Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Slugging it out on the West Coast

By Elaine Shein

Like a lot of other people here on the West Coast, I'm slugging it out with slugs. So far, they're winning.

Grass seed farmers worry about the serious damage slugs do in their fields, especially in wet years like this one with above normal rainfall.

Whatever didn't drown those slugs only made them stronger. I swear I saw some surfing my driveway a few times.

Before I moved to Oregon, I had never seen a slug before, and this led to a false hope I would never need to 1) recognize one and its trail of ooze or 2) battle one to its oozy death.

I now find myself asking friends, searching book stores, surfing the internet, and begging anyone for help on how to terminate, kill, destroy, annihilate, slaughter or just downright squash the evil slugs and show no mercy.

Who would have thought such a murderous streak existed within my mild, gentle-mannered self? Until now, such revenge was reserved just for mosquitoes. I grew up in a place with mosquitoes so big ranchers swore that, given the chance, those winged fiends would carry off small calves.

Wait, there was one other revengeful moment in my life: that termite problem I had last year. But let's avoid discussing termites for now and how many two-by-fours they can chomp in a month. I suppose I should admire termites' work ethic, their dedication, and their ability to reduce superior mankind to helpless, sleepless, whimpering mammals.

But I digress. Today's topic is slugs.

Of course, I do blame myself a bit for how these slugs first appeared. First, I have a yard. I seeded certain tasty plants, expanding the slug menu. And then there was the cat dish outside …

I have an indoor cat and an outdoor cat. The outdoor one is a bob-tailed stray cat that adopted our place after I saw how starved she was and offered her some food.

I already had an indoor cat that is quite large and very protective of his turf. He won't let her in, and is extremely jealous of any cat even in the yard he never is allowed to roam.

So I couldn't let the stray cat in. But after living a few years on the tough streets of town, our bob-tailed friend knew a good thing when she finally got it: she began to sleep outside the house door, right on the WELCOME mat.

Finally, I got her a nice chair, a nice cushion for the chair, a warm fuzzy blanket for the cushion, and of course a constant supply of food for this poor starving feline. Because she was a stray, we originally bought the cheap cat food to help fatten her up.

Ironically, we bought cheap fattening formula cat food for the lean cat, and management control formula cat food for the fat one, and the latter cat howls each morning because he wants her food instead of his fine dining selection.

How fat is my fat cat? When he weighed in at the vet's office last year, he was about 20 pounds. I explained I had him on weight management control formula. The vet's assistant nodded, approvingly.

"Well, sometimes it takes a while. It probably takes about three months. How long have you had him on it?"

I growled. "It's been three years now."

"Ohhhhhh. Dear me," she said, concerned. And then said nothing more.

I have learned that whatever is in that cheap cat food attracts more than just cats. That brand of food attracts skunks, raccoons, nutria, possums, stray cats, deer and … slugs.

Slugs crawl from the yard and into the food bowl to savor the fishy-flavored morsels. Massive slugs, several inches long, push the smaller slugs out of the way in their race for the cat food.

So this explains the healthy crop of slugs in the yard and even outside my front door at times, sliming up my welcome mat as they silently sluggishly stampede for the cat food.

As I visit greenhouses, farms, farmers' markets, and anywhere else here on the West Coast, I shamelessly admit I rely on the kindness and goodwill of all those who are more knowledgeable than me.

I casually lead the conversation towards being a valuable (and did I mention shamelessly free?) lesson. "So … got slugs? How on earth do you get rid of them?"

I've heard a variety of methods. Egg shells. Beer bait. Salt defense line. Spiked belt. Miniature electric fence. Loud Polka music (when the advice is free, you get what you pay for…) Bigger boots to stomp slugs. And commercial slug bait formulas.

Smug at the slugs, I returned home. The battle began.

The first thing I did was … move what I treasured the most to a deck 20 feet off the ground. The slugs will never get up here, I thought, laughing fiendishly, as I hauled a dozen heavy containers to the deck.

Neighbors stared uncomfortably at me. Loud fiendish laughter always attracts that kind of attention on a quiet street.

While I might have sounded mean and purposeful when it comes to slugs, when it came time to do the deed, I felt a bit remorseful. I decided the least I could do is help them die happy.

So I decided the first method I'd try to get rid of the slugs would be the beer method. I bought the beer. I even decided to buy them an import brand. It sat two years in my garage, as I procrastinated: it seemed such a waste of good beer. The slugs went forth and multiplied. The six-pack of Corona Cerveza did not.

The slugs surfed this last winter away, the beer grew more stale, and by this spring I found slugs growing to be the size of mini-sumo wrestlers as they began to bench-press the bowl of cat food and scare off the raccoons. I also found a few much more nimble slugs had craftily crawled up a 20-foot rain pipe and began munching on my deck plants. Things were going too far.

Last week, I poured some of the cerveza into containers and carefully set them in the garden. The giant slugs crawled along the containers, sniffed at the beer, turned up their … do they have noses? … and avoided the beer. The beer was two years old, what did they want? A better vintage? Were they raised on the Willamette Valley's pinot noir?

Tonight, I started to use a commercial slug bait to entice those greedy slugs. By next week, I'll see whether that was successful, or whether to try 1) an extra-large salt shaker, 2) extra-heavy stomping boots or 3) heavy-stomping polka music while dancing in my boots and madly shaking the salt shaker.

Or maybe I'll just give up and start fighting the moss on my house roof.

Have other suggestions for slugs, moss, or other West Coast problems? Email eshein@capitalpress.com



1 comment:

Gary L. West said...

I have a slug magnet on the side of my refrigerator, does that count?

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