It’s hard to decide which is worse: weeds or snails. This spring, with its late rains, has brought an abundance of both. One place in my yard has been cleared of weeds three times since January. Each time the weeds return, they are different. This year, I am not using a commercial weed killer so control has been difficult. And how did those weeds get here? Let me count the ways.
Many weed seeds need to pass through the digestive system of a bird in order to germinate. As the birds fly by, they leave us reminders of what they have eaten. Wind also plays a big part in dispersing weed seeds. Since the winds of last October, I am seeing weeds I have never seen before in my yard and garden.
One summer, I cleared an area of wild oats. For two years, the area remained clear but now the oats have floated back. I used a small burner to kill those oats originally, and it took many hours, yet still their seeds sprouted after the winter rains.
There are many ways to try to battle weeds. Hoeing them as they emerge is one approach, but you need to be constantly ready to attack. Another method is to cover the area with clear plastic sheeting. Seal the edges and let the sun bake those weeds and seeds for six to eight weeks. I usually try to do this process, known as solarizing, in July and August.
I also try to rotate the plantings in my vegetable beds and let the beds rest every few years. That’s when I solarize them.
When you turn soil over with a shovel, weed seeds buried deeply come to the surface. With a little sunlight and rain, they sprout. That’s yet another reason some people advocate no-till gardening; it leaves the weed seeds undisturbed.
This year, the snails are everywhere and hiding a lot better than in the past. The troublemakers, the ones that I try to eliminate, are not natives. They were imported from France.
Legend has it that when the California Gold Rush was in full swing and miners were celebrating their newfound riches, some enterprising chef in San Francisco imported snails from France to make escargots à la Bourguignonne. The snails either were freed or escaped their fate and went out to populate the land.
To control these devils, remember that they are hermaphrodites: any snail can mate with any other one. They reproduce up to six times a year, with about 80 offspring each time.
Commercial snail baits do help control them, and I hear they love beer and will drown in bowls of it buried with the bowl rim at soil level. My preferred method is to hunt for them; they hide during the day. Once I find them, I crush them underfoot. Other gardeners tell me they throw them in the street or in the neighbor’s yard. Not nice. Plus, they may heal and crawl back.
You can feed any snails you find to chickens; they love snails. One friend told me he gathered snails and put them on a bed of cornmeal for about a week. They would eat the cornmeal, which purges them, and then he would cook them.
Slugs are just snails without shells and they do the same damage to tender plants. However, I don’t usually step on them unless I can cover them first with a board. For a guide to battling snails and slugs, consult the University of California Pest Notes online.
Workshops: Napa County Master Gardeners will hold a workshop on “Culinary Herbs and Cocktail Garnishes” on Saturday, June 23, from 9:30-11:30 a.m., at Central Valley Hardware, 1100 Vintage Ave., St. Helena.
The workshop will be repeated on Sunday, June 24, from 1-3 p.m., at Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington St., Yountville. Plant a plethora of herbs to add color and delight to your plate and to your beverages. Cilantro, basils, thymes, mints and their flowers, nasturtiums, roses, pansies, borage and calendula are only the beginning. Learn to grow these useful plants. Demonstrations and hands-on activities add to the fun. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in/walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment). To register for the Yountville workshop, call the Parks & Recreation Department at 707-944-8712 or register online.