Slugs and the compost pile

sequiFebruary 12, 2010

I've been running a compost pile for about 3 years now, and I've noticed that there's a link between slugs and compost. It makes sense -- slugs are attracted to decaying matter, and a compost pile is a lot of decaying matter. In fact, they're just one of the macro organisms that help break it down.

The problem is that whenever I apply my compost, that bed develops larger than normal slug infestations. I don't drop slugs into the vegetable bed deliberately (I eliminate any I see) -- I assume that they're coming from eggs in the compost. And in the past few seasons I've confirmed this link -- beds with home-made compost have more slugs, beds with commercial compost or nothing applied have fewer slugs. I've even rotated applications over the seasons to eliminate location as a factor -- a slug population boom is definitely related to my addition of homemade compost.

Anybody else have this experience? How do you minimize this issue? I currently handle it by just dealing with the increased slug populations until they're reduced, sometimes by using Sluggo, sometimes by picking, sometimes with traps. I'd rather not cause my the slug population booms in the first place.

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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Are the slugs damaging your plants?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 4:08PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Many years before I took up organic gardening I got rid of all the snails and slugs in my yard with ammonium sulfate fertilizer. It is a salt and we know what salt does to slugs and snails. Those that were not killed immediately were trapped by all the salty fertilizer everywhere.

Ammonium sulfate used to be dirt cheap. You could get a lifetime supply for $5. I haven't looked at it since 2002 so I don't know what the cost is now.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 4:30PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Are you sure the slugs aren't coming to the newly laid down compost rather than being in the compost? I have some beds that seem to be slug magnets and others that rarely get slugs and both types get compost (but my compost does cook pretty good).


    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 4:41PM
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The compost probably is making the soil in the garden into a habitat the slugs prefer, cool and moist, and they are hatching from eggs in the soil and most likely not from the compost. Any time you increase the level of organic matter in a soil you will see an increase in the slug population. I never see slugs in my compost (they would have to be to get eggs in there) but the population increases in the planting beds after compost, and other organic matter (mulches), is plnked down.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 7:09AM
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I do see slugs in the compost bin during the fall. They're not there when I spread the compost (it's usually done in very early spring before there's any adults around.) So I'm pretty sure adults aren't laying the eggs -- they've been dead all winter. Also, it's not the bed location. I can never make enough compost, so I have to supplement what I make. If I put it on a different bed, that's the bed with all the slugs. Commercial compost doesn't have the same issue.

The compost does get very hot in the fall, but it's by no means finished before the frost kills things off. I'm not as aggressive in turning the pile as I was when I first started composting. There's plenty of time for slugs to get in there and lay eggs.

I can deal with the slugs; I'm just wondering if there's something simple I'm missing.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 11:06AM
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You're not missing anything. Slugs do lay eggs in compost/under rocks/in soil etc. I find them in my composts all the time. If I do see a cluster of eggs, I remove it but most times they evade me. This is why I've found it beneficial to spread the compost in the gardens in late fall rather than in the spring. By doing this in the fall there is more chances of exposing them to the elements and in the spring I sprinkle some ammonia mixed with water (a solution of 1 part ammonia to 10 parts water) over the gardens which inevitably kills them - eggs and adults - if it reaches them.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 6:57PM
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ormewoodian(8 / Atlanta, GA)

I'm not sure that this is a powerful enough solution for what you are describing, but have you tried putting a shallow dish of beer in your beds at night to catch the slugs and drown them?

I don't get a lot of slugs, but when I notice a couple or see where they have been munching on a plant or two I have done this in the past and it works pretty well! And, it's cheap and easy if you have beer sitting in the fridge that you wouldn't mind not drinking! ;]

    Bookmark   February 22, 2010 at 5:18PM
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I started my compost last fall. When I mixed some of it into the soil for a new container garden yesterday, I noticed slugs here and there throughout the compost. I tried to remove as many of them as I could, but I'm sure I missed some. I'll try some of the different solutions suggested here, except the beer. The container garden is in the backyard and my curious dogs would be likely to drink the beer.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 3:55PM
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Slugs made me start buying aged mulch.

I tried everything, even the beer. Even had a giant mountain and they just move out of the heat.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 10:53AM
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We use beer traps to catch slugs, which is pretty successful, so long as you regularly refresh the beer. But I've been having an argument with my wife over where to put the dead slugs. Personally, I'd prefer to pour the rancid beer into the compost, along with the dead slugs and snails, assuming that this will help the composting process.

The wife thinks that putting slugs in the compost is like putting meat into the compost, which should of course be avoided, but I don't think that slugs are comparable with stuff like chicken or beef. What do others think?

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 5:10AM
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I used to put shredded, but not composted leaves on my garden beds in the fall. This promoted the slug population 10 fold. I was able to some what control them using ammonium sulfate dissolved in water & sprinkled over the beds.

Then I started using the leaves as lawn food by shredding them with my mulching lawn mower - the slug problem disappeared.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 9:53AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Putting slugs in the compost could be like putting meat in the compost. I would do it anyway.

I put all the drowned japanese beetles in the compost pile.

I also put the critters that my dog catches in the pile too.
My dog was (god rest her soul) an ace chipmunk catcher.

I think meat shows up on the list of things not to put in compost because it can attract vermin. But if you bury it deep in the pile, your pile is fairly well contained, the meat is in small proportion to the rest of the pile, and you don't live in an urban area where rats are problem, there is nothing wrong with composting meat. Its not like it won't decompose.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 1:47PM
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If you think the slugs are in your compost build a hot pile with it before using in the garden. That would answer your question.

I take my cold compost (Earth Machine contents) to build a hot pile 2x a year (spring/fall) when we have more material to add. As long as we build it big enough, keep it moist, covered, turn every few days for a few weeks, it heats up well & isn't too much work. Then let it cure.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 7:21PM
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paulyn(z 8 NW OR)

I have massive numbers of slugs in my compost pile. It's a 4'x12' raised bed with wire sides. I go out at about 11:30pm with a flashlight and spray them with ammonia/water mix. Some nights I get 50-70 slugs, and other nights 20-30. It depends on the humidity I think, and also the temperature. The later the hour, the bigger the slugs.

I've tried beer, Sluggo, salt, yeast and fruit juice traps,copper barriers, diatomaceous earth, sand traps, etc. Spraying them works best for me because I have a large garden. I also plant trap-plants at the ends of my beds to lure them, so they are easier to catch and spray. They are suckers for marigolds, and marigolds hold up pretty well under the ammonia spray.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 10:08PM
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Slugs need a nice moist environment, and the warmer it is the more active they will be to a point. Slugs do digest decaying vegetation as well as living plants and since compost and mulches create the environment that slugs, and snails, much prefer they will populate those areas more then they would an unmulched, dryer garden.
Understanding what type of environment slugs, and snails, prefr can help control them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Slugs

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 6:35AM
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I make little traps that I keep all around my garden and in my composting area. I take normal plastic 20 oz soda bottles, take the lid off and throw it away. Then I cut the top of the bottle right at the point where it starts to slope in to the top. Take that piece and flip it over so the top of the bottle points into the bottle like a funnel. I staple that in place with a normal office stapler in about three spots, with the tines going outward. I put a tablespoon or two of normal slug bait in each bottle, then set them out all around my yard and garden wherever I have slug problems. I typically only do this once a spring, and most of the time I just go out in the spring and collect up the bottles from last year and add another tablespoon of bait. I really don't like spreading the bait (poison) all around my garden, and screwing around with the beer traps is just a nuisance. This is only my third year at this location, and while I saw a few slugs this spring, I think I've just about eliminated them from my yard. One little bag or box of the slug bait lasts me for years doing it this way. I haven't found anything that works better.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 4:32PM
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