By Karen England.
While the rest of the world learned to make sourdough bread with little or no ingredients or started a victory garden with a clay pot that they learned to make themselves and some seeds they scavenged from an old tomato rotting on their kitchen counter (or both) during the COVID-19 lockdown, I managed to grapple with an onslaught of snails that happened on my property during the same unprecedented times.
Back when the "March Miracle" rains occurred in 1991, ending the epic drought of the 80's I ran into Evelyn Weidner (SDHS Horticulturist of the Year 2001) on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) while we were both shopping in downtown Encinitas and, of course, all we could talk about was the weather and the blessed rains. Well, that and the landslide of snails that followed the miracle. Snails were everywhere then, seemingly out of nowhere! It was an eye-opening conversation that I will never forget. Evelyn explained to me the bad news that snails can be dormant for years and wait out even the worst of droughts. So, when we had record breaking rains, this time in April not March, during the pandemic of 2020, what else happened? Snails. Everywhere. Remember the old movie The Birds? My yard was turned into something akin to a Hitchcockian horror film.
Movie Poster for Karen's fictional film "The Snails".
So, while everyone else managed to cut their own hair while self-isolating, not me, I got ducks.
The following is what I've found works for me in my current battle against snails, as well as, what has not worked and what the jury is still out on . . .
What has worked:
1. Escargot -
By far the most satisfying of all the things that I've attempted for "natural" snail control, teaching myself to make escargot during the quarantine is the highlight! I got the idea after rereading Jacques Pepin's outstanding book The Apprentice - My Life in the Kitchen, a Memoir with Recipes, in which Jacques recounts a very funny snail story that happened while he and his wife, Gloria, were staying in Mendocino, California prior to giving cooking classes in Napa . . .
"After we settled into our bungalow overlooking the beach, I went for a stroll. To my surprise I saw snails everywhere, sliding along the wet terraces and stairs of the resort. They were petitgris, as we called the small gray escargots in Burgundy. . . Exhilarated, I crashed into the bedroom of our bungalow . . . grabbing a wastepaper basket, which I proceeded to fill with more than one thousand snails. . . I put the wastepaper basket in the bathtub and covered the basket with a bath towel, tucking the edges underneath.
"They won't move from there," I said.
We spent an enjoyable night out at dinner . . . and returned to our cottage around midnight. Gloria turned on the light and screamed.
The snails had escaped and covered not only the bathtub but the bathroom walls, ceiling and mirror. One by one, I recaptured my snails . . ."
Long, funny story short, Jacques ended up taking his impromptu snail haul with him to his classes and, although "most of my students were not crazy about handling snails . . . they eventually got it right, however, with the aid of a few bottles of wine."
Jacques' memoir may have given me the idea to eat my nemesis, and the book does, indeed, contain lots of recipes but just not a recipe for the escargot he taught in the class.
So, for that and the step-by-step instructions on how-to enjoy 'garden snails to table' cuisine, I turned to River Cottage A-Z, a self-sufficiency cooking tome by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and followed it exactly. (For more on information on the whole escargot recipe process, please visit Karen's Edgehill Herb Farm blog.) Suffice it to say, the snails were absolutely scrumptious.
Available from gardens everywhere.
2. Decollate Snails -
15 or so years ago I used predatory decollate snails around a citrus tree that was covered in common snails and that tree has never had a snail problem since, even now during the current snailpocalypse. So, I bought more from Amazon recently and have put them around my other citrus trees.
Available on online.
3. Salt -
We absolutely do not need more salts in our soil or water table, but, if you are throwing away buckets of gathered snails in the trash, salt them first, it will kill them and then they won't escape the garbage can.
Available at stores everywhere.
4. Smashing -
I have snail smashing flip flops. Somedays, most days, before showering I put them on, and, with a cup of tea in hand, I wander my yard smashing snails with my feet leaving a wake for the birds, ants and other snails to clean up.
Cheap flip-flops are available everywhere.
What hasn't worked:
1. Copper Tape -
Copper is supposed to cause some sort of a horrible reaction to snail slime when snails come in contact to it thus stopping a snail from getting into a raised vegetable bed (or out of it!) I'm unconvinced it works all that well. But if you try it, in the event that it works for you, don't accidentally Copper Tape some snails inside your raised bed. Anyone ever seen the movie Phenomenon with John Travolta? If you have you, remember the rabbit in the vegetable garden scenes? Enough said.
Available online at Amazon.com and at some garden centers locally.
2. Hens -
I have two hens these days but have had as many as 13 at once over the last 10 years and, although they are a joy and a half with eggs benefits, they have not and do not care for snails. Oh well.
Available from Feed Stores and online.
3. Throwing -
I had to see the doctor for a rotator cuff injury after hurting my snail pitching arm by throwing so many snails over my fence out into the street. It's the only sports injury I've ever had. Doctor bills and pain aside, before getting injured, I accidentally hit a jogger in the head, beaned him, with some snails I threw into the road. If I had tried to hit him I would have surely missed but, poor man, must have thought there were flying snails in Vista, because I dropped down and hid, embarrassed, after I realized what I'd done, and I watched from a bush as He looked up to the sky wonderingly, as if more might be incoming.
I should have just given up throwing snails right then . . .
Free (unless you injure your pitching arm.)
What the jury is still out on:
1. Ducks -
Unlike my hens who are ambivalent about snails, ducks are anything but! I got three youngsters recently, too soon to tell their sex, but best guess is one is male and two are females. Unlike chickens, ducks must have water for drinking and water for swimming. So, I got them a kiddie pool from the drug store. They eat "waterfowl" feed, available at feed stores, and love, among other things, to eat bananas, cucumbers, kale and snails. I'm pretty sure they will be very happy here.
Available sometimes from Feed Stores and on Craiglist and Nextdoor.
For more about controlling snails you can read here a recent Sharing Secrets column with tips from the membership.
SDHS Newsletter - Let's Talk Plants! - Managing editor, Karen England, known as Edgehill Herb Farm, is a social media influencer and blogger at EdgehillHerbFarm.blog when she's not battling snails by cooking them for dinner. She is also a member-at-large of the International Herb Association and a contributor to the 2020 IHA Herb of the Year TM book -
Rubus - Celebrating Blackberries, Raspberries and More!
Copies in stock now in Karen England's Edgehill Herb Farm online store: https://edgehillherbfarm.ecwid.com/NEW-BOOK-Rubus-Celebrating-Blackberries-Raspberries-and-More-Herb-of-the-Year™️-2020