So, What Are They Actually For?

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We have lived in this house for forty years now and we have always had slugs, but never before in these numbers. They have appeared in a huge variety of black and orange, smooth and scaly, spotted and striped, big and small – and all looking like they have been regurgitated by a gull. Where are they all coming from? Behind us is farm land. It has been fallow for a couple of years, during which time, I suppose it could have become a gastropodal nursery. It is about to have houses built on it. Are the slugs fleeing the scene in numbers which I can only describe as biblical? Well, I’ve looked over the back fence and I can see no evidence of an encroaching slimy tsunami. The carpet of green and leafy weed does not appear to have been ravaged in the same manner as the foliage in our own (formerly) verdant plot. Besides, the builders haven’t arrived yet – is it even possible that slugs have foresight? I am certainly unaware of any eminence they may have in pre-planning circles. I question this perspicacity.

So, if they haven’t migrated here from the soon-to-be building site in anticipation of an imminent eviction, why have they suddenly decided to foregather in such numbers – and why in my garden? Have I, perhaps, introduced a new gastronomic morsel to my garden that is irresistible to the gastropod palate? Have I, perhaps, stumbled upon the slug equivalent of mashed avocado on toast? In short, I think the answer is ‘No’. It is a long-established garden and, save for the pots and baskets, filled almost exclusively with perennials. No new dishes have been added to the menu. There has been no spike in my Michelin rating.

I am certain that climate change is a factor – wet and warm does seem to suit the terrestrial mollusc rather more than it suits its natural predators: the hedgehog and the thrush. Both of these beautiful creatures are increasingly rare visitors to my garden now, and it’s a real shame because boy, could they plump up for winter. I resist the lure of slug pellets, lest they have a second-hand effect upon the slug consumers. In their absence, my efforts at slug control are definitely beginning to flounder.

I was once told to salt slugs, but the effect was so dramatic and so grotesque that I have never been tempted to repeat it. You would need a heart of stone and a cast-iron constitution to tackle the problem in that way. Anyway, the sheer numbers would pose a severe threat to the salt supply for the Highways Department in the winter – not to mention the blood pressure of any hedgehog that might happen to stumble upon the over-seasoned remains. So, a brush and pan is my main means of mass-collection, before bagging and dropping into the bin, from where they can be transported to their new home at the landfill.

I have noticed though, that whilst the slug population has boomed Chez McQueen, the snail population has diminished to a similar degree. Are slugs and snails, perhaps, competing for the same food source and the slugs, unencumbered by heavy household arrangements and therefore more fleet of foot (Foot? I’m not sure, I’ll have to check that out*.) getting there much more quickly than their principal competition? Perhaps I see shadows of our own society. I know that slugs and snails are closely related biologically. What if slugs are, in fact, snails that have not yet managed to get a foot on the housing ladder? That would explain everything. Except that I keep on finding empty snail shells and I keep on leaving them where the slugs foregather and, to my knowledge, not one of them has ever taken up vacant possession. Perhaps, like elsewhere in this world, they have discovered that they’re better off with mum and dad after all…

*Just did. A slug is a gastropod which means ‘stomach foot’. Not sure it’s how I would choose to imbibe my bouillabaisse, but hey, it’s nature…

Gardening – a brief guide (part two – the creepies and the crawlies).


In the twenty first century, many see gardening as a salve to the stresses and pressures of modern life. Unfortunately, like all ointments, it is host to many flies. In part two of our Bank Holiday Gardening guide we take a look at some of the nasty little beasties that seek to inculcate themselves between you and back-garden pleasure…

Ants: occupy a place at the very apex of social living – a single ant has no value to the colony other than that of an (ultimately dispensable) part of one giant entity that functions as a unitary being and always pops up in the middle of your lawn just the day after you’ve mowed it; once a year spewing out a million winged beasties that infiltrate every nook and cranny in your house before dying in your knicker drawer. In my experience ant nests can spread for several kilometres and the vast majority of ants within them are immortal: they cannot be killed by any means known to man or woman, so don’t drive yourself mad, just put up with them, but don’t sit on them. They hunt in packs. Whilst a single ant nip will cause you little in the way of discomfort, a thousand of the little buggers practising synchronised munching on your scrotum may be slightly more uncomfortable. You will not need to make note of where they nest: they considerately leave huge bare patches in the lawn for your guidance.

Caterpillars: will strip your most treasured garden plants and vegetable crops of all greenery within seconds. They are nothing more than a peripatetic bowel with a mouth at one end and an anus at the other and yet… they turn into beautiful butterflies – which of course lay eggs that turn into more caterpillars. It is an inexcusable sin to deliberately kill a butterfly – try it, even the dog will hate you – so you’ve got to try and get them whilst they’re still eggs. They are microscopic and laid in their thousands – so good luck with that. They hatch in their thousands too and even if you were able to remove them all from your treasured brassicas, what would you do with them, short of employing a flock of genetically engineered tits to feed them to their horribly mutated chicks? Remember, each little leaf-shredder is a potential butterfly. It does not do to be caught popping them. Anyway, by the time you have spotted and removed the advance party, it is too late, the battle is already lost – there will be far too many to drop over next door’s fence. My best advice is to fill your garden with plant varieties that they will not eat: plastic should do.

Earwigs: not exactly certain how much of a problem these shiny-shelled, weaponised little fellows are, but thanks to my grandma, they scare the bejaysus out of me. Do they really crawl into your ear whilst you sleep? Can you really only get them out by offering them apple? Just exactly where do they lay their eggs?

Greenfly: these little buggers suck the very life out of your plants. They appear from nowhere and in their millions; they breed with a rapidity that rabbits can only dream of and they’re farmed by ants! A simple spray of washing-up liquid and water will do for them – I’m not sure how. Perhaps it makes the plants slippy. Also, ladybirds eat greenfly. Encourage ladybirds in any way you can (I don’t know – you’ll have to work that one out for yourself). I understand that native ladybirds are themselves being eaten by marauding hordes of foreign ladybirds, but, since I’ve no idea how to tell them apart, there doesn’t appear to be much I can do about it. They will just have to take their chances and wait for Brexit.

Slugs and Snails: ok, if pushed I would have to say that I dislike slugs more than snails if only because snails are at least a little more aesthetically pleasing: they do not, so much, resemble something that has been eaten and subsequently regurgitated by a liverish barn owl. Snail shells are quite pleasing in the rain – until you step on a full one and the sound leaves you also feeling like a liverish barn owl. Like the caterpillar these little eating tubes (both armoured and slimy) have voracious appetites. They will strip anything green as soon as you turn your back on it. Finding ways to combat slugs and snails is the gardener’s number one preoccupation. Some swear by copper strips to keep them at bay; crushed eggshells; salt; barbed wire; watchtowers; tiny, but heavily armed nematodes. The sole of a sturdy gardening boot works particularly well I find. Simply venturing out into the garden on a damp and drizzly evening and collecting them all in a plastic bag can be remarkably rewarding – especially if you have a bonfire going. It is not considered ecologically sound to poison the little buggers with slug pellets, as this will also poison the hedgehogs and birds that feed upon them – although I would question, ‘where were you before I put the pellets down? If you’d been doing your job properly, I wouldn’t have needed the pellets in the first place…’ French people eat snails, although they call them escargot, so that they don’t retch. Snail’s eggs are also considered a delicacy – although you do have to cut the toast ‘soldiers’ very small indeed…

Wasps: not to be confused with bees which, whilst also capable of delivering a healthy sting, are not nearly so vindictive. Bees make honey and pollinate flowers. Wasps get pissed on rotting damsons and sting you repeatedly for the sheer bloody hell of it.

Weeds: The only green things in your garden that are not killed by weedkiller.

Woodlice: piggy beetles we called them when we were children. Tiny little armadillos that pass their time away chomping on rotten wood and trekking across your mushroom carpet the first time you invite the posh in-laws to dinner.