Gardening and Snail-i-cide in Cornwall

One of my first posts was about slugs. I wrote it early in the growing season, when none of the new plants stand a chance unless I carry out mass slug-i-cide. And snail-i-cide. It’s disgusting, it’s disturbing, and it works, up to a point.

But the plants that don’t get eaten get bigger, and sooner or later I convince myself that I can skip an evening’s slaughter. Maybe because it’s raining. Maybe because it isn’t. There’s always a reason, and it doesn’t have to be a sensible one. Then, before I notice what’s happening, several days have rolled past, and then the weeks do the same thing, and eventually I decide that I don’t have to kill them anymore. The plants are established.

Irrelevant Photo: Late Summer Wildflowers

Irrelevant Photo: Wildflowers

Oh, happy summer. I declare a truce with the slugs and snails. This isn’t negotiated, it’s a one-sided thing. They still eat everything in sight, but now I look the other way when I see them.

Then summer passes, and right now it’s fall. Or autumn, if you’re of the British persuasion. A few days ago, I lifted the lid on the kitchen garbage can and found a snail glued to the underside. How did it get there? I suspect I found it when I was washing a batch of spinach I’d cut and I tossed it in as a sort of compromise: I won’t carry it sweetly back out to the garden to munch its way through more spinach, but I’m not killing it, am I?

The reason I say “I suspect” is that I’ve rearranged my memory so that I’m no longer absolutely the kind of person who’d do that. I probably am, but I have a small escape hatch. The snail might have moved in on its own: come in the back door, crossed the living room rug, crawled up the side of the garbage can, lifted the lid, crawled in. You know; it could happen if, I don’t know, the laws of physics changed or something. I’m just not sure.

I plucked it off the top and put it inside the bin again. Why? No idea. I don’t understand the workings of my mind any better than you, dear reader, are likely to. The next time I looked, it had climbed to the top of the liner and I left it there. Because by now it had become individualized. It wasn’t just some snail, it was almost a pet. And I’d tossed the poor thing in a near-empty, and dry, garbage can, with nothing edible and nothing moist.

Stop that, I told myself.

I didn’t listen. Instead I asked myself whether it was crueler to carry it to the pavement and crush it or to leave it where it was. This was, in spite of its absurdity, a serious ethical question, and a complicated one, which (like so many serious and complicated ethical questions) I haven’t answered to my own satisfaction. That’s another way of saying that I left it where it was but became conscious of every bit of edible junk I tossed in, and every smidgen of moisture. I made a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, which involved a lot of oatmeal landing on the floor. My recipes are like that: Take one handful of rolled oats and toss over your left shoulder. So I swept the oatmeal up and threw it in with the snail. Ditto the bits of dog treats I cut in half because the dog is small and the treats are big and she’d be chewing for half an hour if I didn’t cut them up.

Mmm. Snail food.

So here I am, the bane of slugs and snails, feeding a pet snail.

Eventually the garbage can will fill up and I’ll take the bag out, slug and all, and toss it in the trash. I know this. But like a mother who can’t bear to tell her daughter the goldfish died, I’ll tell myself it’ll be fine. It’s just going on a trip, darling, to a new home.

14 thoughts on “Gardening and Snail-i-cide in Cornwall

  1. Oh Ellen… you had me guffawing out loud more than once here… so, so, so funny! You’ll be naming it next. :-) They are super gross… but kind of interesting to watch as well. And as for the hows and whys of him getting in there, just embrace your brief foray into slimy pet ownership. It could always be worse. Not much worse, but I’m sure we can think of something grosser than a snail trail. p.s. oatmeal is their favourite thing ever! xx MH


  2. There’s a certain element of ruthlessness successful gardeners have, I think, which I don’t seem to possess. Snails and slugs are not the bane of my gardening existence, substitute rabbits, voles, and deer. Early in my gardening life, I set up traps for the voles. As you say, disgusting and disturbing. No more. I just don’t have the heart for a truly beautiful garden.


    • Funny you should say that. Wild Thing has wanted a pet duck ever since we moved here–not so much for the slugs as to enter in village duck races, which involve dumping a bunch of numbered plastic bathtub ducks in a stream and seeing which one gets to the finish line first. She wants to turn up with her pet duck under her arm and say, “It’s a duck race and I’ll thank you to enter my duck.”

      So far, those of us who know and love her have managed to keep her occupied when all the cute ducklings are in their yellow-feathered stage, and after that it’s too late and she has to wait until next season.


      • Ducks are actually lovely, and their eggs are wonderfully rich for baking. I think you should indulge Wild Thing! Only get a pair of girls. The boys are impossibly randy. Hmmm … memories … I need to add this to my long and ever-growing list of Posts To Be Written.


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