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Broccoli Snails

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor

Friday, October 15, 2010

Broccoli and snail

Photo by Rick Gush

I can't identify these snails, but they're eating holes into part of my broccoli plants.

The good news in the garden is that my broccoli plants are all growing like crazy. I finally found space to get all 100 plants in the ground, and aside from a few stormy days, it’s been warm and sunny so the plants are really jumping. Some of the largest are 2 feet tall with 2-inch-thick stalks. There are no flowers yet, but it’ll only be a matter of time. We should certainly have a lot of broccoli to eat this winter.

The bad news is that the broccoli plants in one of the garden areas are infested with tiny snails. I haven’t been able to identify these little monsters yet, but they are chewing a lot of holes in the lower leaves of the plants. Our garden is organic, so I don’t use metaldehyde on the garden snails. Instead, I use snail pellets made from iron sulphate, and they usually work pretty well.

But this time, the snail pellets don’t seem to be working. I’m not too worried, because the affected plants do have a whole lot of upper leaves that are unaffected so far. But the holey leaves still bother me. The little snails don’t seem to be land crawlers like the bigger types, so I’m not surprised that the first pellets, which I placed on the soil surface, had little effect. Next, I tried wetting the foliage and then scattering the pellets directly onto the foliage. Hmm, not much better.

I have, of course, tried salt borders, copper border strips and plates of beer, none of which worked particularly well. Those strategies are also sort of a pain because I have so many little plots. When I lived in the States and had a larger one-plot garden, I had great luck when I built a copper border around the whole garden. There were plenty of snails in the landscaping right next to the garden, but I guess the snails did not enjoy crawling across the copper strips to get into the vegetable patch.

These days, I’m hand-picking all the little buggers I can find, but I’m obviously missing a lot, as the holey leaves keep getting holier. At this point, only 20 of my 100 plants are affected, but I’m hoping that the cold weather comes soon, as this always seems to be the most effective snail deterrent. In the meanwhile, I suppose I should trot around to some of the old-time vegetable gardeners around here to see if any of them can give me useful advice on the subject. 

My original concern with the broccoli was that they’d have problems with cabbage worms.  I’ve sprayed the plants several times with Bacillus thuringensis, but it doesn’t seem to be as effective as a preventative, and I think it only works when there are already worms present on the plants. I think the rains wash it off as well, so I’m prepared to spray again after almost every rainfall. My trigger finger should get quite a workout this winter.

Read more of Rick's Favorite Crops »

Give us your opinion on Broccoli Snails.
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oh great article
Kristin, upper sandusky, OH
Posted: 11/19/2010 9:40:12 PM
Hi David,

Ahh, finally we're getting some cold nights, and that puts a stop to the snail problem. Overall I don't think the damage to the broccoli was too bad. the tops are all loaded with new healthy leaves, and only the lowest set of leaves was massacered. I think our crop is still nicely on track.

And you, do you grow anythng over the winter? My guess is that it's too cold in Omaha for a winter garden.
rick, Rapallo, YT
Posted: 10/16/2010 9:45:47 PM
It sounds like you have a real tough problem. I've not found snails in my garden but then I've not grown broccoli either. I hope you find a solution soon.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 10/16/2010 8:59:57 PM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has been a staunch organic gardener since his high school days.  He attended the University of California at Davis for biological sciences, working at local tomato and sugar beet farms while a student. He continued in the California agricultural and horticultural industries for many years, though a career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games. No matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions, providing a precious opportunity to get out from behind the computer keyboard.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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