One of the most enduring battles for the vegetable grower is that of man versus slug. Over the years I’ve tried pretty much every method of control to try and save precious seedlings. There’s not a gardener out there who hasn’t looked at his patch early one morning and thought, “But where have all the lovely juicy young plants gone?”
I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m never going to win. In fact I’ve realised that I wouldn’t want to win. Slugs have their part to play in the garden ecosystem, clearing up rotting leaves and even on occasion eating each other. I do sometimes surround new seedlings with crushed eggshells to try and make an uncomfortable barrier which the slugs are reluctant to slide over. But a lot of the time I leave the garden to take care of itself. A healthy, chemical-free ecosystem tends to keep predators and prey fairly balanced.
My biggest discovery in helping the ecosystem to reach a point where all the elements are on an even keel has been the addition of a wildlife pond. It’s only a small one, maybe four feet long by three feet wide, and two feet deep in the middle, but it has completely transformed the garden.
I had barely finished filling it when wildlife started arriving. And it didn’t take the frogs long to find it. I now have frogspawn every year and a good population of frogs eating plenty of slugs and their eggs.
It has been estimated that nearly 70% of ponds have been lost from the UK in the last century. Ponds are essential for many species of wildlife, including damselflies, dragonflies, mayflies, pond skaters, caddis flies, water snails and water beetles. And they are beloved of frogs, toads and newts.
Other land-based wildlife will also benefit tremendously. Birds will drink from a pond if it’s accessible, as will bees, who need a surprising amount of water. And it’s a focal point in the garden now, fascinating to all of us, especially the children.
There is lots of advice available on constructing a wildlife pond. Mine has shallower areas at the sides, with a slope for things to crawl in and out easily, and with a depth of around two feet in the middle, which is a minimum depth for this sort of pond. I used a tough butyl liner, and put pebbles and overhanging stones around the edges for shelter.
It’s important to try and fill the pond with rainwater if you can. Even if it takes a number of months, rainwater helps the pond achieve a much healthier balance. The minerals in tap water can cause overgrowth of algae. I filled mine with water collected from the roof of the house over one wet bank holiday.
When it came to planting, I was careful to choose things suitable for a small pond. I have a miniature water lily in the deep middle, some marginal planting around the shallower edges and oxygenating plants submerged in various spots to keep the water rich in oxygen.
Around the edge I have a small logpile, an old upturned broken terracotta pot which forms a dry shelter and long rough grassy vegetation. Although it’s all on a small scale it’s a magnet for wildlife and it really is the single best thing I have done for ecology in the garden. If you have the space to squeeze in even a tiny pond, I can highly recommend it.
Finally a couple of things to note. Fish should not be added to a wildlife pond, they will eat much of the larvae and eggs of beneficial creatures. And a word about safety. Ponds must be kept shut away from small children. It’s a great educational area when they are supervised, but otherwise they must be unable to access the pond.
Thanks for reading!