Last year marked the start of my journey into growing my own food at home. Sadly, here in the UK, it also marked the wettest year on record – something which exploded the local populations of snails and slugs rendering entire crops ruined in a matter of days.
My spinach was decimated. My lettuces vanished. My tomatoes died of blight. Only my greenhouse, where I was growing cucumbers, melons and peppers managed to avoid the mayhem thanks to the barrier of glass between my crops and the weather.
However in amongst the non-stop battle with our slimy foes there were also a small number of vegetable crops which managed to escape the onslaught and it’s these I’d like to relay to you today.
The fact is that as climate change accelerates and we see ever more extreme weather (and changes to our local flora and fauna as a result) it makes sense to focus our effort at an eco-friendly lifestyle on the “easy wins” rather than being disappointed with our results or – even worse – resorting to harmful chemicals to do the hard work for us.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at five types of food plants that my own experience suggests should prosper even in an area where slugs and snails are a serious problem for the gardener.
With their precious tubers buried deep underground it seems that snails and their kin find little appealing about the tough green foliage above soil level. Fortunately even if they *do* take an experimental nibble of your potato plants they’re still unable to damage the potato tubers themselves so with enough leaves left over to photosynthesize you should still end up with a healthy crop.
Garlic is not only one of the absolute easiest crops to grow of all but are seemingly immune to any slugs or snails. Whilst they’re hardly an attractive plant to grow, the tough, dry stalks and leaves couldn’t be less tempting when compared to a juicy lettuce or cabbage. And, rather like the potato, the bulb that you eat remains safely below ground away from any unwanted attention.
Not only do sweetcorn grow very tall – making snails less likely to want to scale those heights for fear of falling – but the actual corn cobs themselves are of course carefully protected within a green sheath of leaves. So while an open corn may be of interest to slugs it seems that having them wrapped up well out of reach eliminates the risk of waking up after a rainstorm to find all your corn ruined.
Shallots & Onions
For the purposes of this article I’m grouping these two similar vegetables together though my own preference – in a small garden – is to grow shallots because they take up less space and also provide just as much if not a greater volume of food on a per-square-foot basis.
My assumption is that the strong smell and taste of onions, coupled with their unpalatable leaves makes them unappealing to slugs and snails. In addition, an onion bed provides very little cover for pests to hide in as the stalks typically grow straight upwards providing a warm, dry atosphere in complete contrast to the damp, humid environment preferred by soft-bodies invertebrates.
My final success in the battle against the local hoardes of gastropods was leeks. Certainly, a few of the younger plants did get attacked when first planted out but as my leeks grew and their leaves toughened they too found themselves escaping the rasping tongues that were busy munching their way through my broccoli, spinach and pea plants.
If in doubt, in wet weather or where snails are a known problem, consider growing the plants onto a larger size than normal before planting them out to give them the very best chance of success.