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May 10, 2005 > Snail Snits

Snail Snits

by Pat Kite

Snails are eating holes in my hollyhock leaves, then moving on to totally eliminate my tiny heirloom tomato sproutings. While I'm told that anybody with the IQ of an eraser can easily grow hollyhocks, this is the first time I've succeeded. When the leaves start to look like lace, then partially disappear, my dislike for killing anything completely evaporates. Onward I go, stalking through my overcrowded garden, gloves on, fanatically searching for brown whorled shells munching on a plant. The resulting crunches make me happy. But they don't seem to help.

I'm sure there is a way to get rid of the Helix aspersa, but I haven't found it yet. I've tried every possible commercially-available bait. Snail bait is usually some type of poison, combined with sweet-smelling stuff to attract the snail. After snacking, snails start to lose inner liquid. Since snails are mostly liquid, in theory they soon drop dead. My personal opinion is they lose a little liquid, drink some nighttime dew, and vow never to touch anything resembling brown granules again. It's possible adult snails even lecture their youngsters about this despicable habit. As a note, if you've got animals, you'll want to keep them away from poisonous snail bait. Snails may recover, dogs and birds may not.

Before anybody reminds me, there's other stuff on the market too. Been there, done that. I've also tried beer. The theory is you put some beer in a pie pan, set the pan on the ground, and snails will crawl into the pie pan pub, get tiddled, and drown. I maintain they get tiddled, and then wait for me to empty the pan onto the ground so they can crawl away without disturbing their hangover.

Gravel, bark, wood ash and other scratchy surfaces might only deter the snail during dry weather. Since both snails and slugs operate at night and during rain, they just slither over damp uncomfortable areas. I've read about using 3-inch wide copper bands throughout the garden, theoretically giving deterrent electric shocks to snails. I'd probably trip on the bands, flop onto group of snails having a plant banquet, and crush a batch with my derriere. But I'm sure that isn't what the recommender had in mind.

I have, in desperation, considered adopting a goose, chicken, or duck, all of which are purported to relish snails and slugs. Of course there is goose poop to deal with and the appetite of neighborhood cats, as well as meandering raccoons.

The alternate to all this is learning to like snails. They have been around a long time. Brown garden snail shells were found in kitchen waste among Roman ruins. Napoleon's soldiers toted canned snails as part of their emergency battle rations. There was, maybe still is, a California social group that actually raised the brown garden snail for edible purposes. It's true that the brown garden snail was introduced into this country for the
dining table. As the story goes, in about 1850, a Frenchman longing for the tasties of home, imported a batch of Helix aspersa. Some brown garden snails escaped, multiplied happily without natural predators, and here we are, a gazillion snails later.

If you do decide you like snails, please let me know. One statistic emerging from Napoleon's military records recites "the extract of 1,000 snails per man" was adequate fare for one week. I can give you a year's supply, no problem at all.

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