Anyone who gardens in Western Washington has to deal with hungry slugs. My mom told me there weren't any slugs when she was growing up here. The brown and black slugs showed up in the 1950's and without any natural checks to their population they became a serious pest in the garden. My mom would go out after dark with a flashlight to pick them up by hand and then feed them to her ducks. I hated to pick them up because the slime was impossible to wash off.
Over the years I've tried many ways to protect my garden from slugs. I've tried physical barriers. The first was metal flashing pushed into the ground the length of the garden. I bent over the top into an inverted "U" . The slugs couldn't get past the sharp angle while hanging upside down. But then they would go around the barrier or slither up grass and get over. It did keep the population of slugs lower while the seedlings were small. When I built rock retaining walls around my garden I cemented in a strip of metal window screen that jutted out an inch from the wall. Again the theory was that the slugs couldn't get around the edge while hanging upside down. It worked as long as I remembered to straighten out the screen and remove any vegetation.
When the screen started wearing out I began to patrol the garden with a flashlight and knife to spear the slugs. I switched to a putty knife to make the task easier. Then I started using a scissors so I could get to the slugs that were clinging to plants. I still have a scissors on the widowsill next to the door to grab as I go outside to take care of any slugs in the coldframes.
Last year I got Muscovey ducks. So I started to collect slugs to feed the hungry growing juveniles. When I put my sheep into the bigger field I found hundreds of slugs. I took a quart yogurt container and flipped slugs into it with the lid. I filled up the container almost every day for two months in late summer. The extra protein made it easier to fatten up the birds. Even my chickens learned from the ducks to eat some of the slugs.
So I had changed a nuisance into a resource. And like any resource I started to think about it's limits and how to sustainably harvest it. I didn't take mating slugs. I left the smaller ones to grow bigger. I left an area alone like a sanctuary so there was always a reserve breeding population. This year I'm letting the population grow in size and number before starting to collect slugs from the big field. By the time the ducklings are hatched and growing, the slug population will be built up enough to sustain a continuous harvest to feed them.
Like weeds, in some places I completely eradicate slugs and in other areas I use them as a food resource.
If you don't or can't have ducks, a container of soapy water or vinegar water works to drown them, then into the compost pile they go, YAY!! No matter what you do, success depends on the amount of labor you put into the project. ~Kathi Marlowe
On the slug and snail trail -
Living in the rural village of Alger, my property has more snails than slugs. Over the years I have tried many different physical barriers. The one that seems to work best is the beer trap, a cup with stale beer sunk into the dirt. This trap seems to work fairly well but it is disgusting. A few years ago, I saw a book titled “Slug Tossing”. I never read the book, but the title kept coming up in my thoughts while weeding. Living on a busy road, I decided, a variation of “Slug Tossing” could help eradicate the snails that enjoy eating my tender little plants. Snail bowling is now my disposal plan. Every time I find a snail, I aim for the center line using a nice slow, underhanded pitch. With each consecutive toss, I try to get the snail a bit further out in the road. Once in the road, the snails are at the mercy of the passing cars. ~Anette Witter
For the most part I try and make my garden happy, and I use slugs as an indicator pest to show me where the soil needs improving or the location/timing for whatever I planted was not optimal. What I have found is slugs target weakened plants and choice fruit. Veggie starts need protection as they establish their roots and get over transplant shock. Perfectly ripe strawberries and mushrooms, favored by all creatures, are also chomped and slimed before I can harvest them. I use Sluggo, an organic slug bait, around my transplanted seedlings, my stropharia mushroom bed and strawberries when they are in their prime fruiting stage. Sluggo costs an arm and a leg, but I use it like its gold. I used to use ducks, but I can't keep ducks safe from predators without our old farm dog. With a two and half year old baby boy, I have zero motivation to sign on for dog training, so I will be duck free for at least a few more years. ~Sarai Stevens