The Flocking Snails…

snail of deathO’, let me tell thee of the most loathed creature in all of Gardendom… the snail.

Let not their beguilingly stupid exterior fool you! These insidious creatures know how to hide and only emerge when you are tucked into bed, dreaming of your harvest. Along with its ‘homeless’ cousin, these slimy small  invertebrates flock together and descend upon your tender spring shoots, operating in silence with ninja-like stealth under the cover of dusk and dew.

Not all gardeners are ‘powerless’ against such foes, for some simply go down to the local home store and purchase a large box of Corey’s Snail Death, one of the most effective and long-lasting snail/slug baits on the market today. However, organic gardeners (of which I am one) do not have that simple remedy at their disposal, due to a few of its inherent ingredients.

I have written on the subject garden pests before, but I as of recently I’ve been trying different commercially-available remedies touted to be specially-designed for  or “safe for” organic gardening:

Monterey Sluggo Snail & Slug Control for Organic Gardening was first product we tested so far this year. Reasonably priced on Amazon at $16 for 2.5 lbs, it worked for two nights and then the slugs and snails were back with a vengeance. I ended up using all 2.5 lbs for a 12×22 garden in less than a week in order to stave off the nightly advance. At this rate, I would pay $192 for snail remediation over a single growing season, which is more than I paid for organic fertilizer and mulch, all last year.

Next up, Snail & Slug Bait by Garden Safe, sold by AG Organics. At $14 for 1.5 lbs it was more pricey, but it had a longer lifespan as far as keeping the snails away. The bait size lasted through a week’s worth of watering and seemed to do the trick. The cost, however, is simply too great to keep using every week.

On to the non-commercial “home” snail deterrents, and what happened:

  • Coffee (ground or brewed) – I heard of this remedy for some time and was told it worked best with cheap, canned coffee, brewed and put on–when cooled–just as dusk falls, or after the heat of the day. After a week of using the brewed coffee around the borders of each bed, the paths around each raised bed and dribbled in between each and every plant, it seemed to deter half of the creature in questions, but not all; it had to be re-applied every day for this result.
  • Crushed Eggshells: if you have your own chickens (the price of store-bought eggs is ridiculous here in Nor Cal) or have a neighbor who does, this method is still time-consuming, an eyesore and a bit smelly for its 50% effectiveness rate. Rinsing out the eggshells with a little soap water first seemed to help the scent of decaying albumen, but the half the snails seemed unaffected by the little bits of white and brown bits scattered liberally over the soil. Mixing your eggshells into your compost pile seems like a far better use of that particular resource.
  • Cayenne Pepper: powdered or mixed into water and poured, this method kept away cats, birds and ants, but it still let many a snail through its dark-red borders. Tip: use gloves when applying and don’t touch your face.
  • Diatomaceous earth: For about $7 you can buy a big bag of diatomaceous earth (dead ground coral creatures) at a pool supply store. 100 times smaller than crushed eggshells, these tiny powdery bits cover 90% of your soil, making for a treacherous path for any snail that dares to slime across it, not matter the hour nor weather condition. Must be re-applied every few days around (not on) the plants, usually in a 4″ wide strip/border.
  • Planting onions or garlic nearby/among snail-attracting plants: does not work on snails or slugs. They ate the young onions as they emerged, leaving behind a thank-you note in delicate slime, just to top off the insult.
  • Bowl O’ Beer: My father-in-law, a USMC Combat Veteran, told me about this nifty trick, and it is one of the most effective non-pesticide tricks an organic gardener would want. Combined with diatomaceous earth, this gets almost every single snail & slug. Each evening, put out a bowl or two filled with cheap beer–at least 3″ deep–in a shallow bowl in central location in your garden, or near problem areas (basil beds, squash plants or lettuce patches) and leave it out every other night. Snails are, apparently, hard-core alcoholics and simply cannot resist a free toasting session. Once in the beer, their slimy traction is negated and they cannot get back out. In the morning you will have drowned snails (or birds feasting upon said snails) to do a victory dance around and fling into the compost pile. Yes, you must sacrifice a can of cheap beer every other night, but a 12-pack will last a month. Cost: approx. $27 for an entire growing season.

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L. R. Styles is an author for Belator Books

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