Snails and slugs are both from the mollusc family that once belonged in an aquatic environment. Although they have evolved into the annoying land-crawling creatures they are today, it gives us some clues as to which conditions they prefer.
For a snail or slug or snail to move, it needs to produce a slime that it can then drag its disgusting slimy self over. This leaves behind a silky slime trail, which many moons ago we'd wake up to in our sharehouse living room. Other than sharehouse rugs, snail and slugs prefer the young, tender growth of your seedlings and are most active when conditions are damp.
These night feeders tend to be gregarious and return to the same resting place. While snail shave a protective shell, meaning they feel a little safer out in the open (as opposed to under my lowering boot), slugs don't enjoy the same protection and will burrow into the soil for shelter. Despite their differences both seem to have developed a sixth sense about when a strawberry is on the cusp of readiness....or when you have just planted out your spring seedlings.
Snails and slugs are not fast or particularly clever, but they make up for their shortcomings with a dogged persistence and by attacking your veggie patch while you sleep. This gives them 6-12 hours to slowly slime their way out, slime their way to your plants and then slime about all over them.
Rather than devouring a whole plant - although they can do so in early spring when seedlings are small, sweet and vulnerable - they prefer to graze, taking little bites and leaving behind a glossy trail as their calling card. We like to call the damage they do to fruit 'spoilers', because in most cases they'll leave one or two solitary bites and then move on. How rude.
Yes, they are formidable and, yes, against the odds they always seem to win the race to the ripening strawberry - but we know we can defeat them.
Watering in the morning is a great starting point for avoiding all pests, as it means that there will be very little moisture left on the surface at nightfall. Snails are most active at night and are drawn to moisture, so when we water in the evening it creates an ideal environment for their nefarious activities. And while we're on the morning routine, try using your coffee grinds to make barriers around your seedlings. We've found some success with this method too.
We're Going on a Snail Hunt
Hunt and pick method is a garden treasure hunt. During the day, snails will hide in dark corners of the patch, but they can still be found. Under foliage of low canopy plants - such as Nasturtium - is an ideal hiding place. Perhaps enlist some enthusiastic young kids by offering a prize for the most collected. A night time hunt will reveal most of the 'spoilers' and then it's really on!
The Perfect Foil
Copper tape and aluminium foil are like an electric fence for snails and slugs. When they come into contact with the metal, their mucus membranes have a bad chemical reaction that sends them in the opposite direction. It's a great technique for pots, to which the copper tape is easily attached and the mollusc will have to pass over to enter.
A Very Happy Ending
Snails are drawn to the sweet, yeasty sent of beer as surely as gap year students to an open bar. Use traps or a glass that is partially filled with beer and some vegemite - for extra yeastiness! - and partially bury in the garden with the lip of the glass at ground level. When a slug or snail comes in for a taste, it will be their last drink.
There are lots of baits that claim to be low toxic/safe, but most use active poisons such as Metaldehyde or Methiocarb that accumulate in the environment and harm other flora and fauna. Eradicate Eco, however, works by replacing the copper in the oxygen carrier with iron making it ineffective (similar to how copper tape works). The iron then breaks down to a soil nutrient that won't harm earthworms or mammals. It can be used up to harvest, with no withholding period and does not pose a threat to surface or drinking water.