Where is Wednesday's blog you ask? Lost in cyberspace. I was writing late at night in real time and lost the connection with most of the unsaved blog. Too tired to start over.
What I was writing about was snails. Snails that were, a week ago, devouring the flowers on one of my Pacific Coast Iris hybrids. We were having a dinner party, and I was looking forward to showing it to the guests, so I knew it was time to begin serious snail hunting. I went out twice after 10 at night, twice early on foggy, damp mornings, and once in midday. I don't have an exact count, but I think the total catch was between 50 and 75. The flowers looked nice for the guests, and I have congratulated myself on hunting now, because later in the year these snails would have had offspring.
Snails live several years, breed during warm weather, and, because they are hermaphroditic, they all lay eggs (an average of 86 eggs per snail!). At this time of year, I am finding almost entirely large snails, but later, after the year's snail eggs have hatched, there will be many smaller ones. And the young ones are both a lot more trouble to hunt and eat more of your plants for their body weight than the adults.
The new snail bait based on iron phosphate is also a really good way to get snails to leave your garden alone. A common brand name for this product is Sluggo, sold by Monterey Lawn and Garden (the label is at http://www.montereylawngarden.com/pdf/sluggo.pdf ). It consists of tiny pellets that you spread at a rate of a level teaspoon per square yard of garden. Snails and slugs eat it and stop feeding immediately; they die in 3 to 6 days. They crawl to hidden places, so you may not realize how many you have killed with it, but it is effective, and remains effective after watering or rain. I think they work better now, on the adult snails, which more often crawl on the ground than later, on the young ones, which may stay up in plants for several days at a time.
To see if a bait is of this type, read the "Active Ingredients" in fine print on the label and look for Iron Phosphate, or Ferric Phosphate. This should be the only active ingredient. The inert ingredients in this product are mainly wheat flour.
I spent some time yesterday and today trying to figure out if Sluggo was permitted to organic farmers. When California had its own list of permitted substances, one could read it online, but now that the list is federal, seems like you have to request the list in print and have it sent to you. Because I was impatient, I finally decided to call the manufacturer. I spoke to Tom Thompson of Monterey Lawn and Garden, in Fresno, who told me that Sluggo is not on the list of allowed substances at present, but is being considered by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), and Monterey Lawn and Garden thinks it will be approved. The OMRI is currently studying a "binding agent," that is present in miniscule amounts.
So the question is, is Sluggo organic? Well, organic has two meanings. In the sense the chemist understands, the flour part of the material is an organic substance in that it was once a living thing (wheat), and the iron phosphate is an inorganic chemical compound. In the sense meant by the organic farming laws, Sluggo is not approved at this time as a pest management method for use by organic farmers.
I feel strongly that Sluggo will be approved for organic farmers, since its ingredients are not harmful to the environment or to creatures other than snails and slugs. In time, the active ingredient becomes a fertilizer, since plants need iron and phosphorus. For gardeners who have been using metaldehyde bait it is a far better choice, since Sluggo isn't toxic to pets, and is applied so thinly that pets aren't likely to even notice it. I suggest that noncommercial gardeners who consider themselves "organic" go ahead and use Sluggo now, assuming it will be approved.
And, while I had a dinner party to think of last week, and needed the certainty that only a snail hunt could provide, now that the emergency is past, now I think I will go sprinkle some Sluggo.
In other news, the Garden For the Environment, in San Francisco, is starting a seed library. They are looking for home saved seeds and are also currently accepting donations of packaged seeds to get the project going. For more information, see the website www.gardenfortheenvironment.org or call 731-5627. They are planning their first seed swap on June 24th, 5 to 7 pm, at the Garden for the Environment, 7th and Lawton. This will also be a Solstice potluck barbeque party.