I’ve never had a slug problem before. I figured it was too dry for them here in central Virginia. And when I read about slugs ravaging other people’s crops, I thought, “Well, thank goodness I don’t have that problem.” But in the last couple of weeks, when I’ve gone out to stroll the garden in the morning, I’ve found quite a few of these guys. They’ll be making their slow, slimy way across a strawberry leaf. Or nibbling the edge of a radish. Or just crossing the dirt path on their way somewhere more enticing.
My first thought was, “Oh, dear. Mulching the strawberries was a bad idea.” I read somewhere that mulch attracts slugs. Providing any cool, dark refuge from the sun is like putting out a welcome mat for these easily dehydrated creatures. So I thought about taking up all the mulch. Returning my garden to its bare state, the state in which rain pounds the earth into an impenetrable crust and the sun quickly bakes away the moisture from the top several inches of soil.
And then, that afternoon, I started rereading Sir Albert Howard’s The Soil and Health. This is the second time I’ve read it, and I feel like it’s the first time, there are so many things I’m underlining and asterisking and marveling over. This book explains–more thoroughly and compellingly than any other I’m aware of–why organic agriculture is essential to the health of the soil. And why the health of the soil is essential to our health.
In the first few pages of the book, I came across the definition of fertile soil as soil that’s teeming with an abundance of diverse microflora and microfauna. Health as abundance and diversity. As complexity. A multitude of living things with a multitude of interactions that push and pull on one another, balance one another, and provide multiple ways of dealing with changes in weather and soil conditions.
It occurred to me that my first reaction to the slug “problem”–which wasn’t even really a problem yet, since they hadn’t done any substantial damage–was to reduce the complexity of the miniature ecosystem that is my garden. I was going to take out the straw, leaving the slugs without a refuge (and also leaving my soil naked to the elements). What if, instead, I decided to solve the problem by increasing complexity? What if there was something I could add to my garden in order to make sure the slugs didn’t get out of control?
As I was contemplating what this might be, I recalled a sound I’d heard that morning, while I was worriedly observing the slugs. It was the sound of a frog croaking in my garden. I’d never heard a frog in the garden before. I turned my head to try to pinpoint its location. The sound was coming from a clump of chickweed and henbit I’d recently decided to leave standing by the west side of the fence. “Keeping a few weeds around is probably a good idea,” I’d thought. And so it seemed to be, since those weeds now appeared to be my frog’s preferred spot. But why now? Why had a frog suddenly decided to grace my garden?
And then suddenly, it was clear. The frog had found a great new place for dinner. Entrée: slugs.
Apparently, what little biodiversity I’ve already allowed in the garden has paved the way for some slug predators. And I’m happy to keep the frogs around, especially if it means I can keep my mulch. I’m going to keep leaving several thickets of weeds for them to hide out in, and I may even find a way to introduce a small “pond”: a pan of water with some rocks in it so the frogs don’t drown because they can’t climb out. With luck, this will keep the slug population to a manageable size!