(obviously, if you’re squeamish about slugs you should avoid this post)
It rained last night, and we woke up to overcast skies and the occasional light drizzle.
Rain or no rain, a farm still has to run, and it was fruit harvesting day, so after breakfast Mum put me on to picking limes. The lime trees sit on the edge of the farm, on the rough slope where the flat bed of the valley rises steeply up into rocky valley walls. Picking the limes involves scrambling amongst the rocks, peering up into the tree and using a grab-and-twist picker to bring down the ripest fruit.
Last year the limes got pruned, and some of the cut branches were left sitting under the trees, a tangle of delicate stems and sharp thorns.
Climbing up amongst the rocks towards the lime tree, I discovered what happens to dead lime branches on moist*, damp days.
They get covered in slugs. Covered. Like over-decorated Christmas trees, only with brown, slimey garlands, instead of lovely silver tinsel.
Slugs, it seems, just can’t resist the delicious flavour of decomposing lime bark, and on cool wet days they climb up onto the branches to feast on it.
Slugs are bad news for vegetables, but great news for ducks. Slugs are one of the duck’s favourite foods, and they are great for them: full of protein that the ducks turn into delicious eggs, or adorable ducklings. The farm has both Khaki Campbells and Muscovy ducks (and, at the moment, more than a dozen ducklings of each variety – happiness!).
Out on the flats of the farm the ducks can forage for their own slugs: clearing out one area, and then being moved to the next garden that is having a rest between crops. Unfortunately the hillside is too rocky and irregular to build a duck pen on, so we have to take the slugs to them. Which means collecting them.
Do you know how we collect slugs?
One by one, using kitchen tongs.**
Slugs carry salmonella and other really bad diseases (rat lung disease in Hawaii), so you DO NOT want to touch them (and the most common variety of snails in Hawaii is highly toxic, so don’t touch them either). So tongs let you pick them up without touching them.
So I fetched the slug tongs, and a couple of old yoghurt containers with lids, and set to work on my ‘harvest’.
Collecting slugs that are wrapped around cut branches is one of the most revolting, but weirdly feel-good (after all, you are getting rid of a pest and making a pet/farm animal happy) things I have ever done.
Slugs are not attractive creatures, and as I disturbed the branches slightly in pulling them off the less -firmly attached slugs lost their hold and fell to the ground, so every particularly good tug was accompanied by a soft rain of slugs hitting the leaf mold below.
Thud, thud, thud.
Let’s just say that a rain of slugs is a life experience I could do without (even if the branches were all in front of me, and ended at waist height, so there was no chance the slugs would actually rain down on me).
When I do things that my brain is not happy about, I distract it with a monologue of exactly how unhappy it is about said thing, so it can’t focus on the thing, and freak out.
In this case it went like this:
“Gross, gross, gross, gross, GROSS…So gross…Ewwww, ewww, ewww, gross…Gross, yuck, yuck, gross….Gross grossers von grossikins….so, SO gross….so, so, SO gross…oh, the grossness….Total grossness….a totallity of gross…grossus maximus…grooooooosssssss…welcome to the People’s Republic of Grossistan….oh gross….yuck, yuck, yuck gross…”
And then the my little monologue on the current level of grossosity in my vicinity was interrupted by a bloodcurdling scream. My mother, hurrying to find the reason, was relieved and nonplussed to be informed that it was occasioned by the discovery that a slug had landed on my hand.***
Errant slug flicked into the container, times I intended to wash my hands when done mentally tripled, and the area of skin I’d be washing extended up my arms another 10 inches, I resumed my slug collecting duties, and my discussion of exactly how gross what I was doing was.
“Oh gross…gross, gross, gross…yuck, yuck, yuck, gross…grody to the max…You are now entering an area of maximum grossness, extreme caution should be practiced at all times…ewwwww, gross… ewww, ewwww, ewwww, gross…pooh, yucky, yuck…Looking to the right of the plane, you’ll see the wild waves of the Loch Gross crashing on the shores of Cape Disgusting. On the left, you see the slime-covered peak of Mt Gross rising from the foothills of the Ewwwnessess.”
Thud. Thud. Thud.
I filled the first yoghurt container, clipped the lid on firmly, and started on the second.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
I was running out of ways to describe how gross things were, but I persevered, interspersing my standard exclamations of ewwness with comparisons of things I could be doing that would be even more icky (with commentary from my brain).
“Well, at least they aren’t centipedes” (BAD IDEA, BAD IDEA, ALL BRAIN NEURONS TO PANIC STATIONS, FREAK OUT COMMENCING) “Ummm…ummm…ummm…yuck, disgusto, ewwness…Sir Ewww La La and Yuckity Ewwer McEwerson (Hmmm…I bet McEwerson is actually a name. Well. That’s unfortunate…) set out to discover the source of Ewww.” (oh, hey, look, panic averted. Well done you!).
“Gross. Gross. GrooOOooosss. Well…at least I’m not going to be eating them” (SHUT UP!!!! shouted my brain and stomach together). “Errrrr…sorry about that! Grossdity, grossdity, gross da da, grossdity grossdity gross!…Please Miss, how much does this bag of Disgusting weigh? Oh, it’s a gross? Of course!…La, la, la gross…well, at least it’s not as gross as the thought of reading Outlander again (Ewww…so right!)…and at least it’s going to have a satisfyingly happy ending, with less slugs and more happy ducks…yuckity, yuckity, yuckity, yuck, yuck, yuck…YAY”
The second yoghurt container was full, and all the really obvious slugs were collected, so I clambered down from the rocks, set the containers to go down to the ducks, and then set myself up at the outside sink for a thorough scrub.
But you know what? I’ll probably do it again the next time it rains.
* I’m assuming that if you’re willing to read a post about slugs, the occasional use of the word ‘moist’ is not going to be too disgusting for you.
** Well, not actually kitchen tongs, as they do not go anywhere near the kitchen, and are NEVER used for anything but slugs, but the kind of tongs you’d use in the kitchen.
*** On this farm we know slugs need to be picked up, but we also agree that bloodcurdling screams are the perfectly logical reaction to finding one on your hand.
â€ My father, on finding the containers full of slugs, also shouted “Oh GROSS! Can you imagine what someone who wasn’t expecting these to be full of slugs would think on opening them?”
Oh that was highly entertaining! I can imagine the scene in every detail! We and the ducks thank you xo
wwwwwwww!ewwwewwewweweew.ewwwwwwwww double ewwwwwww! I found one -one- slug trapped in my dog fur a few days ago and I almost died!!! In Venezuela ( South America) we call the slugs “siete cueros” like seven skins because tradition says if you touch one your skin will fall seven times until it heals ewww ewwwewwewweweew. But on the other hand your ducks must be happy!
The slugs you dealt with look different than the slugs we see here. Our slugs are a bit skinnier, and they’re medium gray with black dash-shaped markings all over them. (Because you’ve already had to deal with enough grossness, I won’t say what the slugs you photographed above look like to me.) 🙂
Those guys are bigger than most of the ones in my garden, though there are some that are big and that colour. I wonder if NZ slugs carry diseases too, I hope not cos I normally just pick them up bare handed and then stand on them as we no longer have ducks.
I am going to refer this blogpost to Diana Gabaldon in case she runs out of
ideas for her next novel about Jamie and Clare..
Love this post, you made my day!
I didn’t know slugs carried salmonella! Also I think we need dedicated slug tongs. I loved your inner monologues by the way!
Hilarious! I had to stifle my laughter for fear of waking my husband, but I shall definitely read it to him when he wakes.
It reminds me of a plant rescue I did once with my mother, which involved extracting little black sluggy-like things from the depths of the plant with tweezers. So. Many. Sluggy-Things.
I don’t think I’ve seen any slugs while living in this house, but that might be because it’s only metres away from a stream which is amply provided with ducks. Yet another reason to love ducks!
The McEwersons of the world are holding their sides laughing!
I use nitrile rubber gloves – like those in the hospital and doctors’ offices – for various biological and chemical issues (don’t ask…) – they are great for picking up slugs and snails…and much faster than tongs.
Hang on! You can’t mention the ducklings and then only include photos of the slugs! 🙂
I had no idea slugs could carry diseases.
My garden has lovely trees and fine fat slugs – at my meanest (when I thought I had protected a cold frame with copper tape but they found a way around so plan b for that one) I picked them all and left them near where a (fat) resident frog ‘lives’ hand delivering his lunch! I put crushed egg shells and old lemon rinds around my rhubarb plants, salads are grown in pots on ground with copper tape on rim (we have cats so I dont grow so much directly in ground) and in general I am now growing the plants slugs dont go for (and finding out which the hard way). I hate picking them up and will only do it with the big gloves……………..brave you filling those containers……….
You are very brave! Maybe next time you prune, put the branches where the ducks live so the slugs go there rather than where the ducks can’t get? It would make the fruit picking easier, but maybe it’s hard to remove the branches?
My slug story is not nearly as gross, but when we were kids, my friend and I used to camp in the garden and tell scary stories to each other in the dark. I was telling one about a giant human-eating slug when my friend’s Mum switched on the light in the house, which lit up the wall of the tent, revealing the shadow of a huge slug climbing up the side of the tent! Fortunately on the outside, but we still screamed and ran into the house 🙂
Here in the San Francisco Bay area, we have Banana Slugs – bright yellow and up six inches long, living in the redwood forests of the area. They are the mascot animal of the University of California in Santa Cruz.
I used to go hunting for slugs at dusk with a flash light and a battered old spoon (only used for that purpose!) If I’d had some ducks they would have been well fed.
We did a unit on slugs in 6th grade. We brought them in to school, had races, and came up with experiments for them to participate in…for example which food would a slug go to first…. I’ve thought they were kind of cute ever since. Pretty much just like shell-less snails. They were NW U.S. varieties though– not poisonous. I do hate stepping on them in bare feet though! I don’t like the sound of a rain of slugs though! Even at waist hight.
Your use of language in a gross situation is fabulously creative – puts mine to shame. I can thoroughly say that this is the most fun I’ve ever had reading about slugs!
I guess, since they are toxic, you can’t use them to go fishing? Used to do that here on the East Coast sometimes but good ole earthworms are much better.
Oh My! Thank you for the slug post. Your ‘gross monologue’ had me laughing. I hate the things, too, and smash them (double gross but gone!) when found in my garden, or salt them when found on the driveway. Ever put out a drowning dish of beer? Perhaps your duckies would like pickled slugs. Not a solution for the entire farm, but it might be worth the experiment.
Great writing with a sense of humor, like Mark Twain, Ogden Nash, Edward Lear… We have slugs on our carport for our land is the lowest level next to our neighbor’s backyard. The dogs walk on them and sniff the slugs. The slugs get so big they look like a balloon blown up. I put salt on the awful but strange mushy brown/gray slugs. One child told me in kindergarten class, that slugs are trying to find a shell??? a home??? A Slug Book is really popular with early primary kinder. They laugh and roll all around the classroom floor. The administrator looked in questioningly, but chuckled…
Mark Twain, Ogden Nash, Edward Lear! You can come and comment any time you want! 😉
Thank you very much – I’m hugely flattered!