Slug Eating Chilli

How to REALLY Control Slugs – Drink the Beer yourself, and take the Battle to them

Firstly lets deal with the notion that slugs are just slimy things that whilst annoying to the gardener and not very pleasant, they are otherwise quite innocent.

1/ They will eat the rotting flesh of their dead brothers and sisters, then crawl all over your vegetables

2/ Many of them will eat dog and cat faeces and then they crawl all over your vegetables

Is this what you want?

Now I’m not squeamish about creepy crawlies, but for these reasons alone I don’t touch slugs, well not the big fat ones anyway. There area number of different species and pretty much all of the ones you find in the garden will have a go at your plants and vegetables, but some more than others. Actually the ones that do the most damage on the tender shoots of your peas and beans are more likely to be Common Keeled slugs, or Yellow slugs. The Common Keeled slug is a difficult one to control as it spends most of its life in the soil, and can attack seedlings before they have even emerged into the daylight, you also find them under plant pots where the squeeze into the drain holes during the daytime.

The nasty one is the big fat orangey brown Spanish slug, these are a relatively new invader from overseas, they are drought tolerant, lay twice the number of eggs as native slugs and are voracious eaters of anything and everything, including dog poo and dead animals. They are taking over from our native slugs and are quite a disgusting and unwanted addition to your garden.

You will read about all sorts of ways of controlling and trapping slugs, and you can spend an awful lot of time and money on it too, nasty pellets, eco-friendly pellets, copper bands, plastic traps; the list goes on. All of these take time to set up and inspect, and according to my experience none of them really work. The reason they proliferate is twofold, firstly the people that manufacture things like beer traps and copper bands want to sell you something, and secondly people that offer advice want to do so without causing offence, so they offer tame alternatives to the real way of controlling slugs and snails, which is to hunt them down and kill them, mercilessly, by whatever means you have at hand.

So my slug and snail regime is as follows; I use Nemaslug in the spring, as soon as the soil warms up, (slugs don’t come out until the temperature reaches 6°C). You buy this from online retailers or garden centres and water it all over the garden on a warm moist night. This definitely swings the battle in my favour, and hopefully staves off the population explosion until after the spring rains and into periods of dry soil when slugs lie low anyway. Nemaslug is of particular benefit in the exposed soil of vegetable patches where the damage is done by the soil dwelling Common Keeled slug. The slug that leaving you wondering where they came from and where they go to when the sun comes up. They are the ones that will get your early seedlings and also attack root vegetables and newly germinating seeds underground.

Slug Eating Chilli

Slug Eating Chilli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Nemaslug there is no substitute for the nightly massacre. This goes for snails as well as slugs, (Nemaslug doesn’t work on snails). I go out an hour after dusk and slash or smash every slug or snail in sight. This is free, and actually takes less time than spreading pellets, or filling beer traps. If you drink the beer you would otherwise waste in their traps then this can help with any guilt that may build up during the slaughter. The death toll can run into the hundreds if you don’t keep on top of it.

If you keep this up you will soon get on top of them, and then from time to time on dry evenings you won’t find any, and you can ease off slightly on your nightly binges.

For some further info on slugs, and a handy identification guide, have a look at www.slugwatch.co.uk 

Sliced Poona Kheera Cucumber

Poona Kheera

Sliced Poona Kheera Cucumber

Sliced Poon Kheera Cucumber – This looks a little over ripe, but the seeds are soft and edible, and it is super juicy

A quick post to sate my enthusiasm for something quite humdrum.

I find myself getting excited about a lot of unusual vegetables these days, so here is another ramble about new favourite veg of mine. It is called Poona Kheera and it is an Indian cucumber.

I had few cucumbers rambling around the greenhouse earlier in the year but they were past their best and I thought I would try something different, even though it was quite late in the season. So when I ordered some weird herb seeds from The Real Seed Catalogue I bought some Poona Kheera seeds too.

I’m really really impressed; tasty to the point at which you might confuse them with a ‘not quite sweet enough’ honeydew melon, and really quick growing. The seeds were planted in the middle of July, and after a pretty cool and unimpressive August, the first ones were picked on 10th September, so less than 8 weeks from seed to fruit, pretty amazing.

We chop these into triangles and eat them on their own, more flavoursome even than more traditional varieties, and prolific too.

There you go.

The Poona Kheera Indian cucumber

The Poona Kheera Indian cucumber

Chillies – So what’s with dfferent varieties of the same thing?

Chilli growers hear and talk a lot about different varieties. There are, after all, only 5 main species of chilli and many thousands of varieties within each. But that’s not what I am talking about today. Today I’m dealing with different types of the same chilli, and is it worth paying extra for new and exciting ones, or alternatively spending time seeking out the traditional old ones?

Firstly, I will say that, as a former commercial grower, I think a lot about things like increased yield per plant, uniformity of fruit, and ripening time. But shouldn’t we all? It isn’t necessarily a bad thing; even somebody who only has a single plant in their window would still like to see it produce better, bigger, hotter, quicker or tastier.

So when we go online at the start of the year to shop and dream, we are hit with lots of information. But is the sales patter all true? Phrases like ‘heavy cropper’, ‘bumper yield’, ‘continuous fruiting’ draw us into paying a bit more for a newly developed variety. Conversely, we are also told that looking backwards to old ‘heirloom’ varieties will give us a better flavour, the way things used to be. So is backwards the way forward?

To digress a little, let’s thing about the supermarket tomato. We all know that with tomatoes, what the shops feed us is bigger, quicker and juicier, thinner skinned, but rarely tastier than the ones we grow at home. Tomatoes are grown in such bulk that the growers’ choice of variety has become so influenced by commercial gain that flavour has definitely been sacrificed.

But are chillies affected in the same way? I’m not so sure. Even in areas where they are grown in bulk for a commercial market, increased productivity doesn’t usually lead to a reduction in flavour. Big peppers are different, and they suffer as tomatoes do, but not so much hot chillies.

All these thoughts were prompted by my comparison of two Jalapeno plants last year. They were grown side by side, one was bought as a seedling from a garden centre, grown for an anonymous market at minimum cost. The other grown by me from seed, the variety is ‘Chichimeca’. The results of a comparison are obvious. They both get the same amount of light and plant food, and enjoy the same temperatures, (which were great last summer).

Jalapeno Comparison
This picture has the first few chillies off of the two bushes, the basic Jalapenos are at the top and at the bottom is my favourite variety, Chichimeca.

From an industry insiders point of view, let me explain why the plants the garden centre supply are inferior. This is down to seed price, and the unfortunate fact that the grower of the seedling is so far removed from the eater of the chillies that they have no vested interest in growing something that will be big and bountiful, and this is such a tiny part of the garden centre’s income (compared to the cafe, imported tat, Christmas decorations, BBQs etc. etc.) that they aren’t too bothered either. Basic Jalapeno seed (probably Jalapeno M) will probably cost the wholesale plant grower about fifty quid for 20,000 seeds, so the seed part of their overhead is minimal. New varieties, like Chichimeca might cost them up to a few pence per seed, and suddenly that would have a knock on effect of the price of the seedling they sell to the garden centre, and therein lies the problem. Most garden centres are price-led, so the results aren’t as important.

You will see another illustration of the difference in seed price if you go to a specialist seed seller online. You might find somewhere that sells a wide range of chilli seeds, possibly a range so huge that making your choice becomes a daunting process. These guys will undoubtedly have a few really cheap ‘loss leaders’ they might even give these packets away for free if you buy enough of something else. But is it worth filling your greenhouse with these plants?

I think there are a few varieties where it is worth paying more for something better, greenhouse and window sill space is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted, and our time is valuable too, so we want to make our space as productive as possible, and preferably without too much effort.

So here are a few varieties where you can really benefit greatly by shopping around to find something a bit better.

Jalapeno – Steer clear of anything advertises simply as Jalapeno, Jalapeno M, or Early Jalapeno. These are older varieties, less prolific, and no uniformity of size, which means many will be undersized and lacking in heat where the seeds and placenta inside haven’t formed properly. Instead go for Chichimeca, Ixtapa, Summer Heat, Mucho Nacho, Tula or Mitla.

Orange Habanero – Instead of the standard variety, go for Chichen Itza; it is earlier to ripen, more prolific and bigger.

Serrano – The standard version is slow to grow, and with very few fruits per plant, instead go for ‘Senor Serrano’ They are Longer, more uniform, quicker and hugely prolific.

Ancho/Poblano – The standard plants can be quite rambling and often only the first few off the plant are full size. Instead try the ‘San Martin Hybrid’ it is bigger, more prolific and stronger more compact plants. Beware of hybrid Poblanos that claim huge oversized fruits. There are some crossed with sweet peppers to give a huge fruit, but they start to lose their distinctive flavour if they are bred too big.

And here are some where you can pick up a bargain that is still prolific and worthwhile.

• Hungarian Hot Wax
• Long Slim Cayenne
• Santa Fe

Fungus Gnats (or Sciarid Flies)

I have never really had a problem with these before, occasionally I have seen them in chilli plants that are overwintered indoors, or other house plants. But mostly they tend to stick to indoor plants with old neglected soil.

For those that don’t know about them, they are a tiny black fly that hangs around the soil in a pot, you often don’t see them until you water it and they all fly up in a panic. Their even tinier grubs will be living in the soil, feeding on algae, rotting organic matter, and according to some experts but not others, the roots of your plant.

This year, however, I seem to have been inundated with them in the greenhouse. I think this is most likely due to the very mild winter. Where I live in South Devon we only had a couple of very light frosts, and the greenhouse never went below zero, hence poor sterilization of the soil. I had a couple of chilli plants out there which developed fungus gnats in their pots but I wasn’t too worried, normally they would die and be discarded before spring. I also had a bag of compost left over from the previous year which had a few in. I didn’t want to use it for potting so I dug it into the beds in the greenhouse. I foolishly thought the flies wouldn’t survive in natural soil because other bugs would kill them off. This was wrong, and before I knew it the beds were crawling, along with some other pots.

I am a big fan of biological controls, Nemaslug etc. and I urge people to use them whenever I can, but it is only recently that I have seen a control for Fungus Gnats. In my Growing Chillies book I deal with Fungus Gnats, but don’t mention a biological control for them as, at the time, there didn’t seem to be one available, hence this update. I have always used the old fashioned method of sticking a piece of potato in the soil which attracts the grubs and can later be discarded. Luckily now there is a biological control widely available, it is inexpensive, easy to use and very effective. It is microscopic nematode worms that infect the fly grubs. It comes as a light powdery substance in a small sealed tray. Dilute it in a watering can and water it into the soil of infected pots. It seems to me that the results are obvious within just a day or two. I suppose the grubs are infected almost immediately and the adults don’t live more than a day or two, so their life cycle is immediately halted.

This will be my first port of call in future, I might even order it as a matter of course every spring when I order my Nemaslug, you can get them shipped together from ‘all good purveyors biological controls’ I use www.greengardener.co.uk 

Aaaaaah – Flatworms!

This is part of my therapy, but I already get the feeling it isn’t going to work.

Warning, this article contains a lot of Flatworm information and a picture; reader beware.

Firstly I will say that I am not usually squeamish about creepy crawlies, in fact from a very early age I have chosen to seek them out. I was a keen amateur entomologist as a young teenager, and still am. I kept giant cockroaches as pets, and have always wanted to know what lies beneath rocks and stones.

Apart from one experience when I opened the lid of the compost heap and momentarily confused half an avocado skin with a giant slug I don’t remember being too repulsed by invertebrates, although a 7 inch giant centipede did run over my foot in Australia once, so I have a bit of a thing about those, and that is fair because they do bite.

One thing, however, that has always sent shivers down my spine is Flatworms, and flatworm-like things in general. Until last week my only experience of such creatures has been horror films, The X Files, and the like, in which they generally cause mayhem beyond what you would expect from the average squishy thing.

Oh, and I don’t like leeches either. There is a pattern emerging here, soft shiny wet things that are wider at one end than the other and move, sometimes quickly.

This therapy isn’t working.

Most gardeners have probably heard of the New Zealand Flatworm but have probably not experienced them, so their knowledge is limited to the fact that they are an unwanted import, they probably came to this country in the pots of imported Tree Ferns, and they are a pest we don’t want or need.

They have been around for a while, taking hold in the great gardens of Cornwall where Tree Ferns and similar plants thrive and Victorian enthusiasts built great collections of imported fora from around the globe.

So anyway, last week I was on my nightly slug hunt, the weather has warmed, though still damp and they are emerging ready to do damage. I was mooching round one of my new raised beds, scissors in hand, snipping the odd slug here and there. Suddenly something caught my eye, something out of place, and the beam of my head torch landed on a slippery orangy-yellow thing. I knew what it was instantly, luckily it wasn’t very big, maybe an inch and a half. But I winced and I could feel the blood rushing round my ears. Then there was another one, this time wriggling, wrestling with an earthworm.

This is what they do, they eat earthworms by digesting injecting them with a poison which dissolves their insides and then they suck out the juice.

This therapy definitely isn’t working.

The two worms were each snipped into four pieces, all of them still wriggling quickly. I hope all these 8 parts don’t carry on living, the consequences aren’t worth thinking about.

I took a picture and tweeted it, all the time trying  not to look and I hoped that someone might correct my misdiagnosis, but all I got was confirmation and one lady who put the final nail in the coffin of my Flatworm phobia. ‘They can escape from a sealed jam jar!’

I don’t know for sure if mine are New Zealand Flatworms, I never made a positive identification. I don’t want to look at any more pictures. There are also Australian Flatworms which, I imagine, are slightly larger, a bit more aggressive and in your face, and care a little bit less about the environment around them. I hope, at least, that mine are from New Zealand.

That night I had the worst nightmare I have ever had. A proper ‘you only ever see it in the movies’ type nightmare. I can’t go into the details of it but it involved lots of Flatworms, dozens of them, and huge, much like Indiana Jones in a pit of snakes, and I awoke with a proper scream. My wife thought I was dying.

My slug hunting expeditions have abated for a while. Hopefully my Nemaslug treatments, and general plant protection are doing their job. I think that the flatworms only live at the bottom of my garden where there is a strip, sheltered by a tall fence, that never sees the sun. This is where the compost area is and I think this is how the Flatworms came to be in my raised beds. The household compost goes in a big bin which is really a wormery  and when I built the beds I emptied all the bin into the bottom of the beds.

We have barely had a frost this winter, in fact where I live I suspect ‘This has been the warmest winter on record’ and I think this provides a perfect habitat for Flatworms to thrive.

Flatworms can’t tolerate frost, and luckily they can’t live in temperatures of over 20c, so maybe this summer and a cold winter will see them off. I don’t know where they came from, I have never brought plants imported from New Zealand, maybe my neighbour has, or maybe they are just gradually spreading. I don’t think Devon is the best place for them, although it is generally quite wet, things do dry out in the summer. From what I have read, (which is very little, as most internet articles are accompanied by photographs), I gather they prefer Scotland, where they escape frost by burrowing down, and enjoy constantly damp summers.

Worse has happened, yesterday my nightmare nearly came true. I was repairing a path along the bottom of the garden, in the shady area. I lifted the edge of some weed control stuff that lay under the path, and through a hole in it, from underneath, a bigger more orange Flatworm wriggled, half way out, fatter and the visible part was an inch and a half without what lurked beneath. I couldn’t kill it. Where else are they? In my wellies? around my radishes? In my hair? Aaaah.

This therapy hasn’t worked. The path is still unfinished and this article won’t be proof read so apologies for any errors. I don’t even know if Flatworms are one word or two, I’m not going to look it up and I anyway I can’t read this again, at least not for a while. I don’t expect others to read this anyway, it isn’t the sort of subject matter people go out of their way to find.

 

This is one of my flatworms, before it was chopped. I held my hand in the way of the picture while I was editing it, so I don’t even know if it looks OK. You decide.

Flatworm

Flatworm

 

 

 

Do Horticultural Shows Need to Modernise?

I live in a village which holds an annual horticultural show, the likes of which you see in villages and towns all over the UK. Many years ago I used to participate, but when I became a professional grower I wasn’t allowed to compete any longer. Twelve years has passed and as I am now ‘retired’ from professional chilli growing I am eligible to compete again so recently one of the village elders gave me the application booklet, apparently these days they are struggling for participants. Why is this I wonder? With the boom in ‘grow your own’ that can’t have eluded anybody you would have thought there would be lots of eager takers.

Now I am probably not a typical veg grower, I lean towards the unusual, challenging or bizarre. I obviously grow lots of chillies and I don’t have huge amounts of space, so I mostly steer clear of potatoes and the bigger root vegetables. Even so I would say that from what I hear from my humble list of followers, and what I glean from the press, those that have recently taken to veg growing, and in particular younger growers are a little more Thai basil than turnip.

On my local show list there are 32 classes in the vegetable section, and I am currently growing , even if you count chillies as 1, 24 different vegetables or herbs and yet the overlap between the two is only 4, not including the ‘Any other vegetable’ and ‘Any other fruit’ classes. They have runner beans, I grow dwarf french beans, They have turnips, parsnips and beetroot, I have asparagus peas, mouse melons and aubergines. They have marrow, I have squash.

I know of another local show which, when some new organisers took over the reigns, did amend their class list slightly to reflect changes in taste, but this didn’t go down well with the traditionalists. If you have grown prize turnips for decades you might be slightly miffed if your category is culled to make way for’ Hot Pepper’ or ‘Ornamental gourd or squash’. I am interested to know whether anyone has opinions on this, and if so how should horticultural shows reflect changing trends? Some of them go back hundreds of years, with cherished cups presented in memorial to past members, so tradition stands in the way of modernisation. I am inclined to kick things off with an offer of a new cup to my local show for ‘Tropical or Oriental Vegetable’ or some such thing, but would that preclude me from winning it? I’m not too worried.