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:
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:
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.