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Out, Damned Slugs

August 4, 2011

Slugs. Slippery, slimy slugs. Alliteration aside, there’s not much to like about them. There are few creatures in nature that are more repulsive.

They fall into the category of harmful garden creatures along with Japanese beetles, aphids, leaf hoppers, and thrips (yes, thrips). At least each of these has some redeeming quality — the iridescent color or interesting history or unusual name. Even the snail has its symmetrical shell.

But the slug? Nothing. Just a trail of slime and a voracious appetite for your favorite plants.

I had an invasion of these land mollusks. What to do?

As most guys learned as kids, you can eliminate slugs much like Dorothy did to the Wicked Witch of the West, but instead of water, you use salt. Sprinkle some on their backs and before your very eyes they disintegrate in a foamy yellow gelatinous glob. Simultaneously gross and cool. The problem with this method is twofold. First, you can only get one at a time as you encounter them (which, since they are nocturnal, means staying up late with a flashlight while enduring the mosquitos). Second, the cleanup of the remains is quite messy.

I remembered hearing from an old gardener that beer could be used to catch and kill slugs, so it was off to the internet to check it out. Sure enough, every site listed this as an easy and effective method to rid yourself of the nasty gastropods. As additional benefits, it’s also nontoxic to the garden and provides another excuse to purchase some suds.

Off I went to the discount liquor outlet. Now, I do have beer in the house, but it’s beer I like, and I’m not about to share my Guiness or IPA with a garden pest. I looked over the multitude of six packs in the beer aisle in search of the cheapest brew. Knickerbocker came to mind from years ago, but it was another brand from the past that filled the bill: Rheingold. They were one of the sponsors of the Yankees back in the Channel 11 days of the 1950s; I still remember the jingle (“My beer is Rheingold the dry beer, won’t you try one the next time you buy beer…”). Only $5.99 a six pack, too!

Having arrived home with my newly acquired bait, I reviewed the procedure for its use. A small paper bowl or cut-down plastic bottle was to be set in a shallow hole in the garden with its lip even with the ground. Beer would be poured in at dusk (as to avoid the potential problem of drunken neighborhood cats). The idea was that the slugs would slither in to imbibe, fall in, and drown in a final ossified bliss. What more humane way could one possibly ask for to ensure the demise of these critters?

I dutifully followed the instructions and went to bed guiltless and optimistic. I was not let down. On my way out to get the newspaper the following morning, I checked my trap, and there they were — a dozen or so pickled slugs of various sizes lying stiffly at the bottom. Now, I admittedly know little about the facial anatomy of the slug, but as I scooped the bodies out with a plastic spoon, I could swear I saw little smiles. The same batch of beer can be reused until cloudy with dissolved slime (never did I imagine I’d utter such a sentence), so my initial six pack lasted several weeks. In the meantime, I read that the beer used needn’t be alcoholic, which might mean further monetary savings.

My next trip was to the local liquor store, where the prices were not listed on the smaller section of six packs. I recognized O’Douls, a nonalcoholic beer, and asked the Indian gent behind the counter what the cost was.

“$4.99 only, but it has, you know, no alcohol,” a note of concern for his customer’s partying welfare in his lilting voice.

I told him I knew and inquired if there was anything even cheaper.

“Non alcohol, no, sir. But alcohol, yes, indeed. I have PBR for $4.69 a six pack and $8.99 a twelve pack.”

PBR? I thought I knew a bit about beer, but PBR was unfamiliar to me.

“PBR? What’s that?”

“Oh, sir, why it is Pabst Blue Ribbon!” he replied, happy to contribute to my alcohol education.

I bought the twelve pack, but on the way home had some second thoughts. What if PBR turned out to be swill in the eyes of the slugs? Would they turn their little noses up at this offering (if either of those is even possible; again, my failure in slug anatomy haunts me)?

I was soon to find out. That night’s batch found PBR, the pride of Milwaukee, in the garden bowl. Upon pouring, the head was the equal of Rheingold. I interpreted that as a positive sign. But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, or in this case, the pilsner.

Morning came. I anxiously rushed outside, peered into the container, and beheld eighteen corpulent corpses in merry rigor mortis. Success!

I considered both dropping by to personally thank the purveyor of this potent potion and writing a congratulatory letter to Pabst, but thought better of it. After all, being attractive to slugs is not exactly a ringing endorsement. Perhaps Gardeners’ World Magazine would be more appreciative of this information. In any event, I am stocking up with copious amounts of PBR. So, slugs, come on over. The beer’s on me!

Mmmmmm, Pabst

Mmmmmm, Pabst

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