Sandy’s Garden ... An unwelcome guest

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

About to retire for the night recently, I went into the utility room at the back of our home to check the sliding door was locked.

My eye was caught by a something on the inside cill … and I was taught that the lower horizontal member of a window or door frame is, properly, the ‘cill’, spelled with a ‘c’ … something that looked like a skinny slug. And that’s exactly what it was – a skinny slug which had insinuated itself through the door’s sliding mechanism, a difficult job, given that not even an identifiable draught can get through when there’s a gale blowing.

I have to tell you that this slug’s heroic attempt to enter my home to seek refuge from its enemies in the garden was always doomed to fail. I am the devil incarnate when compared with the slug’s enemies in the garden and rewarded its audacity with instant execution. But the incident did serve to remind me that, to quote from the relevant website, “A landmark research project, designed to help gardeners more effectively combat the threat from slugs and snails, has been launched by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).”

“The year-long research project, the first of its kind to be conducted under garden conditions, is being run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and BASF, the only UK manufacturer of nematodes (which biologically control slugs and snails), to help scientists address gaps in their understanding of how best to tackle these common garden pests.”

As is very common knowledge, gardeners have waged war on slugs since time immemorial. Beer traps, grapefruit skins, milk cartons, mulches, slippery pots, nematodes, slug pellets and grit are just some of the tools gardeners have pressed into service in this age-long battle. Every method has its advocates; and every method has its limitations. So it is a welcome development to learn that there is to be a scientific study into the most effective way … or ways … of dealing with this all-too-common garden pest.

The study proposes to test the efficacy of five control methods - and the project’s managers refer to ‘control methods’ and not to ‘ways of eliminating slugs.’ The value of using a dry mulch will be tested, as will the use of a mulch combined with metaldehyde (chemical) pellets; with ferric phosphate (organic) pellets; with nematodes … bugs which eat slugs … in a reactive strategy after slug damage has been seen; and mulch combined with nematodes in a preventative strategy. And, as is usual in scientific experiments, there will be a do-nothing option to check that any of the control methods actually achieve useful results.

Nematodes merit a few words more. These are the most numerous multicellular animals on earth. A handful of soil will contain thousands of these microscopic worms, many of them parasites of insects, plants or animals. And, of course, it is the presence of nematodes in any non-sterile soil which requires this study to check that these natural enemies of the slugs actually do need some help to carry out their work, although I do not know any gardener who seriously believes that the do-nothing strategy is effective. Nor, for that matter, do I think that the scientists who are carrying out these tests believe this: but they must check.

RHS scientist Dr Hayley Jones, who is leading the research said: “This could mean that in years to come slugs and snails will drop down the table of gardeners’ most troublesome pests.” Amen to that, say I, along with millions of others!