they last forever.