How Was Your Gardening Season?

Dr. Helena Gough
By Dr. Helena Gough November 11, 2019 08:01

How Was Your Gardening Season?

As the main part of the gardening season comes to a close in the northern hemisphere, I like to take a moment to look back over the year and consider what I have learnt.

Grow What You Eat!

9 Natural Remedies To Heal Wounds Faster - ChamomileI have finally come to the conclusion that it is wise to focus on growing a manageable number of vegetables that fairly represent what I actually enjoy eating. I used to make the classic mistake of cultivating a huge range of crops out of sheer enthusiasm for all the wonderful heirloom varieties that I was discovering. In the end, this approach meant that I was tiring myself out trying to maintain more than I really had time for. I’d also regularly end up with a harvest that didn’t entirely suit my diet. These days, I invest my energy in growing a moderate selection of carefully chosen vegetables that I really like to cook with.

I also enjoy having a diverse selection of herbs and medicinal plants that are both pleasing to the eye and encourage pollinators and beneficial insects to visit my garden. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, parsley, cilantro, and basil are firm favorites for cooking. Chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm, and lemon verbena are great for home-made herbal teas, and they have a far more satisfying and vibrant taste than store-bought tea! Flowers such as echinacea, evening primrose, and nasturtiums bring beauty and diversity to my little ecosystem and keep the bees buzzing happily while I work. Here is an extensive list of the edible flowers you can find in North America (with pictures).

How has your approach to gardening shifted over the years? Which crops do you prefer to focus on?

A New Take On Dependable Favorites

Every year I like to try out a couple of new vegetable varieties from local or heirloom seeds where possible. Tomatoes, zucchinis and beetroots have always given me an ample harvest, and I enjoy playing with the colors that they provide. This season, I sowed a mix of classic deep red beets alongside an albino variety, which made for a beautiful contrast when eaten side by side. Bold yellow zucchinis provided a welcome change from their standard green cousins, while eye-catching striped tomatoes were a pleasure to behold. There is an infinite selection of vegetable variety to try, and exchanging seeds with other gardeners in your area is a great way to do this for free.

How do you experiment with the vegetables you are growing?

Leafy Greens In Winter Too

During the winter I used my hand-made cold frames to grow salads that can cope with cooler temperatures when under a little protection. I love the sharp and spicy taste that arugula brings to many different dishes, and it grows well in lower light conditions. I’ve had some success with spinach, though I’ve found it to be quite slow growing and I’m not sure that I will sow it again in future. I am very fond of the sweet and succulent crunch of claytonia leaves (claytonia perfoliata), which are easy to grow as the temperatures drop.  Many of the oriental brassicas and mustards have rich flavors and interesting textures – bok choi, tatsoi, mizuna, and red mustard are all worth trying.

What do you choose to grow for your winter salads?

Easy Perennial Pleasures

15 Common Wild Plants You Never Thought Were EdibleI now have a bed that is dedicated to leafy edible perennials. Chives, garlic chives, dandelion leaves, salad burnet, purslane, and lovage provide a wide range of flavors for eating raw. Delicious, citrusy french sorrel and buckshorn plantain (plantago coronopus) have self-seeded quite vigorously over the course of two years, and all I have to do is thin them out as they emerge in the spring. Next year I’d like to add in ramps (allium triccocum), which give a garlicky kick to soups and stews and can also be used to make a tasty pesto sauce.

As for my other perennials, this year brought an abundant harvest of fresh asparagus. If you are patient and allow the asparagus crowns to establish undisturbed for the first year or two, it is is an easy crop to maintain. I’ve also found that the edible roots of sunchokes (helianthus tuberosus) are simple to grow and prolific. I planted a patch that has returned each year by way of ‘spare’ tubers left in the ground at the end of the season, so there is little effort required on my part. Watch out though – a small number of sunchokes are sufficient as the flowers can grow up to 3m tall, and each individual plant produces a large number of tubers!

Do you grow any perennial crops? Which ones have given you a consistent yield from one year to the next?

Slugs And Other Unwanted Visitors

Luckily, this year was fairly dry and I didn’t have too many problems with slugs. In previous years I’ve used beer traps to entice them away from my vegetables. These are made by burying plastic cups with steep sides in the ground and filling them with beer. The slugs are attracted to the yeast in the beer and fall into the liquid to die a boozy death. However, I am not entirely convinced that this method is foolproof – although some slugs slip into the beer and drown, I’ve also noticed an increase in slugs in the area around the cup. I wonder if the attractiveness of the beer is not entirely helpful overall!

I allow colorful marigolds to self-seed freely around my garden, as these are known to deter whitefly and keep nematodes away from the brassica family. I also ensure that pungent herbs are planted at the end of all of my vegetable beds. My attitude also helps – I no longer worry about the occasional nibble being taken from my plants, as a moderate amount of sharing is a healthy part of the organic approach to gardening.

What is your approach to natural pest control, and which methods have successfully protected your precious veggies from unwanted attacks?

You may also like:

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Dr. Helena Gough
By Dr. Helena Gough November 11, 2019 08:01
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31 Comments

  1. Wannabe November 11, 13:44

    I feel a little different about those beer traps. Go ahead and place the cups as stated then just drink the beer and deploy chickens. Lol!! Strangely enough, chickens did not bother our garden. They pecked at tomatoes every now and then but for the most part the just scratched on the ground. I guess they were more interested in the insects.

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  2. GAgirl November 11, 15:06

    I live in the South and we had a bad summer of heat and hardly any rain. All of the vegetables that I planted produced very little or was killed by the 2 1/2 months of no rain where I live. We are on a well and I did not want to run it dry trying to keep everything watered.
    Definitely need to think of a different way to water my gardens. I have above ground gardens to keep them fenced in to keep the deer and rabbit out, this year they were bad too! I kept my beds full of mulch to help the plants retain water, good thing we have lots and lots of trees.

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    • Brenda November 11, 18:09

      Wow! This issue has been extremely helpful. I will be trying sunchokes and planting asparagus. I used to live in Iowa, so am learning to garden in NW Louisiana the last 4 years with mixed success. But never giving up, as gardening is my dirt therapy! My husband built a raised container a couple of years ago that I use for radishes and lettuce, etc, and I also tried green beans the first year with some success. Still trying to figure out the best times yo plant. Really need a fenced in garden. Keep these updates coming, please.

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  3. Lady Ike November 11, 16:16

    I had a very successful container garden this year nd I’m still enjoying peppers, tomatoes, arugula, rosemary, basil, kale, swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, carrots and beets inside my home. Amazing! I’ve had enough to share with my neighbors and can’t wait till I start my container garden again. So blessed! Thank you for all your tips and hints; they’ve been very helpful.

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  4. Kathyb November 11, 16:55

    Down here in Central Florida our season started in Sept.

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  5. Raven tactical November 11, 17:59

    We had nothing but rain and now early cold fronts.

    Definently a learning curve and we plan on expanding it.

    Reply to this comment
  6. left coast chuck November 11, 18:01

    My agricultural effort is persimmons. I have two trees which provide more persimmons, especially this year, than my wife and I can consume or preserve. I like persimmons, but they are not bacon.

    This year we had a bumper crop of persimmons. One tree easily has over 500 fruit on it. I have already picked close to 300 and you can hardly tell the tree has been picked.

    Two things are different.

    I have read that ants don’t like coffee grounds. I guess they were asked to leave when they visited a local Starbucks and didn’t buy anything. Acting on that information, I made it a point to stop by a local Starbucks and pick up coffee grounds on a regular basis and covered the area where the persimmons are with two to three inches of coffee grounds.

    In previous years the fruit had been home to the little dark brown ants. They had stowed larvae under the calyx. This year, only a couple of fruit had ants and those fruit were touching a camellia bush that had no coffee grounds.

    I don’t know if the coffee added something to the soil in addition to the regular mulch I use to increase the crop. It did have the benefit of keeping ants from the fruit.

    The next thing I think helped, we had late season fairly decent rains. The early part of the rainy season which in SoCal extends from December through March, rain was fairly sparse and it looked as if we were going to have a dry year. However we had decent rainfall through May this year. I think that probably had the most significant impact on fruit production.

    One of our trees is a chocolate persimmon. In my opinion it produces the best tasting persimmon fruit available. HOWEVER, and that is a big however, only pollinated fruit produces the “chocolate” version which is deliciously sweet and juicy. Unpollinated fruit remains astringent. It dries nicely and sweetens as it dries, so I dry all of the unpollinated fruit. You won’t find chocolates in the market because it is impossible to tell if the fruit is chocolate or not until you cut it open. Visual inspection from the outside, no matter how minute, reveals nothing. It’s hard to sell fruit on that basis, so chocolate persimmons are a hobby fruit. A pollinated fruit has four to six seeds inside and is dark brown inside, almost looking as if it were badly bruised and spoiled. Before I knew what it was, I used to throw them away.

    Typically in the past pollinated fruit has run 1-10 to 1-6 in pollinated vs. unpollinated. This year the ration is much higher running as high a 8-10 P vs. UP. Late season rain? Tree finally maturing after 20 – 25 years? Coffee grounds?

    Your guess is as valid as anyone’s.

    Well, that’s all from Farmer Chuck here on the left coast.

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    • IvyMike November 12, 01:00

      Persimmon trees are either male or female, you have two female (fruit bearing) trees so they are being pollinated by bees that have visited a male tree within 3-5 miles of your girls. Could be there are more bees than usual in your neighborhood, or someone planted a male tree closer to you. Persimmons are beautiful trees but I sure hate stepping on rotten windfall when barefooted.

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      • left coast chuck November 12, 04:52

        I read an article that said that persimmon trees can be — I forget the botanical name for an hermaphrodite plant — but be self-pollinating as well as being pollinated by a male tree. As I indicated earlier, I am certainly no expert on persimmons. I just bought two what were touted as dwarf specimen out of a catalog. For several years I thought the chocolate persimmons had some kind of rot. It wasn’t until I talked to a farmer in NorCal who had a rather large persimmon orchard and was selling Japanese style dried hachiya persimmons that I found out what the chocolates were. If I had known how much work they were, I would have bought persimmons from the farmer in NorCal and saved myself a bunch of work.

        The Japanese make very expensive beautiful furniture out of persimmon wood and also make a special dye that they use to stain both cloth and wood. The stain acts as a preservative for the wood and makes it a handsome brown.

        On cloth the brown stain give it a rustic look that the Japanese call “shibui” which doesn’t translate directly to English. Can’t explain “shibui” in under 500 words. “Plain”, “rustic”, “simple” are all used as translations of shibui but they each fail to convey the actual meaning.

        Although the branches break quite easily when live, when the wood dries it becomes quite dense and hard. It is a hardwood but one would never guess that from the live trees.

        Most truly ripe persimmons are not pleasing to look at and many people don’t like the texture but eating a really ripe persimmon is like eating jelly. Almost too sweet. Rich in fiber and beta-carotene and probably a whole raft of other vitamins and minerals.

        Eating dried Japanese style persimmons is what got me started eating them. Those are really a lot of work as each fruit is hand massaged daily during the drying process. When we were younger my wife used to undertake to dry the persimmons using the Japanese method. Which also involved tying string to two persimmons so the that they can be moved outdoors and hung in the sun during the day and brought inside at night while they dry. That’s also why they are expensive — lots of hand labor.

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        • IvyMike November 13, 00:29

          Ebony, one of the most valuable of hardwoods, is in fact a Persimmon. I once upon a time carved a set of guitar pegs out of Mexican Persimmon for my Sweety. The Mexican Persimmon is cool, it grows in Arroyos in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert, bear come down out of the mountains to eat the fruit, it’s almost too sweet, looking black and rotten when ripe. I have one I planted in my yard, but it is hundreds of miles away from romancing other trees and gets no fruit.

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      • red November 12, 17:40

        Mike: thanks, I didn’t know that. You just saved me a lot of money and water. 🙂 niio

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  7. greenlady November 11, 19:52

    I had a great year! Enough sun, enough water available. The deer loved it! I’m smart to them now, and I’ll plant crops they don’t like in the open areas, and everything else will be under wire.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck November 11, 22:06

      Specifically what crops do you find that the deer don’t like?

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      • red November 12, 18:11

        ! Yo. the old timers used to say to plant 3 grain of corn in the hill. One for the devil, one for the birds, one for the deer. But, deer generally leave tomatoes alone, at least till they ripen. Chilis, even my garden taste-tester, the javalina, only tried one and spit it out. I wish I could say the same for the squash, purple tomatillo (taste like huckleberries), and a few other things. She didn’t like the sweet potato tops but did each a portulaca that came back year after year. Kohlrabi, turnips, and some of the bean plants, gone. Most of the garden is behind a chainlink fence, but if she’s hungry enough, she’ll figure it out. And, thanks for letting us in on your persimmon problems. It was a big help deciding to NOT get one. niio

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        • left coast chuck November 14, 05:18

          Red: Recalling that I am certainly no persimmon expert having only taken the Persimmons 101 for Boneheads course from Life Experience U., I think where you live it just might be too dry for persimmons. They like hot summers, but need watering if they are to survive and bear fruit. Coastal SoCal is about as dry a climate as they can stand. I think they might do okay up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada but have zero experience in that regard. The commercial persimmon farmer that I have knowledge of raises them in an area in the mountains northeast of Sacramento. Their climate is totally different from mine. They get frost in the winter months. I’ve lived here 51 years and we have never had frost in that length of time. Of course, that is probably due to global warming. In the 19th century before we were all driving SUVs and not buying carbon credits, it was probably cooler here than now. On the other hand, it just might have been cooler because the Little Ice Age was ending. But then I’m not a climate expert either, just a history buff.

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          • red November 14, 12:17

            LLC: No, we have a native type, D. Texana, but they’re too thorny for home orchards. I’ve seen them down in Chihuahua and part of Sonora, as well. Japanese persimmons are a commercial crop in different parts of the state. We can buy them at farm markets, again. they’re hardy from Zone 5 to Zone 11, down near Yuma. It sounds like you had dry rot in yours, which is a bacterial disease. How’s the borax content in the soil? Apples without enough get heart rot. For an older sister, one teaspoon in a gallon of hot water, a quart around the dripline of each tree stopped it. Mind, it’s not called a micro-nutrient for nothing. too much, it kills the tree, and it’s highly toxic to ants and rodents… (thank You, God!)

            In AZ, EVERYTHING needs watering. We ended a drought last year that caused cactus to die. The major problem with planting in any desert of caliche. the Indians say, get under the caliche and add sulfur, and woody material, which is what I do. Adding a lot of high carbon, acidic material like logs and dead weeds should open up more soil under the trenches.

            Got to love them carbon credits. Navajo fought the DNC and EPA to allow them more of their share of Colorado River water. They leased out carbon credits, then planted hundreds of acres of hybrid poplars. When the leases ran out, they cut the trees for firewood. Win-win! BTW, I got a Dancy Tangerine at Lowes, 13.50 with my discount. niio

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  8. Don November 11, 21:09

    Like GAgirl it was a bad summer in GA. Lot of hot dry days. Worst garden in years.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Kat November 11, 21:18

    I had an awful growing season this year. First, it rained too much and then it was cool. To top things off, I expanded the garden to twice the 13×9 size. This would have worked out well, if only the previous owner hadn’t dumped large amounts of herbicides on the lawn the year before. As it was the only plants that grew and produced anything were the carrots and tomato plants a neighbor had given me, otherwise everything else grew about 6 inches tall and then died off. Next year I am going to go back to garden boxed and homemade compost .

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  10. Sherry November 11, 21:53

    Have been busy transferring my asparagus to our new home, can’t wait till it starts producing again

    Reply to this comment
  11. red November 12, 00:49

    Overall, a not too good year. We got a nice shower early April, then nothing till mid-September. Some things did well, others burned up in devil winds (two mountain ranges form a funnel, and the valley can experience 40 mph winds, with highs about 112 F, and humidity 4%). 3 chilis survived out of dozens. 3 packs of tomato seeds sprouted only to die. melons, pumpkins, squash did well, but a javalina ate some in a patch outside the fence (I’m hoping for pork for Thanksgiving 🙂 Lost fruit trees and some herbal plants. Yori Cahui cowpeas are still going strong. White tepary beans are on their last gasp, what ants didn’t carry off. But, the ants are now fertilizer! Ground squirrels got a few patches of sweet potatoes, but don’t care for sulfur pellets (half a cup) dumped in their burrow, the soaked and covered in dirt. Had some rats in the house, but the dachshund took them out (to dinner, so to say 🙂 Next year, a winner! niio

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  12. BDN November 12, 01:11

    Here in NW Florida, we had a relatively hot, wet spring and early summer, followed by 10 weeks of drought. I was so greatful for the rainbarrels, as they allowed me to keep the blueberry bushes, apple, pomegranate and fig trees going. And the asparagus crowns all survived and spread, so I’m looking forward to the first harvest next year.
    I transplanted several wild elderberry bushes. About half survived the drought. I will be transplanting more this fall.
    My best crops were the Malabar Spinach and sweet potatoes, a wild cherry tomato and banana peppers.

    I ordered a lb. of composting worms and put them into two recycled 100 gallon livestock tanks that i use for container gardens. The worms certainly turned an awful lot of kitchen waste into castings and the rosemary and spearmint plants were certainly happy. I hope to put composting worms in the 3 raised beds for next year.

    Right now I have a couple of broccoli seedlings, a couple of fennel and some snowpeas that all will be my fall crops.

    We are supposed to be in the low 20’s tomorrow, so I spent tonight covering everything with a thick layer of mulch.

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    • Claude Davis November 12, 16:00

      Rain barrels can be a real life saver. Water is one of those things you can never store too much of, because it always seems to get used faster than you expected. Plastic barrels are pretty cheap and you can fill them with water that would end up in a storm drain if you didn’t collect it, so there’s no reason not to have them. Even if the water you collect isn’t drinkable without treatment it’s going to be fine for washing, and definitely for watering the garden.

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      • left coast chuck November 12, 18:48

        First check to make sure collecting rain water isn’t a code violation. In some states it still is a code violation to collect rain water. Sheesh! What will the politicians and bureaucrats think of next?

        And of course, the deadly serious HOA. Don’t want to get them riled up.

        Fortunately our town encourages folks to collect rain water, eve going to far as to contract with folks who make rain barrels to sell them at a discount to residents of the town. One of the few things they are doing right.

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        • red November 13, 04:05

          LCC: what did Mama say? Stupid is as stupid does. Here, you can’t own pet poultry, but there’s no limits on parrots and dogs. But, this too shall pass. Me, I need to get a rain catchment started. by law, it has to be roofed with any access locked. While I don’t like mojados, neither do I want them becoming fertilizer in the water! niio

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  13. Miss Kitty November 12, 03:52

    Here on Cape Cod our spring was cold and wet very late into June. In desperation I had just put my seeds in at the end of May and said grow, dammitt! Beets were a bust and cayenne pepper a total no show, but tomatoes did very well after a late start. Marigolds still blooming as of today, but with temperatures set to plummet tomorrow night that’ll probably finish off the last of them. Weirdly, had several plants come up at the end of August – three tomatoes and some portulaca I had given up on, and I was seeing some sprouts of God only knows what that were poking up this week.
    I container plant as I just have a balcony, so next year I will try (again) to start my seeds indoors. Last year the fungus gnats destroyed the seedlings – this year I will try harder to thwart the little stinkers and get a head start.

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  14. Grammyprepper November 12, 06:44

    Central OH did not have a good year. I did a combination of container planting and in ground gardening. Containers won this year. My neighbor/gardening buddy also had a poor in ground garden. So I didn’t feel so bad, LOL. Containers were only enough to keep us fresh fed, so I wasn’t able to preserve much other than herbs. In ground tomatoes produced very late, so picked a lot of green maters before the first frost. I’ve frozen them as they ripened, so I will be able to make fresh sauce. I will continue to do a combination of container and in ground gardening.

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  15. red November 12, 18:02

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMiTb1EJ5nhn_NbUyNu003w is a very good site on ultimate water saving. Arizona wants us to save and use rainwater. A lot of states do not. Please make sure it’s legal where you live! Not all municipalities have total moron regulations. Some might even be for valid reasons. Using the water as a fish tank should stop any arguments against them and give you bass or catfish. niio

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  16. rizdawg November 13, 15:40

    canned over 250 jars sold 75 pounds of green beans, also tomatoes and peppers grew into late September sold over $500 out of garden (fresh and canned) not bad for a small hicktown city garden in northern Ohio

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  17. Dog Trainer November 17, 17:56

    I have a lot of issues with snails an slugs so I use three things. One, I will personally pick slugs and snails as I go along my gardening day. Two, I use Sluggo, and finally three, this year for the first time… I used crushed eggshells.

    I am on the VA/NC line close to the coast so we get a lot of rain. I raise my rows to drain off excess rain water, but we will always have snails and slug issues. This year 2019 growing season I had the least issues with them “in my garden” then I have ever had. I sprinkled crushed eggshells all over my soil and around my beds. Wow. I did save for about six months to get started and do actually go through a lot of eggs so that made it easier.

    I put a towel on top of my freezer, which creates a small amount of heat.
    I would use the egg and finger out all the white I could. Put the egg shells on top of the towel usually for a couple of weeks giving them time to basically dehydrate. After I put them in a zip lock, put a hand towel over that and smashed them with my hands into pretty small pieces… a food processor would work as well if you don’t go to fine. Put the done stuff in a new baggie and ready to do the next batch. Once I get enough I go spread. I go through four to six eggs a day and my eggs are organic.

    I additionally use the shells to balance my dogs diet cal/phos ratio by putting them in a coffee grinder to get it to a powder. If your dog is on a home cooked or raw meal that is devoid of blood and bone… this is a way to balance that cal/phos ratio to that which would be natural for them.

    I plan on keeping up with the eggshells. Apparently the shard nature of the shells injures snails and slugs so they won’t walk over them. I imagine similar to DE, but the egg shells don’t get washed away very easily, nor do they get absorbed as fast into the soil, so last longer for their intended purpose with a good end goal of only adding good to soil.

    Love this newsletter.

    Reply to this comment
    • red November 18, 01:56

      Yeah, this is a great newsletter! OK, sluggo, doesn’t that kill earthworms, too? years back, when stuck in Penna land of swamps and greedy politicians, we used a bait one year and lost all the earthworms. No slugs, but worms are aerators and fertilizers. One sister lives along the Susquehanna was told by a nursery to use cardboard under a light mulch. Slugs and snails get cut up by woody fibers. I used a little salt to kill any coming in from the lawn. Here, no slugs or snails, but we have a major issue with sow bugs and javalina 🙂 Between VA and NC? You live in some great country. niio

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