Alys Fowler

Radiators and slugs

From finding that optimum temperature for your seedlings to this year's 'sleepless slug' predictions, unearth everything you need to know with Alys.

My radiators broke, well they rattled and huffed and puffed and made the sort of noises you’d expect a giant’s stomach to and then did very little in the way of heating the house, however much I turned the heating up.

I wouldn’t care much other than I have hundreds of little seedlings shivering in the unseasonably cold weather. I tried bleeding the radiator using this clever little film and I tried turning some knobs on and off, without much luck.

Short of kicking the radiator I was about to give up and then I remembered I didn’t have to give up. I had HomeServe Cover 8, which seems to cover all sort of miraculous things like fixing light switches, unblocking drains and tinkering endlessly with your radiators until all your seedlings are happily basking in the right temperature.

It’s like having a very useful househusband, but perhaps better because you don’t have to make anyone’s supper in return. And the lovely HomeServe engineer took the time to explain how radiators actually work, so next time I might not end up with a system so unbalanced that a back bedroom was receiving all the heat.

Still radiator dramas over I now have many seedlings that are too big for life indoors and yet the big bad world outside is still a little terrifying, mostly because of slugs and snails. The temperature might still be going up, down and all around, but the night time temperature is now well above 8 degrees and mostly around 13 degrees Celsius, which means the plants are in the business of growing and slugs of eating.

This is predicted to be a terrible slug year because the winter was not cold enough to send them to sleep. Not only did they not rest, they amused themselves with those long nights with plenty of breeding, so we go into spring with epic amounts of slugs. I don’t need to tell you that because if you’ve been into your garden you’ve probably already seen the evidence.

It is easy to want to reach for the slug pellets but I implore you not to. There are nasty chemicals in there that leach in the soil, affect other wildlife, our soil and most importantly our watercourses. In 2012 metaldehyde, the active ingredient in slug pellets, was found in raw water well above the standards for drinking water, not a nice thought. This is because farming is now using such high numbers of slug pellets.  There are many reasons why this is happening, but the most obvious one is that there is less wildlife to eat the slugs in the first place.

So rather than add to the problem in your garden try some other methods:

A torch

Hunting for slugs and snails at night is not a pleasant business, but it is effective. A friend of mine Sarah found 620 in one evening, that’s pretty effective pest control. Once you’ve found your slugs you’ll have to dispose of them, chucking them over the neighbour’s fence is not ok (mostly because they have a homing device and will come back to you). Boiling water is probably the most effective as you can pour the whole revolting soup on the compost and let nature do the rest.

Beer traps

Old beer smells delicious to slugs and they come for a drink and drown. You need good hoppy beer to work best cheap larger isn’t that effective. A mixture of beer and sugary soft drinks works wonders though, so if you can persuade your local pub to keep a slops bucket for you then you have a free source. The drowned slugs, snail and beer can be put on the compost to rot down.

Beetles, frogs, hedgehogs and thrushes

To name a few, the best defence against slugs is to encourage more wildlife. Farmers have a hard time doing this, but you don’t. Your garden can be a haven for wildlife, home to just enough slugs and place for you to enjoy.

Ground beetles are probably the best predators for slugs and snails. They like them young or their eggs and they hunt at night when the slugs and snails are on the march. A beetle can eat up to 25 slugs in a night and even the beetle larvae stage will have a go too.

Beetles need somewhere to hide in the day; they like to hide under piles of stones, leaf litter and other undisturbed places that are dry and dark. If you see beetles scurrying around your garden be very pleased with yourself and make sure you leave some corners alone, so they have a suitable place to go rest in.

Frogs like water and they like nice damp places to hide. An upturned pot with some leaves in a shady corner or just a good cover of leafy growth for them to hide under is perfect.  Hedgehogs can only get into your garden if you let them and as they can’t climb over your fence, they have to go under. A hedgehog hole, a small gap in the bottom of the fence, it doesn’t have to be much larger than about 25cm across and the same in height is ideal. If every terrace house had one of these hedgehogs could roam happily, which would be good for them because they need more refuge and good for us because we’d have less pests.