This essay really should've been snails and slugs, part 1, but I got so excited over the Weetabix idea that I over-reacted and went totally out of sequence.
I consider myself to be a very logical thinker and a pretty good troubleshooter, but the land mollusks seem to present an extraordinary challenge. Imagine feeling so threatened by these tiny creatures that I lose the power of critical thinking. Somehow the urge to protect my seedlings overwhelms all other considerations. Another factor, of course, must have been my love of language. I'm a pushover for a catchy title, and Why snails love city gardens best was irresistible, especially in a British publication.
Let me try to reconstruct the history of this season's snail and slug offensive.
Just a few days before initiating the Weetabix strategy, we'd been experimenting with copper as a snail and slug deterrent. Steve had discovered this approach on line and was eager to try it. He has a pretty good stock of copper wire, and each of us purchased some old-fashioned copper mesh pot scratchers. I fashioned rings (roughly 3" in diameter) out of the copper mesh (incurring a nasty cut in the process) and placed them around many of my seedlings.
Experiments with live snails were discouraging. In separate and possibly equal trials (separate because neither of us would believe the other), Steve and I both discovered that snails could quickly and repeatedly cross a copper mesh barrier. We were able to rationalize this outrageous mollusk behavior in imaginative ways (it's tired after a night of debauchery, so not able to feel the electric shock or the abrasion). The bottom line, though, was that these laboratory animals were severely punished. In fact, they swiftly received the death penalty.
Meanwhile, the shiny little circlets of copper look really festive in my 'three sisters' garden. When I go out in the morning to smash the snails and slugs on the Weetabix trays, the copper rings have made it easy to identify the places where seedlings WERE standing the day before.
Musing over the loss of all the leaves on a promising scarlet runner bean seedling, I noticed that all the corn seedlings were still standing (OK not standing TALL, but standing), while the beans and squash had sustained various levels of damage. This led me to recall the British article about snails, where I had learned that snails, like urban gardeners, are drawn to broad-leaf plants. Light dawned at last! Corn is not a broad-leaf plant. Like grass, it is a monocot, with growth occurring at the top of slender stalks. The beans are dicots, producing new growth at the tips of lateral stalks. If you were sick the week they covered basic botany in junior high science, see Monocots versus Dicots.
Now picture a snail or slug hanging perilously on a slender leaf of grass (or a corn seedling that LOOKS like grass): eating, getting heavier, and finally falling to the ground. Now picture that same snail or slug supporting itself on a lateral branch to reach a cluster of tender new bean leaves, and then climbing to safety down the stronger main stem.
I rest my case. If you are in doubt, ask yourself whether you've ever heard about snails destroying grass lawns.
But I've gotten out of sequence again. The flash of insight about monocots and dicots didn't occur until after phase 3 of the snail and slug offensive had started. This will have to be revealed in snails and slugs, part 3,