Moving to a new country means discovering new creatures in your back yard.  This is the place to talk about the wild things in your garden: what are they, and how do they help or hinder your gardening.

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One of our WIC members was asking about what to do about cats digging in his garden. 

This is mostly a problem when your plants are small.  You can protect the plants by covering them with netting (will also stop birds who enjoy young leaves) or surrounding them with sticks.  You can also run string between sticks to make it hard for the cat to sit: here is a similar example of a 'string garden' to keep cats off.

Cats can be helpful in the garden, killing mice and rats, and frightening birds away from eating the strawberries (like the one pictured here). 

Slug and Snail Control - caffeine

One proven method of controlling slugs and snails is through sprinkling old coffee grounds around your plants: Slugs and snails are killed by caffeine, contained in both coffee and tea.  Coffee is also rich in nitrogen, which is good for leafy vegetables.  It can increase soil acidity, which plants like blueberries will enjoy.

If you don't drink coffee, many cafes are happy to give you a bag of used coffee grounds for free.

Other uses for coffee grounds:

  • Worms love coffee grounds, so add them into your compost or worm bin
  • Caffeine controls mosquitos, so put a few grounds into your pot plant saucers
  • Fleas don't like coffee, so some people rub the grounds through their pets' fur.

For more information see: here

More on snails

I have been amazed to learn from you how many countries don't have slugs and snails! 

We have lots of different types here in NZ and not all of them are bad news for gardeners.

Slugs and snails are mostly active at night, particularly after wet weather - they like it damp. During the day they hide in cool shady places.  The snails in the photograph above are vegetarians (so bad news for gardeners) and particularly like the delicious young leaves of corn, some types of lettuce, brassicas (cabbage family), etc.  They do not like tomatoes or potato plants so much. 

One effective way of controlling them is to go out after dark when it has been raining with a torch and pick them off the plants and places they like - this is sometimes called digital control (digit is another word for finger).  Use gloves if you find them revolting.  You then have several options for killing them:

  • stomp on them
  • put them in a bucket of boiling water
  • put them in a bucket of salted water (but don't tip salty water on your garden!)
  • Feed them to hens or ducks
  • Eat them! (recipes sometimes call them escargot - they need to be purged first)
  • The gourmet snail farm Silver Trail is sometimes willing to buy large specimens for their breeding program.

Snail bait recipe + photo of snail eggs

See Dee Pignéguy, organic gardener and author of the book Feed Me Right, has a recipe for home made snail bait and a photograph of snail eggs on her Facebook page.  


(She's also written Sonja's Kitchen—Sustainable Cuisine in the Cook Islands, a recipe book about Sonja Raela's organic garden and cafe.)

A good slug

If you came along to the Garden Pests & Diseases workshop you may recognise the slug in this photo. It is a leopard slug, taken by Lyn in Dinsdale, Hamilton. 

Leopard slugs are carnivores - they eat meat, not vegetables.  One of their favourite things to eat are other slugs!  So they are good to have in your garden: do not kill them. 

They are spotted, hence their name, and grow very large: this one was about 6 inches long!

Another large slug you may see is called a leaf veined slug, because it has a pattern like the veins of a leaf.  It mostly eats fungi, so it is no bother to the gardener.

More on the Leopard/Tiger Slug

I've got NZ's own 'Bug man' Ruud Kleinpaste's book on garden insects, 'Backyard Battlefield', out from the library at the moment.  He has a section on the tiger slug - Limax maximus.  It is native to eastern and southern Europe.

"It is a good all-round recycler, dead animals are also part of its diet. ... Tiger slugs will cruise your lino at night, attracted by the remnants of your cat's meat.  They've even been known to slurp the cat's milk.  After all, protein is protein, and 'recycling' is Limax's middle name" (p.75). 

Clare reckons leopard slugs also eat vegetables - this makes them omnivores like us, ie they eat meat and veg.

Slug & Snail Patrol
I've just got in from harvesting 1.8 kg of snails and slugs - and that was from just half of my garden!!  I only stopped because 1) my back was telling me it was time to change task, and 2) I suspect 5 chickens will be struggling to eat them all (I hope they are very, very hungry tomorrow).

I had headed out wearing my headlamp with a bag and tongs (the slime is hard to wash off your hands), because slugs and snails breed rapidly at this time of year, and they're usually more active after rain.

Permaculture encourages us to observe - take notice.  It was interesting to see what the slugs and snails were eating:

As I expected, they were enjoying fresh young plant leaves (including lawn). 

The gale (strong winds) we had today had brought down small tree branches: they were also enjoying these, along with dead flowers and leaves.  This makes them decomposers - creatures that help to break down dead things - an important job (it seems to me that few things in life are all bad...) 

They were also grazing (snails can have hundreds to thousands teeth!) on things rich in calcium, like concrete, limestone and the mortar between bricks.  Just as we need calcium for our bones, snails need calcium for their shells.

Snail and slug control - shell myth

It is not true that you can keep slugs and snails away from your plants by using a mulch of crushed egg or sea shells.  They are just as likely to be attracted by the calcium the shells contain (see video below)! They need the calcium to form their own shells.  Even slugs need calcium

Their slime protects them from the sharp edges - they can even safely glide over sharp knives and razor blades.

Birds (wild)

Radio New Zealand (RNZ) has photographs and bird calls on their web site, from common garden birds like the fantail to rare birds like the kokako.  You may recognise some birds from your country of origin, for example the cuckoos which spend winter in warmer Pacific countries such as Tonga.

Clicking on the RNZ photo will bring up more information about the bird, including what they eat.  For example, Tui enjoy eating nectar, which means they are useful for pollinating feijoas. 

The most common backyard birds in New Zealand are the: house sparrow, silvereye, starling, blackbird,tui, chaffinch, common myna and the gold finch.

The Annual NZ Garden Bird Survey

If you are looking for a school holiday activity for your family, why not take part in the NZ Garden Bird Survey which runs 30 Jun until 8 July 2012?  Fill out the online form or print it out & post it in.  

To take part you watch birds in your garden for one hour. You don’t have to watch your whole garden, just part of the garden will do - you can do it from inside your home, looking out of a window at part of the garden (great for a wet day!). 

By taking part in the survey you will help build up a picture of how well both native and introduced birds are doing in our gardens over the years.

The survey is also a great excuse to learn how to identify the local birds: there are photographs of common birds and links on the Landcare Research website to help you. 

Birds bring colour and music to our gardens, help with pest control and pollination. They also sometimes eat our plants – it is good to learn who does what!   

Pīpīwharauroa - the Shining Cuckoo

I've just heard a shining cuckoo (pronounced cook-ooo) calling!  Their return to NZ is seen as another sign of spring.  They have a beautiful coat of metallic green.  You can see a photo and hear their call here.



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