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Reviving Some Very Old Gardening Advice Re Slugs And Snails And A Major Bankruptcy!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

September 2, 2001

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The garden of Birnie and LuAnne vanderBij is on their 19th floor south-east-facing balcony that overlooks Toronto’s Don Valley (including the infamous Don Valley Parking Lot [Parkway] barely identifiable in the background). One of the plants that grows and flowers very well for them is the passion vine (Passiflora caerulea) which I photographed several years ago. Did you know that the fruit (technically berries) are edible? The pulp has a pleasing flavour and aroma. In the tropics where the fruit is abundant it is used as a flavouring for sherbets, confections, icings, and jams. The pulp and seeds of some varieties are eaten with a spoon directly from the fruit! Author photo.

First a reply to an e-mail query that Donna Dawson, web mistress of the website received this week. The question was: is it possible to grow sweet potatoes/yams in the Ottawa area?
The answer to that is yes and no! Yes, you can try growing them and some gardeners do, but even in a good growing season, the tubers will not develop (ripen) sufficiently so that they may be stored. They must be eaten soon after being dug or they will spoil. Those who grow sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) say they find that they store better in the ground than they do once dug, so dig only what you need and leave the rest in the ground, well mulched so you will have access to them as late as possible in the fall. By the way, dig only after the vine foliage has been killed by frost.
Incidentally, the sweet potato is not an economic crop anywhere in Canada. And, the yam that many refer to is a non-starter. That is, yams (which come from Africa) are generally not edible, and are usually considered only as animal fodder. Many supermarkets sell “yams,” but these are incorrectly named since they are, in fact, sweet potatoes.
I could outline here the growing instructions, such as starting with a store-bought tuber that has what appear to be “live” eyes. However, it’s perhaps best to leave those instructions to next spring.

Some bad news for mail order gardeners was in the media during the last few weeks. A major mail order supplier, Foster & Gallagher, has declared bankruptcy in the U.S.A. While the company owned a number of subsidiaries in other lines of products, for example, health care, toys, and gifts; their primary business was in horticultural supplies through subsidiaries such as the low-end Michigan Bulb Company, and the high-end Breck’s, also a major player in the bulb business. In addition, well-known U.S. horticultural suppliers such as Stark Brothers Nursery (fruit trees especially) and Spring Hill Nurseries were part of the empire. Tom Foster and Helen Gallagher began the business in 1952, and from all reports I had seen and heard it had been highly successful.
Here in Canada, Spring Garden Nurseries, of Port Burwell and Rockwood Gardens of Rockwood, Ontario (near Guelph) were part of the U.S. operation. I have not been able to reach friend Jim Collins, Spring Garden general manager, to get his comments. He’s on vacation but I shall talk to him upon his return.
Much could be written about many gardeners’ experiences with the low-end operations of Michigan Bulb and Rockwood Gardens, but these types of companies do play a role in getting people interested in gardening. For those looking for the higher quality bulbs and other nursery stock, Foster & Gallagher’s Breck’s and Spring Hill companies were able to supply the highest quality stock through these operations. 
In the U.S. most of the subsidiary companies have been closed and employees laid off while the parent company negotiates to sell off its assets to repay creditors.
Finally, as headlined this week, I have some additional suggestions for slug and snail control, one of the most often asked questions even this year when we had a six-week dry period which should theoretically curtail or at least slow down the activity of these crustaceans. Radio AM740 listener Libby Macdonald of Burlington wrote me enclosing photocopies of several pages from a book entitled “Enquire Within Upon Everything.” Houlston and Sons in London England published it, she thinks around the late 1800s or early 1900s.
Amongst many garden references there are several to slug and snail control. For example paragraph #255: “Slugs and snails are great enemies to every kind of garden plant, whether flower or vegetable; they wander in the night to feed, and return at daylight to their haunts; the shortest and surest direction is, ‘Rise early, catch them, and kill them.’ If you are an early riser, you may cut them off from their day retreats, or you may lay cabbage leaves about the ground, especially on the beds which they frequent. Every morning examine these leaves, and you will find a great many taking refuge beneath: if they plague you very much, search for their retreat, which you can find by their slimy track, and hunt there for them day by day; lime and salt are very annoying to snails and slugs; a pinch of salt kills them, and they will not touch fresh lime; it is a common practice to sprinkle lime over young crops, and along the edges of beds, about rows of peas and beans, lettuces and other vegetables; but when it has been on the ground some days, or has been moistened by rain, it loses its strength.”
The next entry states: “Snails are particularly fond of bran; if a little is spread on the ground, and covered over with a few cabbage leaves or tiles, they will congregate under them in great numbers, and by examining them every morning and destroying them, their numbers will be materially decreased.”
Paragraph 2221, headed “To Kill Slugs” states, “Take a quantity of cabbage leaves, and either put them into a warm oven, or heat them before the fire till they get quite soft; then rub them with unsalted butter, or any kind of fresh dripping, and lay them in places infested with slugs. In a few hours the leaves will be found covered with snails and slugs, which may then, of course, be destroyed in any way the gardener may think fit.”
Finally, paragraph 2222 is headed “To Destroy Slugs.” It states, “Slugs are very voracious and their ravages often do considerable damage not only to the kitchen garden, but to the flower-beds also. If, now and then, a few slices of turnip, be put about the beds, on a summer or autumnal evening, the slugs will congregate thereon, and may be destroyed.”
So that’s the advice on slugs and snails from one hundred years ago. Perhaps a couple of “new” ideas for you!

Art C. Drysdale, 6 Nesbitt Drive, Toronto, Ontario M4W 2G3

Art Drysdale is horticultural editor of Canada's oldest and fastest growing national gardening magazine, Plant & Garden. He is seen daily on Canada’s Weather Network at 23 minutes past each hour, and heard Saturdays from 8:05 to 10 AM, with a live radio broadcast on Toronto's powerful and clear, AM740 CHWO Primetime Radio.

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