Gardening: A murder mystery in your own back yard

There are many ways of rounding up the slugs in your garden. But getting rid of the damn things is another matter entirely.
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SLUGS AND snails have evidently been much in readers' minds since Professor Kay wrote about his nightly slug and snail hunts (The Independent 24 April). But how do you get rid of the things once you have caught them, I wondered?

Anna Ganuza, of Darwen, in Lancashire, draws a distinct line between slugs and snails. "I am sort of endeared to the snail," she writes "remembering how, as a child, I used to let them ride along my arm.

On one occasion, I observed at close quarters one particular snail munch three quarters of a dandelion I had offered it, revealing the minutest row of translucent gums. There is no comparison between the texture of a snail and a slug.

As anyone who has picked up a slug will know, the tacky residue left is stubbornly difficult to remove, even by washing. My mother, who is Spanish, used to collect snails from the garden to cook. I can't imagine the slug being edible in any form."

The slug is indeed difficult to eradicate, humanely, organically and without leaving a mess. Salt seems painfully slow and leaves a mangled lump, pellets may harm wildlife and other traps, such as containers of beer or carrion such as a left- over chop, hardly solves the problem. Watching 50 slugs surround a meaty bone may be fascinating, but you are still left with the problem of disposing of the beasts.

A friend of mine believes he has found a solution. Living in a hilly area, his back garden backs on to a steep pathway below. He throws his slugs up into the air (to gain added height) so that they drop with some force on to the hard surface of concrete below. He says this kills them instantly."

Catherine Todd, of Nottingham, is not squeamish about salt. "Collect the slugs in a carrier bag," she advises. "I use kitchen tongs to pick them up. Then sprinkle in some salt, tie the bag tightly and put it in the bin. I'm sorry - I have too many to be able to be kind."

Ms Todd thinks their large, long-established compost heap may be the magnet for slugs in their garden. "It is covered with huge slugs, some in great piles, every night."

Val Reynolds Brown, the publisher of the holistic health magazine In Balance gathers up her slugs and snails and takes them across the road to a nearby traffic island.

"With any luck, they get squashed by passing traffic, or birds eat them." She tried beer and says that the slugs found it very attractive, "but they just trundled off after having a good slurp and weren't obliging enough to drown themselves."

At the Centre for Alternative Technology, in Wales, gardeners favour comfrey for trapping slugs. They pile comfrey leaves in the centre of their plots, which apparently attract slugs. After five days, the heap is heaving and is carted away (But where? We are back to the original problem). When the plot is planted up, more comfrey leaves are laid round the edges to act as decoys for slugs heading for the lettuce.

"Disposal is easy for me" writes Professor Kay, in a coda to his original letter. "I have a largish pond. Slugs sink and enter a food chain: either trout/humans, or sticklebacks/kingfishers. Both very satisfying. Snails float, hence the exile to a distant railway embankment."

Me? I've kidnapped a hedgehog wandering dangerously across the A35. The nights are now rendered hideous by the bloodcurdling sounds of his courting rituals. If these are the sounds of hedgehogs in love, what can their rows be like?