Our puppy, Cody, is sweet and tries so hard to be obedient. He’s pretty good about not going into the gardens to play, mostly. But he’s developed a bad habit that is having unpleasant consequences. He likes to take shortcuts across the corners of the flower beds, or take flying leaps across the raised beds next to the house. Sometimes he plants his back legs mid-garden for extra leverage, rather than going up and down the steps that are conveniently placed at intervals through the beds. Occasionally he likes to explore the garden beds with less exposed soil and more plants, especially the ones with bark mulch — maybe he thinks of them as belonging to a different, non-garden category. And his big, strong puppy paws are churning up the soil, tearing up plants, and leaving muddy paths across the corners. Not a good thing.

So I researched “puppy deterrent” and discovered that dogs really dislike citrus scents. Who knew? Not me. I considered what I could do to make the gardens citrus-scented. I was also making slug deterrents at the same time, including a cornmeal trap, and I thought: Aha! I can make scented cornmeal and scatter it around. It shouldn’t hurt the garden, and it just might keep Cody out.

I poured about three cups of cornmeal (all I had left after making slug traps) into a plastic leftovers container, and added all the citrus-scented things I could find in my cupboard. I sprinkled about three tablespoons each of TrueLemon and TrueLime powder, several drops of orange flavoring, a couple of drops of OnGuard (an essential oil blend from DoTerra with orange oil as its first ingredient), and some squirts of lime juice. I have a glass container of orange zest that I collected to use for extracting essential oil (no, I haven’t gotten it to work yet, but they make GREAT garnishes for cosmos), so I tossed some of those in. Then I sprinkled handfuls around the perimeter of all the garden areas.

It worked. Cody would trot down the gravel path, pause at the edge of the garden, sniff, and continue on his way without venturing into the garden. He still took occasional flying leaps over the raised beds, but didn’t take any more leisurely strolls through the middle of any gardens. As a helpful bonus, the slugs loved the mixture, so in the evenings I could walk along with a jar of salt water and just pick them off. Yes, it was disgusting. But it was worth braving the foulness in order to rid the world of another dozen or so slugs.

And then it rained. And Cody stopped caring about the smell, and resumed taking shortcuts through my tender crocus shoots.

I’m out of cornmeal and ideas. And after nearly a month of everyone in this household being sick, one after another as well as all at once, I’m also out of energy. So, dog people: Help! What are your tried-and-true pet deterrents that are also safe for small children? Yes, I do realize that the most logical answer is to buy a bunch more cornmeal, make a big batch of my amazing homemade Bad Puppy mix, and sprinkle it after each rain. But I’d love to hear laziness-friendly ideas, also.


The Only Good Slug Is a Dead Slug

Over the last few weeks I’ve been on a relentless crusade to eradicate slugs from our yard.

I should point out that typically I don’t enjoy killing anything. I’m filled with guilt when I swish a spider down a drain. I mourn when I find a mouse in a trap. I hesitate before flattening a fly. When I find stink bugs or moths inside, I take them outside and release them. Once upon a time, this reluctance to kill applied to slugs as well. They’re almost cute, with their dainty little horns. Their slow glide along the ground is nearly graceful as they prowl in search of food. And occasionally I’ll discover one with lovely bright colors — so close to being pretty. When we first moved to Oregon, living in a rental house with a small yard and no garden, I called Niko over to watch in amazement as a large orange-spotted slug devoured a blade of grass. I thought of them as harmless.

Sliming along a raised garden bed.
Sliming along a raised garden bed.

But now? Now I am filled with a deep passion of hatred for these destructive nibblers. Last year I saw slug-holes in my nasturtiums and basil, oregano and baby cucumbers, and I was sad. But this year, witnessing the chunks eaten out of the tops of hyacinth buds, new dwarf irises, and baby daffodils, I am enraged. Those slimy thieves are going down.

Slug-eaten iris. Last straw!
Slug-eaten iris. Last straw!

So, a couple of weeks ago, as you can read here, I set out both cornmeal and a honey-yeast mixture in jars throughout the garden, and waited.

The cornmeal was immediately effective. The slugs loved it. They didn’t seem to be immediately incapacitated by it, but they were distracted from the plants and easy to catch. The side of the jar acted as an umbrella, keeping the cornmeal dry — until we got a driving rain that splashed in. After that, it was less effective. My gardening New England aunt told me the cornmeal needs to be dry in order to catch the slugs, and the evidence in my garden certainly supports that. It seems that both water and slime from previous slugs renders the cornmeal an ineffective trap. I picked up some more cornmeal in the bulk section of the grocery store, both a coarse polenta/grits grind and a finer grind (I plan to mix them), so I’ll be making new traps soon.

Why does the cornmeal work? My knowledgeable aunt explained that, in order to move over the rough, dry cornmeal, the slugs have to produce more and more slime, so much so that they become dehydrated. Result: dead slugs.

At first, the yeast mixture was less successful. I followed the instructions in the article I’d read, boiling honey and yeast together, despite my worry that killing the yeast by boiling it would make it unattractive to the slugs. I was right. They weren’t interested in the least in the one jar I put out that first day. So, I sprinkled fresh yeast on top of the mixture that still filled the pitcher, and waited a day or so till it began to foam gently and smell pleasantly yeasty (it wouldn’t have taken so long if I’d had more yeast). I refilled the jar I’d set out and then placed more jars throughout the gardens. By the time I’d finished the last jar, the first jar already had its first prey. Victory. Next time I do this, I’ll add the yeast after the hot honey water has cooled, and add more than the small pinch I sprinkled in after the initial failed experiment — I was out of yeast when I refreshed the pitcher, but I now have a new jar.

The yeast and honey mixture works like a charm.
The yeast and honey mixture works like a charm.

Meanwhile, since my aunt told me to NEVER squish slugs in the garden for fear of releasing eggs into the soil, I’ve been carrying around a disgusting jar of salt water into which I drop any slug I encounter while weeding or planting or just strolling. It’s gross, but I don’t care. This is war.

Death to slugs. The only good slug is a dead slug!

Slugs, Begone!

We have a slug problem. I first noticed while doing a pre-spring weeding in the flower and vegetable bed, when I kept turning up the slimy little nibblers in the soil. Then I noticed chunks bitten out of new shoots. Recently, I saw flower buds with bites. But Thursday’s transgression was the worst yet: dwarf iris’s first delicate blooms, the year’s second flowers (hellebore beat them by a week), bitten to pieces! Unacceptable.

Slug-eaten iris. Last straw!
Slug-eaten iris. Last straw!

At lunch, I broke our house rules, opened my iPad at the table, and did a search for “slug deterrents.” I found an illustrated article at WikiHow that gave me several ideas, two of which I put into practice.

The first one I’m trying is the cornmeal method. Very easy. Dump cornmeal into a jar. Lay it on its side. The slugs smell it, crawl in, and die, because…I’m not sure why. The article says the texture is too rough, but I’m not sure if it cuts their bodies up or if they die from eating it. Either way, it’s so easy I had to try it.

The second approach I decided on is the yeast-and-honey method. I boiled yeast and honey together, about 1/2 cup each, in a half gallon of water.  I hesitated over the boiling instruction at first, since it would kill the yeast. But then I concluded that this might be a good thing; otherwise we’d have yeast bubbling all over the garden.  I poured the mixture into jelly jars (I wanted to use plastic disposable cups, but we had none). Then I dug a hole in the garden near a patch of tender shoots using my nifty transplanting tool, and sunk a jar into a hole. The idea here is that the slugs will be attracted to the smell of the mixture, crawl in, and be unable to escape, drowning. I only got to place one jar, though, because it was at this point that Sofia did a face plant into a patch of mud and had to be taken inside. Ah, the hazards of gardening with babies on rainy days…

We shall soon see how these are working out! Already, taking Cody out for a bedtime potty venture, I noticed that a cornmeal jar near the back door had attracted two slugs. I’m hopeful that I can save my emerging blooms. To see how these methods worked out, click here.