In 2011, when Joe and I moved into an empty field and attempted to start growing vegetables, little did I know what I was in for. I’d helped friends out in the garden before, but it was my first time growing on my own.
City-born, university educated and armed with a library of Permaculture literature I naively worked on some raised beds. The ground was stoney- but I was encouraged to identify a thin layer of top soil below the grass. Weeks later we planted it up with some seedlings which we’d carefully nurtured in pots. I diligently researched the nutrient, space and light requirements of each plant and placed them accordingly, beans to the north-side of brassicas so they wouldn’t block out the sun. I couldn’t wait to eat home grown pak choi.
When the hard work was done I sat back to relax. And shortly after noticed a dark, slimy fella climbing up a lingering blade of grass, heading onto the wooden side of my raised bed. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you but his form resembled something similar to what one might deposit in a compost toilet after a dodgy curry. Behold our first garden slug, preparing to munch on my vegetables.
One of my neighbours reckoned he’d learnt to love their shiney elegance, the way they sailed effortlessly across the terrain. I thought he was mad.
In 2011 they were everywhere; on our plants, on our trees, on our washing up, in our dinner, in our shoes, suspended above my face in the tipi when I woke up in the morning. We talked about little else (well that and planning control) and decided to wage war on them (the slugs that is).
So we chopped them, trapped them in beer (all to good for the slimy fiends in my opinion), stayed up late collecting them in buckets of salt water, poisoned them with ‘organic poison’?!?, prevented them with cloches, egg shells, copper wire, sheeps wool… the list goes on. But at the end of it all, after only two weeks as an organic grower, I knelt down exhausted, in tears next to my -now empty- raised beds.
I gazed at the hedgerow of mature trees through my tear eyes, hoping that they might have a word or two of advice for my situation- I’ve always looked to trees for wisdom. But they uttered not a word- probably due to their lack of mouth, vocal chords etc..
“C’mon nature, teach me, what should I do? This shit ain’t working, the slugs have eaten all my food” I thought.
In Permaculture the solution lies in the problem. So logically; the slugs ate my food, I was hungry, so I should eat them right?
Wrong? They taste terrible. I’d tried one by accident once.
Ducks eat slugs and lay eggs… maybe they could help?
Over the years the answer to the slug quandry has come clear.
The slugs are, in fact, natures work. And in turn they are working for nature. They had a major role to play in our land’s transition from ‘horse field’ to polyculture. They are important, they are valuable.
The personal vendetta which I had named ‘project slug-ageddon’, was not going to change the direction of nature.
So what were they up to? What is their function?
Slugs create soil. They are primary decomposers of plant matter, they create organic matter. They attract birds, which bring new seeds and their on homemade fertiliser. Slugs are nature working at her finest; reconstructing depleted soil, preparing the way for regeneration.
They are also ruthless teachers of gardeners. They pick off weak plants first. They force you to harden off your seedlings before planting out, to plant them out at the peak of their health, to care for the roots of seedlings when putting them in the soil, to water them in, to pay attention to details. When I, the gardener, get it right- they leave me some food.
So next time you see a slug munching through your favourite lettuce plant.
Look ‘im straight in the eye.
And just say OM.
Organic Matter, Organic Matter, Organic Matter.