I walked out the other day to find this:
Endives seedlings munched to bare soil, despite being carefully tucked up in a pot with copper tape around the edge. I chose endives, rather than lettuce, because I thought it would be tougher and less attractive to molluscs. Not so. I spent the rest of the morning feeling frustrated and helpless, as no matter how hard I try to find edible plants that can survive slug damage, no matter how many precautions I take to try and protect plants, this still happens. My dream of lime green livening up the winter garden started to dissolve. I’m a rubbish gardener, I thought.
But. I’m stubborn. I have set out to garden without (knowingly) killing any wildlife, and whilst still providing food for our table. And I will do it. But I need to learn how to manage these feelings of sorrow and frustration when things like this happen. So here are three strategies I use to feel better when the critters crunch my lunch.
- Learn about your enemy – they might turn out to be a friend. The organic gardener and writer John Walker writes of molluscs: “These amazing, tenacious creatures are part of the dynamic,interconnected ecosystem of my garden. They beguile me, challenge me and teach me plenty …” They are detritus recyclers, clearing up debris and improving the soil, as nature writer Marlene Condon explains: “As snails and slugs become active, they will be delighted to find their favorite food (decaying plant and animal matter) waiting for them to feed upon. When these unusual organisms are provided with such a fine smorgasbord, they don’t bother your growing plants. Instead, they help to fertilize them—which is exactly what their function in your garden is supposed to be.” They are also lunch for other garden wildlife, including frogs, thrushes, blackbirds and hedgehogs.
- Look at what is working. Earlier this year, I dropped seedheads of lambs lettuce and land cress directly onto one of the beds. From experience, these don’t tend to get eaten. Low effort, low maintenance, and great contrasts of colours and flavours for winter salads. These are now coming up and so far, only tiny signs of munching:
- See the bigger picture – is there enough left over for you to enjoy? And the answer, of course, is yes – plenty! Whilst the endives are munched, I still managed to harvest all this for our salad: And the garden is not exactly full of gaps:
So in the meantime, I’ve put the endives up on a table with its legs in water, and will let the remaining plants grow on. When they are bigger and tougher, I will see how they fare in the ground. If they don’t survive, then they aren’t the right choice of plant. There are many others that are, and probably several more that I haven’t yet discovered. But meanwhile, I feel a bit better. Perhaps I’m not a rubbish gardener after all.