Alys Fowler: outpace pests

‘Sometimes the solution isn’t killing slugs, but covering seedlings with a cloche in wet weather.’ Photograph: Gap Photos

I sow and the slugs mow. I sow and the slugs mow. I sow and the slugs mow. I sow and the slugs are busy mowing down the last row.

In my quest to be at one with slugs, I have got to the base of the mountain and it looks insurmountable. They seem to ooze out of every pore of this garden: it is the stuff of nightmares, but I refuse to leave my chosen path. Thus I am sowing a lot, little and often, and I am slowly progressing.

Sow a pinch at a time. If you sow long rows, and slugs and other pests are doing well, that’s a lot of seed to lose at once. And try lots of different locations – don’t keep sowing the same thing in the same spot.

There’s plenty of time to resow beetroots, spring onions, lettuce, dwarf beans (french, runner and drying), carrots, parsnips (they’ll be small, but delicious), oraches, kales, leeks, broccoli raab or rapini, turnips, rocket, radishes, mizuna and kohlrabi. Even courgettes and pattypans can still be sown – and tomatoes, as long as you have somewhere protected to house them over autumn.

Aim for a balance between plant growth and pest attack. If slugs munch faster than the plant can grow, the results are obvious. The solution isn’t always killing slugs. Sometimes it can be as simple as covering seedlings with a cloche in wet weather. The slightly warmer, drier environment inside the cloche allows plants to keep growing steadily, just enough to win the race.

Other solutions seem counterintuitive. I planted out climbing beans in an understorey of perennial clover and in bare ground. In the first two weeks, the clover clearly harboured many slugs and these beans took a battering. But over time the bare ground beans were also eaten. The difference is that the clover’s roots are rich in nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and subsequently so is the soil around them. The beans had a helping hand from the extra nitrogen when they needed a boost. Also, ground beetles love permanent cover such as clover for hunting and refuge, and they eat slugs, caterpillars, aphids and other soft-bodied small insects. The bare ground beans had no such support, and I had to resow.

If a seedling or plant is struggling, a dose of seaweed, comfrey, nettle or similar liquid feed is a wonderful pick-me-up, boosting its immune system and resilience.

Finally, a little mulch with well-rotted homemade compost or perhaps Strulch (a mineralised straw that slugs don’t like to travel across) will help keep down weeds, lock in moisture and, as it continues to rot, give an extra boost of food.