pale leaf Gaia's Garden leaves




The Shimmering Path
by Gillie Whitewolf

On a beautiful Beltane dawn I sat in my garden watching the sky brighten, serenaded by birds... and the gentle squelching of snails as they breakfasted on fading daffodil foliage. I rarely cut back the foliage after the daffodils have shared their Spring beauty. I choose to leave it to die back naturally not only to allow the plant to return nutrients back to the bulbs [promising a healthy show the following year] but to provide the ground with protection from the sun's heat, and also give shelter and food for a variety of wildlife.
This particular Beltane morning I studied the patterns of my garden gastropods and their dining routines - first the snails, then the slugs. I sat engrossed by the journeys of these surprisingly athletic garden companions and pondered on how misunderstood and under-valued they are. These fascinating creatures are essential to our gardens, one might even consider them our very own green refuse collectors as many favour decomposing plants and decaying leaves, and some have even been known to munch on decomposing cardboard and paper. They also provide food for other wildlife - birds such as the Thrush and the Corvidae family will deftly crack open a snail shell to reveal a quick meal, and hedgehogs, shrews and other small mammals, ground beetles and even toads will gladly feast on slugs.

SnailSadly it seems that the average gardener would rather reach for a poison to rid their gardens of snails and slugs - not only causing serious danger to other wildlife which feeds on them, but also ridding their gardens of these helpful refuse diners. "But they eat my prize plants" I hear you cry - so give them something else to eat and choose appropriate friendly methods to protect the plants you don't want munched. Broken eggshells, horserhair rope or gritty gravel can be placed around delicate plants, although if your soil is very alkaline it is best to avoid using eggshells as they will only increase the calcium levels in the soil. Copper provides a very effective barrier to slugs and snails - and research* is proving that copper is also very beneficial to your soil, energising and harmonising the soil and producing healthier plants with increased yields. If you can afford copper gardening implements get out there and buy them! Otherwise, try placing copper tape or objects around plants which seem to bear the brunt of the snail and slug attack.
The Great Grey Slug [Limux maximus] does in fact do no damage to your garden crops because it lives on a diet of decaying leaves and fungi. Likewise the Great Black Slug [Arian ater] dines on rotting vegetables. Most snails, including the Garden Snail [Helix aspersa] and Roman Snail [Helix pomatia] will also merrily chomp away on decomposing plant matter. There are a few gastropods which can be more harm than good - the Netted Slug [Deroceras reticlatum], which is cream to brown or grey in colour often speckled black and exudes a milky slime when handled, does enjoy feasting on vegetable crops, and the Budapest Slug [Milax budapestensis], which is found mainly on cultivated land, is known to attack crop roots. But before you reach for the slug pellets why not encourage their predators to your garden, or try enticing them away with alternative foods - open a gastropod diner! The slugs and snails in my garden absolutely love pumpkins and melons. Having a compost area not only helps reduce your household waste and create a rich feed for your plants, but also provides shelter and food for countless species of wildlife. Any raw fruit or vegetable matter can be thrown on the compost, along with tea-bags, coffee grounds, old flowers, grass cuttings, sawdust, hedge trimmings and young weeds. Bananas make excellent additions to compost heaps as they actually speed up the decomposition process [which is why bananas should never be stored alongside other fruit!]

SnailSnails alternate between periods of activity and prolonged periods of rest, sleeping during spells of dry weather and hibernating during cold winters. When they withdraw to hibernate they enter a state of deep sleep, preparing themselves by secreting a number of slime layers over the shell's entrance in an effort to keep out the cold and some predators. They are often found nestling under upturned flower pots and cracks in walls. Like snails, their cousins the slugs also require a damp habitat and run the risk of desiccating in dry conditions. This explains why the rain and dew usually brings with it the stream of gastropod visitors. They move by waves of muscular contractions along their one and only foot [basically their underside], which also contains a special gland which secretes a sticky slime. As the movement puts pressure on the sticky slime it turns into a liquid, allowing the snail/slug to slide forward - and rather ingeniously this liquid then turns back to a sticky slime to prevent the creature from sliding backwards! A coating of slime not only helps prevent desiccation but also offers some protection from enemies, and the sticky factor enables them to move over a number of surfaces freely, leaving a shimmering trail behind - as well as providing them with a tracking scent, which in some species also doubles as a predator deterrent.

If, like me, you rather enjoy the company of these useful friends ensure that your garden has plenty of slug and snail friendly habitats - leave wild areas with long grass to provide shelter from the heat, or allow low spreading weeds and ivy a place in your garden. Allow some foliage to die back naturally, providing shelter and food. Rock piles, paving slabs and upturned flower pots all provide a suitable resting place and moist habitat. A log pile offers a home to a whole host of wildlife besides the gastropods, including many beneficial creatures such as the hoverfly of which some species lay their eggs in rotting logs or dead tree trunks [the hoverfly larvae, similar in appearance to small slugs, are a very useful addition to your garden as they have a ferocious appetite for aphids].

So next time you see a shimmering path don't frown - consider it a greeting from one of our most misunderstood and mistreated garden companions and natural refuse collectors... and a Gastropodical Blessing!



pale leaves

Gaia's Garden Library
Non Fiction Section : Gaia's Garden Herblore | Susun S. Weed Articles | Articles and Musings
Fiction Section : Short Stories & Prose| As Told By Cat | Public Domain Texts| Poetry

Shop | Library | Gallery | Forum | Contact | Links