24: Autumn 2009

Author: Alex Pankhurst

Hodmedods and Friends

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Hodmedods and FriendsAlex Pankhurst

This summer, as last year, I’ve been waging war on slugs and what in Essex dialect are known as hodmedods -snails. And on 13th May I began keeping a record of the number destroyed. This is being written on 20th November, so in the intervening time how many slugs and snails do you think have gone from my medium-sized garden to that great lettuce leaf in the sky? About five hundred? A thousand? Perhaps as many as three thousand? Wrong on all counts. The total in six months and one week is a staggering nine thousand, five hundred and twenty-three.

A recent article mentioned that slugs and snails each lay about five hundred eggs a year. Let’s assume for simplicity that just one hundred of those eggs survive to adulthood. That would mean that, without the cull, next year another nine hundred and fifty-two thousand slugs and snails would have been chewing their way through my precious plants. Nearly a million. And then when those in turn lay eggs… I won’t use slug pellets. Not since two baby hedgehogs were inadvertently killed some years ago. The manufacturers may say that their pellets are harmless to wildlife if put under a cover, but this ignores the fact that the diners start to slither away after consuming them, and are then eaten by thrushes and hedgehogs, poison and all. So the garden has a resident hedgehog, and lots of frogs -we meet while I’m out at night on the hunt. Why aren’t they doing a better job at keeping the gastropods down, along with the odd thrush that still survives the neighbours’ slug pellets? Organic aficionados maintain a garden finds its own balance, that an increase in food will attract more predators. In this garden this is only true if I, with my stout boots and sharp knife, am regarded as part of Nature.

Actually it’s likely that those passing the property in the early morning have a more lurid description. A wall abuts the pavement, and is a haven for our slimy friends who, as dawn breaks, are hastening back to their cracks and crannies, thus on damp mornings the pavement is thick with small black slugs. Dressed in boots and a decrepit old anorak, I go out with murderous intent. The early commuters driving past are treated to the sight of a scruffy old bat bending down and apparently striking repeatedly at the pavement with a kitchen knife.

Despite this season’s carnage, something tasty only has to be planted out to be eaten to the ground. All the purple sprouting broccoli grown from seed have, in the past few weeks, been comprehensively demolished. This week some copper rings in assorted sizes arrived in the post (from, and I’ve put them round replacement seedlings. Slugs and snails are supposed to hate crawling over copper, gives them an electric shock or something.

I’ll let you know how things go on.

First published in the Essex Group Newsletter, January 2008
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 24
© Copyright for this article: Alex Pankhurst

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2009. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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