2 Jun 2008
Taking Slugs Seriously (or not)
A few days of warm, moist weather and the great slug armies are massing on my garden. Although the sizes of them have been increasing as these slug-friendly conditions continue, it is actually the smallest ones that seem to do the most damage. The tiny ones, that look more like something that comes out of your nose than something you’d find in the garden, do an astonishing amount of damage, rather like me chewing my way though a couple of limbs of an oak tree in a single night. Anyway, as you can tell, slugs are rather on my mind at the moment. Which gives me the opportunity to tell you my favourite slug story…
A couple of years ago, Maddy from Permaculture Magazine got in touch asking if I had any ideas to breathe some new life into the mag’s ‘Solutions’ section, which had been growing a bit short on solutions being sent in. I suggested a few of us wrote some silly ones to see if anyone could tell the difference. Here is my contribution, which duly appeared in the next issue;
Fed up of the slimy critters destroying your garden? Well, as we permies like to proclaim, the problem is the solution. After many a torch lut evening collecting bucket after bucket of our slimy friends, I wondered what I could do with them. The solution is gloriously simple. Simply pop them in the oven at Gas Mark 4 for five minutes, not so long that they cook, but just long enough that they adopt the texture of a wine gum. Then simply slip a sharpened knife under the skin, and it peels off beautifully, like peeling a lychee. The resultant ‘pelt’ is waterproof, flexible and tough. After a few weeks drying and peeling, I had a large enough collection to make my first pair of trousers, sewing them together with a tough twine. Now my ‘slugskins strides’ are the talk of permaculture gatherings across the land, and I have started work on a matching jacket.
I thought it rather amusing, but thought no more of it. Then, a year or so later, my friend Tom went to do a Permaculture Design Course at Ragman’s Lane Farm. (What follows is the version of events that I have in my head based on my recollection of what Tom told me, and which has become the official version I now tell people. If it is willdy inaccurate I’m sure Tom will write and correct me).
One evening, he sat down to eat his supper with a young American guy who was also on the course. As the meal went on, conversation turned (as it often does on permaculture courses) to slugs. “Hey, do you know, I read this great thing in Permaculture Magazine!” interjected the young man. “Some guy wrote in saying that you could make a fabric out of slugs, but do you know, it doesn’t really work”. Tom, who at this point nearly choked on his fine Ragman’s dinner, asked “what, you mean you tried it?”
“Yes, but when you put them in the oven, they don’t firm up, they go all mushy, and you can’t get the skins off…. maybe I had the oven too hot..”. Tom, appalled, had to break the news gently to him that it was actually a joke. Just goes to show, you can’t be too careful with humour. I am still awaiting the heavy hand on my shoulder from the Crime Against Slugkind hearings, where I find myself being accused of being the ‘architect’ of a uniquely cruel way of exterminating slugs. And even if it did work, to make anything out of these phenomenally destructive ‘snot slugs’ would take many many years.
2 Jun 7:35am
Slug trousers – brilliant idea Rob.
I’m collecting 5 litres of slug slime for the next car service.
2 Jun 7:51am
Surely slugs are the cure for Peak Oil?
Melt them in a small saucepan and then use as a replacement for 3 in 1 on squeaky hinges, bicycle chains, …?? (The enzymes in the sticky trails ensure good adhesion to the surface being lubricated.)
2 Jun 8:15am
Well, they’re marketing snail slime in pots as a beauty treatment (in Spain, at least). And they eat snails here, too. Maybe slugs are next? I’ve heard that they actually do eat slugs in Portugal, but that could be another ironic hoax…
My slug strategy at the moment is to use them as weed control: I toss them over the fence into the neighbour’s bramble-infested garden that’s constantly threatening to engulf ours. Don’t know if this is doing much good… especially if as you say the tiny snot blobs are the ones doing most of the damage.
How did you come to this conclusion, anyway? Time-lapse photography?
2 Jun 8:47am
Yes, I’ve also had students on courses I’ve run saying that the’ve read all about making slug skin trousers in the Permaculture magazine… Usually overheard conversations during break times…
2 Jun 9:55am
Well, here in Spain they sell snail slime in pots as a beauty treatment (no kidding!) – surely slug slime must be more or less the same stuff? Although slug slime perhaps wouldn’t be quite such a big seller…
Also they eat snails here big time – I saw some people out collecting snails after heavy rain yesterday. I’ve heard that in Portugal they eat slugs. But who knows, maybe this is just another ironic hoax…
As for slug treatment, at the moment I am hurling them over into the neighbours’ heavily bramble-infested garden. Since the brambles are threatening to overwhelm our land, I think this qualifies as a an application of “the problem is the solution”.
But if the small snotty ones are the real problem, maybe I’m wasting my effort. Rob, how did you come to the conclusion that the small ones are causing most of the damage? Do you have a time-lapse camera set up, or what?
2 Jun 12:57pm
Thank you, Rob. You had me rolling around my office, clutching my sides laughing.
As an ex-pat Yank, I regret that some of my fellow Americans just don’t get English irony….
My own mollusc tale happened in a small village in the Pyrenees. I stopped to chat to a local guy as he walked through the cobbled street with a saucepan full of snails, many climbing over the sides. He regailed me with all seriousness about the herbs he was feeding them (thyme and rosemary) to make them sweat out their goo (‘bave’) prior to cooking them with butter and garlic…I haven’t tried the recipe yet, but surely here’s a new Permaculture output we can sell from our gardens? Do you think the media chefs would buy it?
2 Jun 1:26pm
Wow! You’ve got a fantastic story there, simultaneously roll-on-the-floor funny and genuinely terrifying.
What the heck happened to education?? There seem to be a startlingly large number of people out there these days who truly can’t tell the difference between a truth and a blatant fallacy.
And the clueless ones have also frequently been imbued with diamond-hard “self-esteem”.
Another major problem for you to tackle, Rob. 🙂
6 Jun 3:19am
Hmmm…maybe an eco-friendly alternative to Barbie clothes, and all the plastic packaging that go with them?
(My mother is such a sucker. I wonder if she’ll fall for that one?)
7 Jun 1:07pm
Oh no! I ‘swallowed’ the same story and even told it to a few friends. I really thought it was true! You got me hook, line and sinker, Rob! I’m glad I never really fancied trying it now…
8 Jun 6:05pm
Let create some GM slugs that are really tasty. this way we can all harvest our protein from our local surroundings. This protein would have a really small carbon foot print (grown and consumed locally) and would be a boon to all local garlic growers!