Friday 22 July 2016

Do slugs drink beer?

I'm not a big beer drinker, I usually prefer a glass of red wine. However, last weekend I partook of a can of John Smith's - but didn't finish it.

While inspecting the sorry butternut squash plants with munched leaves and buds I remembered someone telling me about using a dish of beer to catch slugs. Waste-not-want-not as they say - so I Googled "slug beer traps" and came up with a few suggestions. I found one website Garden Myths run by Robert Pavlis, who lives in southern Ontario. He's been gardening for many years and dedicates his website to exploring the validity of various gardening myths. In the case of SLUGS he set up various beer traps and videoed the night-time goings on. (Take a look - it's a hoot!). Bottom line - slugs like beer, take a sip and carry on with their nightly munching, occasionally one has a sip too many and falls in and dies happy. But as a serious strategy for getting rid of slugs beer is a failure. Robert recommends enjoying your beer yourself (perhaps to drown your sorrows over the depredations of your precious plants by garden pests).

Two other myths he investigated which caught my eye:
My Mum used to cut off leaves of the tomatoes on the basis that they take the goodness from the fruit. And I've read accounts of tomato growers who cut ALL the leaves off once the fruit has set. My feeling is that leaves are where the plant generates it's energy - using photosynthesis - and removing them just reduces the amount of sugar available to the fruit. Only reason for cutting off leaves is so you can actually see the fruit to harvest them. (My 9 tomato plants are a small jungle!).

Alicante tomatoes in the greenhouse
As for weed barriers - well we've tried them and they fail in similar ways to what Robert found. Weed seeds blow in and settle on the top and get established quickly, couch grass, bindweed and ground elder just run underneath and come up several feet further along. Same applies, only worse, to gravel paths and beds.

I think a lot of perceived wisdom (or myths) about gardening are perpetuated by people just following what other people say, what there hear on the TV or read in books. Those experts don't know your garden and your environment. And a lot of them are professionals. Creating an instant garden at Chelsea or landscaping for a newly built house is different from managing a productive garden yourself year in year out. Also some of the rules that farmers or commercial growers use are bound to be different. For example, cutting raspberries right down each year - it makes it easier to harvest so they don't mind losing the early crop, which this year has been amazing for us. One of the delights of gardening is working with your own patch and finding your own balance. 

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