Garden Seasons: Snail Infestation Prevention and Assorted Agricultural Research

An escargot fad has required new initiatives to prevent snail infestations. Meanwhile discoveries from ongoing agricultural research should be a boon to farmers and gardeners alike.

| January/February 1989

  • snail infestation - snail on dinner plate illustration
    The potential for snail infestation becomes a problem with the rise of snail consumption — and the spread of snail raising to meet demand.

  • snail infestation - snail on dinner plate illustration

European brown snails were imported into California in the 1850s for use as food. But the tasty mollusks didn't catch on, and many of them quietly “slipped out back.” They went wild and started eating farm and garden crops rather than being eaten.

Today, eating snails is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. There are several California escargot canneries and even a Snail Club of America (with its own newsletter). Unfortunately, interest in marketing live snails means that more escapees may invade gardens in other warm parts of the country (they don’t tolerate regular, heavy frosts).

To keep that from happening, many states now require inspection of California plants to make sure they are snail-free; some states require permits to ship live snails; and two states — Florida and Louisiana — prohibit live shipments. But it’s difficult to stop ignorant or defiant would-be snail farmers from ordering “starter kits.” Recently, there have been localized infestations in some southeastern states. Even though they have apparently been contained, just one overlooked snail could eventually lead to a regional snail infestation. So remember, as far as gardeners are concerned, the only good edible snail is a dead one!

Recent Agricultural Research

Agricultural scientists are always coming up with something new. Recent (but not yet available to the public) discoveries include a drought-tolerant lima bean that produced a respectable crop of pods full of tasty green seeds on only one inch of rainfall in three months; nitrogen-fixing tomatoes (the active bacteria were hiding inside the plant’s roots); and a nematode that can inject lethal bacteria into those destructive Japanese beetle grubs in your lawn and garden soil. And, oh yes, researchers are also developing a boon for spray-happy farmers: a tomato that doesn’t mind being dosed with the potent, widely used herbicide Roundup.

Research Briefs

Dried nematodes. USDA scientists have beneficial nematodes on the brain. With the help of the California biotechnology company, Biosys, they are drying lab-reared nematodes to make them easier to ship. The resulting paste of very flat worms is refrigerated and shipped, and the nematodes are then revived with water.

Sprouting onion sets. Trials in England have shown that onion sets sprout fastest at 60 degrees Fahrenheit and slowest at temperatures just above freezing. So to prevent premature sprouting of your spring onions, store sets in the refrigerator (but not the freezer).

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