In almost any year Slugs are the most troublesome pests on our plots.
A cubic metre of soil can hold up to 200 slugs. Most of these are below ground during the day only surfacing in the evenings.
The best way to keep them in check is to tackle them on several fronts:
Slugs and snails – these seem to be ever-present but are more mobile in warmer weather, particular after periods of rain. Leaf crops like cabbage and lettuce are favourite targets. Copper rings, crushed eggshells and beer traps are traditional solutions. Conventional alternatives include coffee grounds or bran. Slug nematodes are a natural scientific solution but can be quite expensive and require a combination of warm weather and moisture (which are certainly not guaranteed at this time of year!).
Aphids – will be sucking the sap from many types of fresh edibles now that the early signs of summer. You can squash them with your fingers or plant strong scented plants nearby (e.g. garlic) to deter them. Ladybirds are their natural predators and you can buy ladybird pupae to spread around your plot and will welcome a rich food supply when they hatch.
Asparagus beetle – these visually attractive beetles produce small grubs which can devastate asparagus when it is resting and developing as a fern. The adults can be picked off as they develop. To prevent re-emergence next year, clear away the stems in early winter and burn them (if they are stored the bugs may be able to find shelter).
During warm wet weather everything grows quickly - particularly weeds! In fact, because weeds have evolved to suit local climate and conditions they tend to outgrow whatever we may be trying to cultivate. Each square meter of soil can contain up to 100,000 weed seeds, all competing with our crops for water and nutrients, and providing a haven for slugs, snails and other pests.
The best natural ways to keep them at bay is to hoe regularly in dry weather, hand weed when the soil is moist, don’t allow them to seed, and to apply mulches to suppress growth. Light proof membranes can be used where you are not growing crops and, usually as a last resort, chemical weed killers are available.
The most common weeds are:
Bindweed – one of the most difficult weeds to overcome, it requires regular digging out destruction of every piece of root
Dandelion – remove flower heads before they seed and dig out the tap roots completely when the ground is soft (I’ve known them to grow and flower from just a root that I’d dug out!).
Bramble- highly invasive and can inflict nasty scratches. Dig out their roots completely
Goosegrass (‘sticky weed’) and Common chickweed – low growing weeds that are easily dug out by their roots.
How to keep on top of weeds...
Hoeing – hoeing takes the heads off weeds as soon as they break the surface - if beds need hand weeding then you’ve left it too late!. It’s good to hoe at least twice a month and weekly hoeing is even better. Choose a dry day if possible so that there is less moisture in the ground to allow the weeds to regenerate.
Stop digging – this made be counter-intuitive but digging can help dormant seeds within the soil to start germinating. The growing process is triggered when buried seeds are exposed to light, moisture and/or air.
Mulch – applying organic matter to the surface will bury and weeds or seeds and inhibit their development. It also allows the soil to retain moisture and nutrients allowing the intended fruit and vegetable crops to grow.
Don’t let annual weeds set seeds. Dig out dandelions and other annual weeds before their seed-heads fully develop.