Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (3)

Some of you may remember Ollie and Jack – the two baby snails that I adopted when I found them in the kitchen after bringing a cyclamen plant in from the patio? I gave them a box in which to make their home and they thrived on a diet of (mostly) lettuce before spending the winter hibernating in our shed. Well, I can now tell you that both survived the winter, though Jack refused to wake up until I doused him with some water. Perhaps snails are not so vastly different from humans after all?

At Christmas we found yet another baby snail – Oliver III – in the downstairs bathroom. Who knows how he got there? As he was just a teeny weeny snail, my daughter decided that he, too, should be kept in a box indoors, where he grew… and grew… and grew… until he was bigger than both Ollie and Jack. So it was three snails that I recently took out into the countryside to be released. I took them to the edge of a small coppice, well away from any gardens or roads, and watched them set out to explore their new surroundings:

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I love the alert look on their ‘faces’ when they are exploring!

After their release, with the vegetable patch in mind, I decided to have a good hunt round the garden to see how many more snails I could find. With the weather being so dry, I found over 40 aestivating behind a plank of wood that was propped horizontally against the front wall of the house. I found several others here and there when I was gardening and a few have unfortunately fallen foul of either beer traps or slug pellets. (I’ve tried to keep the latter to the absolute minimum).

On Saturday night, when it finally got round to raining, I went out just before midnight to see what else had come out of hiding. (I knew that there were more snails hibernating/aestivating under a concrete path, where I couldn’t get at them). Well, you wouldn’t believe what a hive of activity a wet garden is at midnight! There were worms – gazillions of them – having a wonderful time rain bathing. Then there were woodlice scurrying about doing whatever it is that woodlice find it necessary to do in the middle of the night. There were two largish yellow slugs sampling the beer in the vegetable patch… and there were 17 snails out and about looking for something to munch. One had already found the beans. Another had found the French marigolds. Thankfully neither had quite started their dinner yet.

All the snails I have found alive (getting on for 90 in total) have been relocated to a spot somewhat nearer to home than where I released the Olivers and Jack, though still a place where they will have a job to make it to anyone’s garden (unless they can swim). I admit that hunting them down in this way is a little time consuming, but it does seem to be an effective way of dealing with them in a small garden. It’s certainly cheaper than nematodes. It’s also less gruesome, more environmentally friendly and more thorough than using slug pellets. And it has enabled me to carry out a few experiments. Like this one:

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The conclusion? 2.5 cm of copper tape is not sufficient to deter a hungry snail. However, 5 cm appears to be much more effective. So this is definitely worth a try when it comes to planting out lettuces.

I’ve found very few slugs, except for the two on Saturday night and a few baby ones in the beer traps. Either it’s been too dry for them, or the birds have been doing a good job of polishing them off. We do have a fair few starlings in the garden over the autumn, winter and early spring and they definitely eat them because I’ve seen them do it. So maybe that’s it? Meanwhile, most of my plants are still intact, though I did lose two French marigolds in the first few days of planting out, both cut off at the base.

So what have I learnt from all this snail watching?

  • It is possible to hear the sound of a wild snail eating 🙂
  • Even if they do nothing else quickly, Garden Snails (Helix aspersa) can certainly grow quickly! Oliver III grew close to adult size in just 3 months, though it would probably have taken him longer in the wild.
  • Garden Snails do eat weeds – dandelions being one example. They just prefer to eat lettuce and carrots (and who can blame them).
  • It takes a good sized lettuce leaf to make a few millimetres of snail shell.
  • Snails have a keen sense of smell.
  • Snails sit out cold and/or dry weather by sealing their shells and shutting down their metabolism – aestivating or hibernating until more favourable conditions return.
  • They like to do this in company.
  • Assuming the weather is warm enough, dousing a snail with water is a sure fire way to wake them up.
  • Baby snails are extremely fragile.
  • It’s okay to break a snail. Adult Garden Snails lay an average of 86 eggs at a sitting and (assuming conditions are favourable) do so 4 or 5 times a year. They don’t expect all their children to survive – and it’s probably best not to think too hard about how things would be if they did!
  • Worms can move faster than snails.
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Baby snail

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So where’s the rain?

England: That place where it always rains. April: The month famous for its showery weather. So where is it? The rain, I mean. Not that I’m complaining. Not one bit. But I’ve hardly seen a drop of the stuff this past three weeks and it’s starting to feel a bit strange. That feeling where going outside without a coat feels strangely naked… and not going outside feels like a terrible waste of good weather. #Britishproblems.

Three weeks ago, things were somewhat different. I spent a few days on the coast as March turned into April and the weather was extremely wild and windy. Not a good time to be on a beach unless you want a face full of sand! The ferocious March lion was showing no inclination towards curling up into a soft woolly ball or frolicking over the meadows with joyful tranquility. Rather, it roared across Somerset, tipping my mini greenhouse over for the second time in as many weeks.

The greenhouse – about 6ft tall by 3ft wide by 18 inches deep – is weighted at the bottom with a large bag of compost. However, the lion was feeling particularly wild that night and made short work of turning the thing on its front, despite the fact that he was supposed to be roaring through in the opposite direction. He goes where he will. Fortunately, I didn’t have much in the greenhouse at the time, but I’d started some bean and courgette plants and these were unceremoniously tipped out of their pots. The beans seemed to treat this as all in a day’s work. Not in the mood to be pushed around by some measly lion, they bravely turned their faces back up towards the light and awaited our return. This made them look decidedly peculiar when repotted right way up again! Three of the four courgette plants also survived the ordeal, although one is still looking rather small and pathetic. They are still in the greenhouse.

The beans have now been planted out in the garden, where five out of six seem to be thriving. (The sixth took rather more of a battering from the lion). Of course, they shouldn’t be thriving. By rights, the frost should have finished off what the wild winds started. But here in sunny, lowland Somerset, I seem to have got away with the early start so far. Despite the clear nights, the temperatures have stayed above freezing. As for the tomato plants, they looked singularly unimpressed when we got home. They weren’t in the greenhouse. They were on the kitchen window sill. However, we’d turned the heating down while we were away and it seems this wasn’t popular. The pepper plants had soldiered on bravely and were even heard to encourage the tomato plants to “just chill like us!” However, the tomato plants replied that chilling was precisely the problem and the pepper plants really ought to show a little more sympathy. They said they would be submitting a complaint to the management forthwith. Said complaint is now on file. I’ll be planting the tomatoes a little later next year. Ditto beans and French marigolds. Apparently, it doesn’t do to be too keen. The pepper plants have continued to grow quite nicely, even if they do believe in slow motion:

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Bell pepper plant

I don’t have a picture of the surviving tomato plants. But two are now looking good at about 8″ high and another two look like they aren’t going to be far behind. I’ve planted a few more seeds to make up for the losses and will wait to see what I end up with. Meanwhile, the past three weeks have seen a burst of new life in both countryside and garden. We came home to find the hedgerows tinted with green and the roadsides carpeted with celandines:

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Celandines

Three weeks later, the hedgerows have burst into life and the celandines in my garden have given way to forget-me-nots, daisies and bluebells:

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Forget-me-nots

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Daisy

The primroses have almost finished and the apple blossom is appearing on our little tree:

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Apple blossom

Spring is here 🙂 And, in case you’re wondering, the rain will be back at the weekend…