My battle against slugs in the garden could tarnish my reputation in the community.
Apparently the slimy creatures, who look like large snails without shells, were breeding in the thick bed of straw that covered the garden last winter and became saturated with a month of rain in May.
So I raked most of the straw to the edges, making the garden look like a giant 20-foot-by-10-foot nest, and planted new seeds in the gaps between the few sprouts in the rows of beans. Still, as soon as the tender sprouts spread their leaves the slugs turned them into lace.
Then I remembered someone telling me you could catch slugs with beer. I had a few bottles left over from a party in May, so I tried it. Sure enough. The critters crept into the foil pie pans of beer I scattered between the rows of beans and squashes.
I was willing to give up a few bottles of Corona, but drew the line when I was down to my nice Irish stout. I was going to have to buy beer especially for the slugs. What brand do you suppose they would like?
I didn’t want to be stuck with a brand I’d never drink myself, so settled on a six-pack of Molson, because it was on sale at Sleepers for $5.99. Well, they went through that in a week, and I was not about to return to the same store for another six-pack so soon. I imagined the face of the cashier when I explained it was for my slugs.
So I went to the supermarket and found a 40-ounce bottle of Budweiser for $2.99. Perfect. They loved it. I caught twice as many slugs with Bud as with either Corona or Molson. I actually watched a slug make its way past the seedlings toward a pan of beer.
Now I was curious. Do they really prefer one brand over another? Was I willing to give up some of my imports for an experiment? Would slugs collect in a pie pan of, say, Guinness?
So I cracked open one of my last two bottles of Guinness, telling myself it never tastes as good out of the bottle as from the tap anyway. I had wanted to use Budweiser as a control, but could not find a 40-ounce bottle in Caribou. (I must have gone all the way to Presque Isle the first time in my search for anonymity.) In Caribou, it was hard to find anything smaller than a 12-pack of Bud at the supermarket, so I settled for a six-pack of Moosehead.
I poured pools of Guinness into three pie pans and Moosehead into three pie pans. There was a little left in each bottle, so I emptied them both into a seventh pan — not really a black-and-tan, but close.
The next morning there were two slugs in the Guinness, two in the Moosehead and none in the pan with a blend. Clearly they had no preference for Irish or Canadian brew, or Mexican if I included last week’s Corona. But compared to the number of slugs I found in the Budweiser, this performance was, well, sluggish.
I had to confirm my slugs’ loyalty to American beer. Of course I wondered whether it was just Budweiser they loved or whether any American beer would do. Back to Presque Isle for that $2.99 bottle of Bud and, unable to find an equivalent bargain in another brand, a six-pack of Rolling Rock.
In what had become a twilight ritual, I headed for the vegetable garden, a bottle of beer in each hand, and filled three pie pans with one brand, three with the other. I also placed a pan of each brand in a separate salad garden where smaller slugs feed on the arugula.
The next morning in the vegetable garden I found seven slugs passed out in the pans of Bud, none in the Rolling Rock, a preference confirmed by the slugs in the salad garden where the pan of Bud was loaded with little slugs while only one floated in the Rolling Rock.
I can honestly say I have never bought so much beer in such a short span of time, nor been so conscious of the prices. And, while I was able to scatter my purchases among a variety of grocery stores, I use only one recycling center, so my reputation might suffer when I return the empties.
Meanwhile, I wonder if there is a gardener across the border who would like the leftover Moosehead and Rolling Rock to test the patriotism of Canadian slugs.
Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears every other Friday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 626, Caribou 04736.