Archive for January, 2009

Tip of the Week: A Slugfest Smackdown!

banana_slugs*WARNING* Gross pictures of slimy slugs are included. Not recommended for the squeamish.

Just so you know, I am not a violent person. I’m all about live and let live–except when it comes to slugs.

Before I jump into my sure-fire organic controls for slugs, a quick qualifier: My gardening experience is limited mostly to the Midwest zones 4-5. Although I woke up one morning to find a banana slug the size of, well, a frickin’ banana! sliming its way up the side of my tent while camping in Northern California, my gardening experience with slugs is limited to the smaller, snot-colored varieties–like the ones that destroyed three entire plantings of marigolds in my garden patch one spring.

Slugs thrive in cool, moist environments and love feasting on stuff like lettuce, ripe strawberries and marigolds. I had actually never had a problem with slugs until that fateful spring two seasons ago.

I planted marigolds and mulched my tomatoes two weeks earlier than I normally do (mid-May, instead of waiting until after Memorial Day weekend). And I wound up paying the price in marigolds.

But I learned two valuable lessons that year, as well: (1) Wait until the soil has warmed up sufficiently before mulching and (2) don’t plant the 8-pack flats of marigolds before Memorial Day; they don’t stand a chance against those voraciously slimy eaters.

I tried the following traditional organic methods for slug abatement:


  • Beer traps. I used wide-mouthed jar lids to set the traps and was careful to make sure the lips were at least 1/3 inch above ground so that once the slimy creatures joined the  beer fest, they couldn’t get back out. I don’t drink, so I didn’t want to waste money on some fancy beer; if I remember correctly a 40 oz bottle of Old Style was the cheapest I could find without springing for an entire 6-pack. I’ve read you can also mix water, sugar and yeast for the same slug-slurping effect. Haven’t tried it, myself. The beer was good bait. The traps caught quite a few slugs–but did not prevent them from continuing to eat my poor marigolds!
  • Copper. I read in one of my organic gardening books that placing bands of copper around the base of young plants would act as a deterrent for slugs. So I went to Home Depot and found a small roll of copper something or other that was about a ½ inch wide. For the life of me I cannot remember what it’s supposed to be used for; I think I found it in the plumbing section. I diligently placed little copper collars around the young broccoli and cabbage plants–and around my second planting of marigolds. Broccoli and cabbage did fine; the marigolds continued to get devoured.

Slug Magic Did the Trick
At my wit’s end–and on my third planting of marigolds, which I plant every year as a companion to tomatoes because they repel tomato hornworms (those hard-to-spot giant green caterpillars that feast on the underside of tomato plant leaves) and aphids–on the advice of an organic gardening friend, I bought a bottle of Slug Magic pellets. Ya’ just sprinkle them around the base of the plants, the slugs ingest them, and over the course of 3-6 days puff up and die. Works like a charm. The pellets are considered organic because they are a biological control, do not harm other beneficial bugs or animals, and are biodegradable.

An Ounce of Prevention…
I still swear by waiting until the soil has warmed up before mulching and not planting too early. When I do that, I have no problem with slugs. But if you must, iron phosphate, the slug-destroying ingredient in Slug Magic, is a sure-fire winner; and it truly does work like magic! Amazon carries it if you want to order online. Otherwise, you can find it at most gardening centers that carry organic products.

NEXT WEEK: Tip of the Week
For the Love of Strawberries
Simple Solutions for Boosting Size and Yield!

New Use for 4 mil Black Plastic

Because I used to live in a zone 5 climate (now I’m in zone 4), I use black plastic to warm up my tomato and pepper beds in the spring. I keep a couple of sheets of 4-mm-thick black plastic in the Tool Shed (aka my car).

After amending the soil, I anchor the plastic with bricks, or whatever else is lying around, on top of the beds where I’ll transplant my heat-loving plants and let it sit there for a couple of weeks. We all know black absorbs the sun, so it helps to accelerate the sun’s warming effects AND smothers pesky weed seeds before they have much of a chance to take off.

4 mil black plastic is incredibly versatile!

4 mil black plastic is incredibly versatile!

I know 4 mil black plastic has a variety of other uses as well, such as makeshift rain poncho, wood chip carrier, ground cover for a picnic blanket, and most recently–a shower curtain!

I was 3 days at my new place in freezing cold Wisconsin and hadn’t yet ventured out to find a Target to stock up on the typical new home stuff: wastebaskets, shower caddy, shower curtain, you know, the usual stuff. I was dying for a shower but didn’t want water to spray all over, never even considered a bath (I’m just not much of a bath person) … what to do, what to do. Then it dawned on me that I still had some black plastic folded up neatly in the hatchback of my car! I draped it over the shower curtain rod and clipped it in place with a couple of binder clips at either end, rinsed last year’s dirt off of it, and it worked just fine! Best shower I’d had in a long time, as a matter of fact.

Rich Schefren, one of my small-business coaches, liked to remind us that entrepreneurs who were resourceful were often more successful than those who just looked for resources. I doubt he had 4 mil black plastic in mind when he said that.

My New Home in Wisconsin

See? It's not so bad.

See? It's not so bad.

First blog post from my new home in beautiful, freezing cold Wisconsin.

I saw the constellation Orion for the first time in I don’t know how long the other night. While walking Mickey down the middle of a quiet, snow-covered street, our breath puffing out like steam engines in the brilliantly crisp, sub-zero temperature air, I looked up at the sky—and saw stars! Orion stood low in the southern sky like he always does this time of year, arm pulled back taught on his bow, his belt hanging at a jaunty angle. I felt like a little kid who couldn’t wait to run home and tell mom about this amazing discovery. Instead, I smiled, yelled at Mickey to get out of the neighbor’s garbage, and hurried to get back to the house before my face fell off. Note to self: Find scarf—and get long underwear. B-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

Riley's hidey hole. Can you see him peeking out?

Riley's hidey hole. Can you see him peeking out?

Shabby, But Habitable
Our new home is shabby, but habitable. The lights, heat, and plumbing all work, and I get to park my car 10 feet from the back door (which made unloading it a breeze). The refrigerator is old, dirty, and not level, a couple of baseboards are missing from under the mostly crooked kitchen cabinets, and there’s a wide open space between the dishwasher (don’t ask about the dishwasher—it’s definitely a job for duct tape) and a wall that looks like a small set of drawers should reside. My cat Riley immediately claimed the space behind the dishwasher as his new hidey hole.

Although the neighborhood is crisp and clean and everybody had snow-blown or shoveled their sidewalks (except for my house), once inside I felt like I’d landed in the low-rent district of a college town. How a drunken college kid managed to punch a hole in the wall just outside the bathroom at knee level I will never know.

Almost Would Have Settled for a Shack
Nevertheless, when we first pulled in Saturday night after a harrowing drive through an ice storm, I was so happy to be ANYWHERE at that point I would have been grateful for a hovel with an outhouse. Although my little two-bedroom house is several notches above a hovel, it’s a long shot from anyone’s idea of a dream home. The former tenant, who is selling me her washer & dryer for $50, made a valiant effort to clean the place and make it look presentable.

Considering that I rented this place sight unseen from a Craigslist ad, I suppose it could’ve been a lot worse. It will do for now as I get my bearings in this new foreign land of ice fishing and snowmobiles.

What Flower Are You?

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January 2009
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