vegetable patch management
pest control
DETER - snails
This page gives you some hints on how to deter slugs and snails from eating your vegetables

limit nearby cover
Large slugs and snails generally do not live in your vegetable patch during the day but travel into it from nearby cover to feed each night, returning to their hiding places before the light of day. Shrubs, small trees, rock gardens and long grass against fences make ideal cover for them. So it is a good idea, when first laying out your vegetable patch, to place it where there is limited cover. Pre existing concrete paths or brick walls make ideal borders for vegetable patches as they offer absolutely no cover for large snails and slugs during the day. For more information see Defence against Slugs and Snails in the Vegetable Patch Design section.

be wary of mulching young crops that are sensitive to slug damage
Have you ever planted peas or carrots in a heavily mulched bed, only to find that the emerging sprouts are being mysteriously eaten? While this damage may be caused by large snails it is more likely to be small slugs.

They may be small but slugs have large appetites and, unlike their larger cousins, they don't' have to travel to nearby cover at the end of an evening if there is a heavy mulch on the bed. They simply crawl down into the mulch and wait there in perfect cover and safety until the next evening.

Now don't get me wrong; mulch is a fantastic material that reduces water use and increases the nutrients and organic matter in your soil. Every gardener should regularly mulch their vegetable patch. But in the case of some plants, such as peas and carrots, it may be better to wait until the plants are over the danger period of being attacked by small slugs before adding a lot of mulch to the bed.

wood ash as a barrier
Wood ash is quite alkali, with a very high Ph level. Snails and slugs do not like travelling over it as it irritates their mucus linings. If you sprinkle wood ash around young seedlings or at the edges of seed beds many slugs and snails will be deterred from approaching your young plants. As the ash is easily broken down with water you will have to top it up fairly regularly, especially if it rains heavily.

Wood ash is also useful as a fertiliser. Apparently it contains around 10 percent potash, 1 percent phosphate and trace amounts of micro nutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc.

The main disadvantage of wood ash is that, as it's Ph level is high, it tends to raise the Ph level of your soil. This is Ok if you have naturally acidic soil or add a lot of animal manure (which is acidic) to your garden beds. But I do not recommend adding ash if the your soil is alkali or if you have plants that need acidic soil conditions to thrive. It is however ideal for placing around vegetables that thrive in alkali soils, such as the Brassica family - Cabbage, Cauliflower, Broccoli. In fact wood ash makes a good substitute for lime, so when a gardening book says 'add lime' you can safely substitute wood ash.

Obtaining wood ash is generally not hard. Even if you do not have a wood fire heater yourself there will usually be someone you know who does. Just make sure that the ash is not from burnt treated pine timber, chipboard or wood that has been painted as they can carry poisons such as lead and arsenic. Although wood ash can be put on your garden as is I generally sift it with a garden sieve to remove any large lumps of unburnt charcoal.

flywire mesh to protect sensitive plants
Photo of flywire screen protecting carrot seeds
Flywire mesh screen protecting carrot seeds.
For seeds and seedlings that are very sensitive to attacks from slugs and snails the best way to protect them is to cover them with flywire.

Firstly build a frame to support the flywire. The frame can be whatever size you like. The one I am using is 70 by 100 cm (Apr 30 x 40 "). But the most important thing is the height of the frame as it has to be high enough to allow the seedlings under it to grow to at least 4 cm high (1½") but not too high to shade seedlings near the edges. Allow 1½ cm (½  to ¾ ") of frame for pushing into the soil in order to stop very small slugs slipping under it.

Next stretch flywire mesh tightly over the screen and use a staple gun to tack it down. I prefer fibreglass flywire mesh as the metal mesh will rust when wet. It can also be tacked down with wooden beading (thin strips of wood).

But whatever method you use to secure the mesh the most important thing is to make sure there are no gaps for small slugs to slip through. If you can get hold of some scrap timber making a fly wire garden screen is not expensive as the actual wire is quite cheap. And while it is a bit of work to make the frame it will last you many seasons and will take a lot of the worry out of growing sensitive vegetables. This method is especially useful for starting carrot seeds