When the Snails are Big Enough to Eat
A week ago my sister-in-law asked if our boys ever considered cooking and eating the snails in our garden because my 5-year-old niece thought it seemed like a good idea. Since the only snails we have around here are about the size of your pinky-finger’s fingernail, that idea was never on the table (thank goodness), but when I saw the size of the ones they had, I can see why the garlic and butter option came to mind.
Identifying slug and snail problems
Living in this very arid climate, we don’t have a lot of issues with slugs or snails, but a lot of parts of the country do. Although they are not known for rapid movement, their slow deliberate method can make a mess of tender young plants in short order.
You can tell you have slug/snail issues if you see irregularly shaped holes in your young plants, if brand new seedlings are gone overnight, or if seeds don’t germinate at all. They especially like spinach and other greens in the spring, along with those newly planted seedlings. Strawberries are another favorite, which is so disappointing. since they are such a delicious early summer treat that only lasts a brief period of time.
Dealing with slugs and snails
If you live in the perfect climate for snails and slugs, plant your garden in the open with plenty of sunshine since your best bet is to create less-than-ideal conditions for them to visit. Although, I’m the ‘mulch everything’ queen, when you have to deal with these tiny mollusks, having mulch in and around your garden just gives them places to hide. It will have to be your call on whether keeping down weeds or holding in moisture is worth creating good places for snails and slugs to hang out.
You’ll probably never totally get rid of snails or slugs in the garden. Some people set out baited traps that encourage the slugs to crawl inside, but they can’t crawl out. Like catching earwigs, you’ll undoubtedly catch them, but it might not make a dent in the overall population, yet it could be enough to keep them off of certain plants.
Other folks put out bait, such as the less-toxic iron phosphate that is not supposed to be harmful for earthworms and other garden insects (or pets). You have to put out bait in the spring and in the fall, since snails and slugs need to feed heavily before the cold weather arrives. Once again, it won’t eliminate them from your garden, but you can minimize the damage.
Since slugs and snails really aren’t that durable, to protect specific rows or beds, crushed egg shells work to create a physical barrier. The sharp edges hurt their tender bodies. My go-to favorite, diatomaceous earth, also works to create an edge for the slugs or snails. You will have to reapply diatomaceous earth on a regular basis (after every rain or watering, or at least every 4-5 days) to maintain its effectiveness while the egg shells might last longer.
An odd characteristic of slugs and snails is their bodies react with copper giving it a type of shock, which is why some people set out strips of copper, or even copper wire set an inch or two above the ground, to keep them out. The nice thing about this exclusion system is you don’t have to worry about reapplying anything once it’s in place.
I’m sorry if you have to deal with these stealth critters in the garden. They can be slimy and gross, but thankfully, there are effective measures to keep them out of your plants.