mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Slow on the uptake

I am the only person in my family who likes brussels sprouts – so when I was given some young plants recently I decided to conduct a little trial, feeling as I did that some were expendable.

I planted nine seedlings. Three I sprayed daily with a solution of diluted washing-up liquid, three I planted tagetes around and three I surrounded with roasted and broken egg shells. This was clearly not very scientific since I should have done nothing at all to one and surrounded another with all three lines of defence. Tagetes too are effective against insects, not slugs – but they seemed like a good idea at the time.

So, unscientific-ness notwithstanding, I can now exclusively reveal the result of my experiment, which is that I now have neither brussels sprouts nor tagetes. Most have been eaten to the stalk, others are looking threadbare to the point of no return.

The culprit is deroceras reticulatum, better know as the grey field slug, which is apparently a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk – whatever that is. We have an awful lot of them and they are very enterprising sorts of chaps. I found several nestling under clods of earth around the base of one of my sprouts, cleverly hemmed in next to their quarry by my thoughtful scattering of egg shells.

I decided to consult my mother whose battle with slugs and snails has spanned more decades than she would care to reveal. She is merciless in their presence and exhibits a chilling ruthlessness one feels a little disturbing in a mother. Together we looked up organic ways to get rid of slugs and I came away full of hope, why I don't know – the blessed sprouts being already history.

As we were leaving my mother's, our progress was impeded by two cats in the middle of the road who were clearly up to no good. They reluctantly slunk off as our car drew closer and the children shouted that there was a 'snake' on the road. In fact, what the cats had been tormenting was a slow-worm.

Don't get me started on cats.

It has been many a year since I last picked up a slow-worm. My eldest brother was very fond of them – and grass snakes – and there were plenty of both hanging around at home when I was a stripling. Those and owl pellets and rabbit pelts – my poor mother has never quite got over her fear of pockets ever since.
Anyway, I felt his removal was necessary since the cats had retired under a car and were waiting to resume their entertainment. My first two attempts to pick him up failed – he was just a little too wriggly for comfort. But I finally got hold of him and he weaved crossly in and out of my fingers and shat on my hand. I examined him for collateral damage and showed him to the children complete with short accompanying lecture ('Well, you see, the really really interesting thing about slow-worms is that they are not snakes but actually lizards whose feet have – oh, never mind, don't listen then'). Lastly, to the slow-worm's great relief, I hid him under some wood while the cats weren't looking.

It wasn't until we were further down the road, that a distant memory surfaced of slow-worms eating slugs. It turns out they do – and, would you believe it, their favourite sort of slug is the field grey. I had literally let the solution to my problem slip through my fingers and all I had left to show for it was a smelly hand and a dollop of slow-worm poo.

I'm sure there's some kind of metaphor for life there.


  1. I swear by nematodes as an organic slug preventer!

  2. Thanks Jennifer - I've been looking into nematodes. I've also had a bit of success with sawdust sprinkled liberally around the stems. The rate they are being eaten has slowed somewhat, although there is clearly some caterpillar damage too. I might even get a couple of sprouts on my Christmas dinner if I'm lucky!