“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” ~Henry David Thoreau
You might know them as roly-polys or pill bugs. I think they look like teeny-tiny armadillos, but nowhere near as endearing.
Slaters are actually a member of the Crustacea phylum and are roundaboutly related to delicious prawns and crayfish. However, slaters evolved from such tasty potential and instead found their way onto land to ravage my garden.
Granted, they do have some, small, purpose. Being scavengers, they break down decaying matter. But that can hardly be counted as a talent, right?
Problem is, they aren’t exclusively do-good scavengers. After after sowing my green manure patch, I found hundreds of the little blighters eating the buckwheat seeds before they had a chance to germinate. They also love to feast on emerging seedlings and will even ringbark more established, transplanted young plants. They will happily riot through a freshly planted plot and level it overnight.
See why I hate them? They are an indiscriminating, destructive force in my garden. Grrrrrrr!
Unfortunately, Slaters and mulch go hand-in-hand. Slaters seek shelter (and multiply) under the mulch, yet I need mulch to stop my beds from drying out.
What to do?
Yes, you can purchase a Slater-killer product from the nursery. Problem is, it is chemical armageddon. Quite literally, the instructions say…
Do not use indoors, on edible plants, near children, animals, ponds, drains or waterways.
Crazy! It might as well have said…
“Do not use on Planet Earth“.
So I plotted the slaters downfall with an organic, do-no-others-harm spirit. According to the research I did, slaters love oranges. So I dutifully placed a dozen orange halves around the bed to act as a lure for these greedy little buggers. They seem to be most active in the morning and early evening. Then, periodically throughout the day, I checked the lures, thinking I would dump the orange halves in a bowl of water to collect the slaters and replace the halves back in the bed.
Except, I didn’t really catch many using this method. I’ve actually only caught one so far! Dammit.
So then I experimented with a simple slater trap. Since the slaters seemed to exclusively enjoy the buckwheat, I put a couple of teaspoons of it in an empty plastic bottle with the bottom cut out, with a few teaspoons of water. Then buried the bottle lip in the dirt, near their hangout. I expected the little blighters to enter the trap and feast on the buckwheat buffet until such time I shake the contents in the chicken coop.
genius idea didn’t work either!
Frustrated, I literally took matters in my own hands. It’s clear the slaters prefer the moist soil near the edge of the raised bed. And while there may be a few slaters on the surface, tell-tale little holes in the soil hint to a swarming mass of slaters buried just underneath. So in desperation, I scooped out these hidey-holes, soil, slaters and all.
I caught hundreds this way. And while it may take a few weeks of committed surface scooping, I’m determined to run them off.
Also, I may have finally found a fantastic purpose for slaters…
The results of my scooping were deposited into the chicken coop. The chickens went nuts for their slater snack, making their excited clucky noises as they scratched and gobbled them down.
With respect to Mr Thoreau, it appears my slater scourge does have some compensation after all. Slaters are high-protein chicken treats!
When this bed has finished with it’s green manure crop, I’m going to let the chickens at it to give the entire bed a thorough scratch over and they can eat every last slater.
Apparently iron chelate based snail pellets deter slaters too. So when I come to plant this bed, I’ll scatter some around each seedling to make sure they are not devoured.
Do you have slaters in your garden? How do you keep them at bay? I would love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.