Monday, June 29, 2009

The eternal dance

For the eleven years I've been gardening, I've never had a slug problem. For the same period, I never mulched.

This year, I finally decided to listen to the experts and mulch my vegetable garden. I used the scraggly hay left over from last year's haybale garden, laying it atop the lasagna garden last fall to let it start rotting in as the new top lasagna layer. At this spring's planting time, I merely scuffed it out of the way and tucked it back as needed.

Little did I know I was creating Slug Heaven! It took me weeks to recognize this, since the dastardly slimeballs only come out at night. I kept waking up to holey lettuce and bean leaves, and stripped marigolds -- too early for most of the leaf-chomping insects I'm aware of, and not the right damage for quadrupeds.

It remained a discouraging head-scratcher until a friend mentioned she's having a horrible time this year with slugs. Upon her advice, I laid out a saucer of beer overnight to lure them to destruction. All that happened was some nocturnal animal lapped up the treat. I switched to her exact technique -- catfood cans set into the soil so the beer was at ground level -- and again netted no slugs, only one empty tin and the other one, concealed from above by moth netting over my broccoli, disturbed in the soil (apparently a raccoon had reached through a split in the netting and tried to grab it).

So much for the beer plan. Prior to it, I had scraped all the hay out of the garden to re-expose the soil. Took somebody else's suggestion and placed collars coated with petroleum jelly around individual plants. This combination slowed things down a bit, but the slugs are still invisibly eating my veggies. I will keep trying other manual and/or nontoxic techniques to tackle this conundrum but suspect, at this point, I've already lost the war.

What steams me is the effect on This Year's Big Experiment. In previous years, the most challenging pest problem has been green worms in the broccoli -- a result, I've learned, of little white butterflies (the cabbage moth, I believe the species is commonly called) laying their eggs on broccoli and related crop leaves over the summer. I read about covering them early with a very light row-cover fabric to block access by the moths.

This created a lovely protective canopy for the slugs, who approach from below. And, as the broccoli grows, the canopy moves upward with them (I didn't buy a wide enough cloth so can't arch over the plants top to bottom, side to side), thereby allowing the moths to fly in from underneath. Yesterday I found 3 of them fluttering inside the netting. So I wrenched it off and released the slug-shredded leaves back to open air.

This morning I got out early enough to catch some slugs in action. Put that to an end with a satisfying squish. A few of the beans look like they might survive the onslaught, but half the broccoli looks awful, while the other half (still under cover) looks only lightly hit. Hopefully there will be some food left over for me at harvest time.

So . . . what's the moral of this story? I'm not sure, but it probably has something to do with balance, as well as environment: There's no sign of slug damage in my EarthBox planters, even though they sit adjacent to the garden, whereas the haybales on the other side have been breached. Birds frolic in the garden all day but apparently don't know where the slugs hide during daylight so they're not picking them off. I will remember all this next year winter when it comes time to design the season's plant layout.

In the meantime, if anyone knows a foolproof, nontoxic way to beat slugs, I'll be happy to hear it!

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardense
First-year blog archives at

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Greetings from Zone 3


This new blog is a continuation of an old one, running since spring 2008 on another site which has since been taken down.

It began life as an addendum to my book, Open Your Heart with Gardens, and was hosted on my publisher's site as part of the publication and marketing process. Since then, it has expanded into a journal, the electronic version of the yard-and-garden diary I once kept on paper. So although the focus remains on gardening, it also embraces the critters that live in or pass through the garden, the climate that affects it, and the trials and tribulations involving all of these components. Hence the blog name: Adventures in Zone 3.

We live at 1200 feet altitude in south-central Vermont where the Green Mountains arise. It is a mishmash of microclimates that present endless challenges to making things grow. On the map, we're Zone 4 or, according to some sources, Zone 5; in reality, we have Zone 3 conditions, in which zealous and stubborn people strive each year to grow food and beauty.

Feel free to make comments or ask questions as this blog grows. I post once every few weeks, depending on what's going on.

To get a sense of what's come before, visit, click on the Blogs header, and use the pulldown window to select "Carolyn Haley."

Thanks, and happy gardening!

--Carolyn Haley