Many people worry about using potentially toxic chemicals in their garden and want to move towards gardening organically. One of their key concerns is how to control pests and diseases - and slugs are one of the main pests for gardeners everywhere. There are many ways to control slug populations without resorting to pesticides.
- Aim for balance. An organic gardener aims for a balanced ecosystem. Pests aren't destroyed at the first sign of plant damage - small populations are allowed to become a food source for their natural predators. If the ecosystem is working properly, the predators should soon get the pest population under control and damage will be limited.
- Build habitats. Make your garden wildlife friendly, by allowing small areas to get weedy or by leaving a log pile to decompose. When a suitable habitat is available, beneficial animals will soon move in and help you with all your pest problems. Particularly relevant for slug control are frogs (which like damp, shady patches) and hedgehogs. Hedgehogs need a chemical-free food supply and suitable nesting areas to thrive. If you have one in your garden, feed them cat or dog food and not milk and bread - it makes them ill.
- Invest in copper. Slugs and snails don't like crossing copper barriers - they get shocks. You could edge a raised bed with copper piping, or use copper rings to protect individual plants. Sticky copper tape and woven copper mats are available to protect container plants. You can also use copper garden tools, which are reported to discourage slugs and snails.
- Put up a barrier. Many materials will provide a barrier that slugs can't cross - most are either gritty or absorb moisture. Glass or plastic cloches (make your own from plastic bottles!) protect seedlings from slugs and snails and extremes of weather. Rings of grit, crushed eggshells, soot or sand may encourage slugs to feed elsewhere. If you have plants on a table then try standing the table legs in water, which will prevent even the most acrobatic slugs and snails from climbing up.
- Set traps. Slugs naturally congregate under stones and in damp, shady patches near their food source. At dusk and dawn you can go out and find their hiding places and dispose of the pests before they do any more damage. But if you set traps, then you will always know where to find them. The usual method is to use a yoghurt pot or similar container, sunk into the soil and filled with beer. Leave the rim slightly above the soil surface so that other insects don't accidentally fall in - the slugs will happily clamber into the pot. If you don't have beer (or don't want to waste it!) then you can also use milk or bran.
- Hire an army. You can buy biological controls for many pest problems. These aren't chemicals - they're living organisms that prey on particular pests. All you do is apply the right one at the right time and place and they keep the pest problem under control for you.
In an organic garden, complete eradication of pests is never the goal - they are the food source for beneficial insects and animals that will help to keep pest populations under control for you. In an ideal world, you won't then have to intervene - but when the pests get out of control, then a little non-toxic help from you can help the predators gain the upper hand again.