Farewell to Slugs

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ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Committing slugicide is not always pretty.

The relationship of gardeners and slugs can be summed up in
two words: mortal enemies. “These guys are eating
everything,” my wife mutters, looking around at the
tattered foliage. She spies one and squishes it in a gloved
fist. “Gotcha, you little creep. Say your prayers.” It’s a
safe bet to say this particular slug is about to have a bad
day.

Joy has watered and nurtured the garden all through
the summer’s heat, so clemency is unlikely. She is a
transplanted Vermonter, rather set in her beliefs about
slugs; no use telling her that these gooey bugs are a
natural fixture of Oregon’s summer landscape. At one time,
I even spoke in their defense. Sure, slugs are often found
in gardens on half-eaten leaves, I stipulated, but the
evidence against them is purely circumstantial. After all,
slugs don’t actually have teeth. “Chlorophyll and cellulose are missing,” says Joy, always
the pragmatist. “I don’t care how the slugs did it.”

Live and let live, I used to think. But that was before I
found out that the cellulose was missing from my tomatoes;
nearby, slugs were emitting little belches and trying to
look casual. After that, I took a more Vermontish approach
and made it my business to study Limacidae amicus:
our friend, the slug. Historically, these sticky mollusks
were once useful to humankind. When the first cave persons
invented glue, they turned to the slug for raw material,
mashing them into a paste guaranteed to hold hides against
the body. For a really good grip on a spear, hunters first
squished a slug or two along the shaft.

And around the
cave, nothing was handier than a slug on a stick for
picking up lint, hair, and other debris. “Hasta la vista,
baby,” Joy says, winding up for a tremendous pitch. She
hurls the slug with force and accuracy down to the chicken
coop, where it is welcomed with open beaks. Frankly, this
method is too graphic to describe or imagine. Call it “The
Funky Chicken.” My wife hands me a fresh victim. “Here,”
she says, “one for the road.” I prefer to lob slugs into
the middle of the highway near our house. Eventually a
logging truck roars by, and the slug hitches a ride, so to
speak. We call this technique “The Black Ice.”

There are many ways to get rid of slugs. Slug eradication,
in fact, makes shooting fish in a barrel look difficult.
The extreme slowness of slugs allows gardeners time to
designate a victim, go answer the phone, write a few
letters, take a nap, watch some TV, and then go back
outside to smash them with a shovel before they can turn to
flee. But this method (“The Shovel Off”) is crude,
unimaginative, and unnecessarily messy. As the poet Robert
Burns wrote, “Wee, slickit, cowering, timorous beastie/I’ll
tek ma shoovel and mak you pastie/But och, the gorps are
verra nastie” But there are cleaner methods. I’ve often
dreamed of taking a pail of them out to the Bonneville Salt
Flats and launching them off golf tees with a
mashie-niblick: “The Sand Trap.”

One can also sprinkle them
with salt (“The High-Sodium Die”), but be advised that
salted slugs make a real production out of shuffling off
their mortal coil. There are several disturbing reports
that they only fake their demise–lying there stiff
and lifeless as a rake handle until they’re someday
reconstituted with rain water, at which time they revive
and stagger off. So I pass along the following hint: if you
ever drop one into a can of kerosene and it survives, call
the Guinness Book of World Records and don’t make
it mad, because that’s one tough slug. Squeamish gardeners
can avoid actually committing slugicide if they happen to
live in a region with caves or sinkholes. An acquaintance
of mine gardens on a mountain riddled with mine shafts, one
of which is so bottomless that he can hear faint sounds of
people speaking Chinese. He takes slugs from his garden and
simply drops them in. None has ever returned from “The Long
Goodbye” Another gravity-fed slug remover is a swiftly
moving river, preferably white water rapids.

Put the slug
on a cedar shingle, insert this little canoe in the water,
wish him bon voyage, and your conscience is clear. If he
paddles like heck, he might even survive “The Unlucky
Pierre.” Finally, we come to the most elegant and humane
termination of all. Slugs come for miles when one fills up
an oil pan with stale beer and leaves it out overnight in
the garden. The next morning, 40 or 50 of them will be
inside the pan, looking very mellow if somewhat dead. Slugs
have definitely perfected a cure for hangover: “The Last
Happy Hour.”