I’ve been working long hours lately, so had planned a quiet Friday night in to recover myself. Instead, I have been on a murderous rampage.

Rest in peace, little bastards

Rest in peace, little bastards

When we moved here, back in February, the owner had left their beer-traps in the garden for us. That should have been a sign.

I gave it a go for a bit of fun, though father-of-frugilegus has always been cynical about their effectiveness. The first morning I checked the traps I counted 50 corpses before I concluded the total was ‘a lot’. That should have been a sign.

Despite that body-count, every seedling I planted in the beds disappeared overnight, the only indication it had ever existed a memorial trail of slime. I took that as a sign.

I ordered nematodes after that, and I have to say they were pretty effective. After a week, some seedlings survived. They certainly didn’t thrive, but the old nibbled stalk was actually visible here and there.

I kept up the slug-traps, trying old orange juice that had been lost in the back of the fridge instead of beer, and shook a few bodies into the compost bin once a week. I sprinkled some coffee grounds around seedlings every now and then. Though nematodes are only effective for about six weeks, I thought I must have taken out the hordes, and could control the rest with various fermented juices.

So, I planted out borage and strong cucumber plants. I positioned a climbing frame for the cucumbers to play on and, that night, dreamt of their fruit. The next morning, I went to welcome them to their first new day, and found just a few slimy stalks. That should have been a sign.

Friends or foes ... or utter bastards?

Friends or foes ... or utter bastards?

Still,  I was distracted by compost. The bin in the garden is not a good one, and when we moved in was full of organic matter that showed no interest in decomposing. I had given it a stir, added lots of brown matter and the contents of a bokashi bucket, then later a few worms, in the hope of getting it going. Things were looking good. An ecosystem developed: woodlice, wriggly things, beetles and the odd snail. I smiled on it benevolently, thinking that a wriggling bin is a healthy, decomposing bin.

Just as a weed is only a plant in the wrong place, I decided a snail is only an evil murderous bastard when it is in the wrong place.


A compost bin is no more than a base from which vast hordes are unleashed under cover of darkness. It provides a mollusc with snacks during the day, but one mustn’t eat too much in the bin – one must save oneself for the night raids on pots of beans, tender cucumber shoots, and if one’s feeling adventurous, following the trails of shelled-scouts and slimy outriders into the herb bed.

Tonight it rained. Though the young basil I put out might find it a bit of a shock, on the whole it was welcome because the water butt is empty and the lawn is sulking (the lawn is a whole other story). I wandered out with the torch, thinking vaguely that I could check whether it was snails nibbling at the runner bean bucket.

But, upon finding a full-scale attack underway I was overtaken by bloodlust. Arming myself with a plastic bag on my hand, I grabbed and dropped, grabbed and dropped, each victim clunking into my bucket of water. Haha!

For the pernicious fault of gluttony, as you can see, I'm prostrate in this rain.

For the pernicious fault of gluttony, as you can see, I'm prostrate in this rain.

I can’t kill beetles, but it seems I can kill molluscs.

Though apparently not that easily. Putting snails in cold water doesn’t work. They squirm about and take turns to crawl on each other and then crawl out. It seems I should have used very hot water. An hour ago, I’d have said I wouldn’t have the stomach for it, but seeing as I’ve spent much of my Friday night sprinkling salt on antennae as they break the surface like little periscopes I don’t know if that is true any longer. I’ve never fancied salting slugs before, and it was expensive salt too, but none of that bothered me for a second when I found a speckled slug making a break for freedom. Later, overtaken by guilt, I poured in a can of beer too. So some died horrifically, but hopefully others died happy.

Tomorrow, more nematodes. And a new zero-tolerance policy. They had their chance with the compost bin and they’ve blown it.

In the days of a dark, gardenless flat, I just had my EMs for composting comfort. I’ve always thought of these ‘efficient microorganisms’ as industrious little pets, chomping their way through my kitchen choppings, and saving them from landfill.

Hungry mouths to feed. The EMs will eat almost anything.

Hungry mouths to feed. The EMs will eat almost anything.

The EMs are the residents of a bokashi bin, an anaerobic composting system. Food waste is added to the bucket – I’ve added everything including small meat bones, fish and dairy products – squashed down to remove air pockets, and a handful of EM-infused bran is added. Lid on tight, and no smells. Though He-who-lives-with-me turns up his nose when the lid is lifted, that is because he has so much to learn. The bran has the homely aroma of fat clean warm happy chickens, and the pickle is pickley, and what could be wrong with a bit of pickle?

He also had a tendency to whinge a bit when the EM-juice was drained – a wonderful thick brown ooze that just smells to me of potent plant-fertilising, drain-cleaning goodness, but he begs to differ. I explained we could not let the EMs get their feet wet, and we compromised with a safe-zone of at least one hour before he was due home for juice-gathering.

Bokashi bran contains all the compost crunchers. Squish down the layers to get rid of all the air pockets, add a sprinkling of bran, and lots more room for the next load.

Bokashi bran contains all the compost crunchers. Squish down the layers to get rid of all the air pockets, add a sprinkling of bran, and there's lots more room for the next load.

It was almost perfect. But once the bokashi bin is brim-full, and the pickle has been left to ferment in its airless darkness for an appropriate period of time (I used to think this was six weeks, but it seems the latest reports are saying only two), it needs somewhere to go – normally either added to a compost heap, or dug into the ground, where it quickly turns into glorious mud. Lacking either option in dark, gardenless abode, I instead embarked on three mile round trips to an accommodating compost heap, where I deposited my (oh, okay slightly stinky) heap of pickle. (I follow the two-bin system with one filling, one fermenting, but after twelve weeks both are full. Then what’s one to do?)

I’ve not weighed a full bucket, but I do know I never made it past the first bus stop. Each time, the prospect of sitting on a bus with several kilograms of six-week-old vegetable peelings, tea bags and fishheads in my lap seemed more appealing than trying to carry the buckets a single step further. Funnily enough, the empty buckets smell more than the full ones (anaerobic is very effective until it meets air…). Still, it didn’t seem to stop me taking them into the local ale-house a few times on my way home; I’m sure they’ve had worse in there.

Now, bokashi bliss nearly reigns. The EMs live outside the kitchen door, sheltered under a little overhang. I can decant brown liquor with complete freedom, and the garden awaits its pickle.

The only limitation is the space – not much bare soil, and a long-resident compost bin full, and clearly neglected. I’ve added one load, but the heap needs some work to make it healthy, and as it is sited right next to the table and chairs, I am reluctant to add more pickle to the already potent brew. My only other addition has been approximately 150 slug corpses, from a very successful beer trap.

So I find myself with surplus pickle again. Time for some new pets methinks. Bring on the worms!