sanity savers 8: in the garden:: slugs (and other creatures) vs. humans

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Already this year, a memory lapse allowed a 6-inch slug to hitch a ride inside on our seed-starting greenhouse—fortunately we found him before anything had been planted.  But, for the first time in four years, I feel adequately prepared to do battle with the wildlife intent on wreaking havoc on our garden.  (Some of our previous disasters learning experiences are documented here and here.) 

Nothing drives me crazy like seeing a bright green row of lettuce or a sturdy cucumber seedling mown down by slugs overnight.  Last year, we lost green beans, tomatoes, and many other crops to the deer that frequent the area.  Chipmunks dug up cucumber and squash seeds before they ever germinated—three times.

Here is the arsenal I have lined up to combat the critters that so love our garden:

1.  Nylon netting

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I bought a 40-yard bolt of white nylon netting (72” wide) online from JoAnn’s.  For $40, this is by far the most expensive critter deterrent I’ve invested in, but I can reuse it year after year if I’m diligent in storing it in early summer.  I had a coupon code for free shipping, so I saved on the gas it would have cost me to drive to the city to purchase it in person.

IMG_2907I drape the netting over any raised beds/other areas where I have planted seeds directly into the soil, keeping birds and slugs out, and letting sunshine and rain in.  Leave the netting in place as long as possible to give seedlings the opportunity to become strong plants.  (Overwintered cauliflower in the back, new radish seedlings in front).

Things to consider: The netting tears fairly easily, so be careful if draping over sharp surfaces/corners.  Sometimes slugs and other pests still manage to get in, but this works 99% of the time for me.

2.  Plastic 2-liter soda bottles

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I came up with this idea after reading Made from Scratch, by Jena Woginrich, in which she suggests using plastic soda bottles as mini greenhouses for starting seeds.  After the episode with the chipmunks last year, I made my soda bottles work double time.  After planting larger seeds like cukes or squash, simply push a bottle into the ground over the seed and wait for germination.  In cooler areas these can be left in place until the seedling has gained strength, and for protection from cool nighttime temperatures.

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Things to consider: Make sure the bottles are pushed firmly into the ground so that wind or marauding chipmunk paws can’t push them over.  If, like my family, you don’t buy much soda, ask people to save you bottles and pick them up from the roadside on walks.  Large plastic mayonnaise (or other) jars would also work.  Be sure to remove the bottles during the day if the weather is sunny—you don’t want to fry your plants!

3.  Eggshells

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As I cook and bake throughout the fall and winter, I toss my eggshells into a Ziploc bag in the freezer.  When summer arrives and I have established plants to protect from slugs, I smash the eggshells into tiny bits and sprinkle them in a circle around the base of the plants.

Things to consider: I’ve had varying success with this method.  Save the eggshells for your most vulnerable plants—it takes a lot of eggshells to create a formidable barrier.

4.  Odors of various sorts

Rotten egg recipes—We’ve used a rotten egg mixture for keeping deer away similar to this one with great success.

Cougar urine—(or that of other predatory animals) keeps deer away quite well, too.  (I didn’t even know something like this was available for sale until Cowboy brought some home!)

Herbs—This will be a new one for us this year.  I’m planting seedlings with the specific intent of keeping the deer away (or so I’ve heard).  These include: rosemary, bee balm, lemon balm, and yarrow.

Things to consider: Liquid treatments such as the egg recipe and animal urine lose their potency over time—you have to be diligent in applying these regularly, especially if you live in a rainy area.  Some herbs (like lemon balm) are best planted in pots, as they are highly invasive—check before planting!

5.  Rock row markers

These don’t help keep the pests away, but they do keep me sane.  After seeing Nicola’s idea for marking garden rows last fall, I’ve been waiting all winter to try this one out.  It works wonderfully!

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On a recent trip to the river we collected a nice supply of flat rocks that will name the rows in the garden year after year.  No more wondering what little green things are popping up through the soil because I didn’t take the time to mark them!

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And, next year, they’re already labeled and ready to go!

Things to consider: Make sure it’s o.k. to take the rocks from wherever you’re taking them from!  There’s no shortage of free rocks!

Do you have any tried and true non-toxic ways to protect your garden from invading critters?

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