Shelley, better know as Cornu aspersum, haunts our dreams with their savage leaf destruction. So rather than be terrified of them I set out to know them a little better.
There are over 200,000 species of land and seas snails and they first appeared on the planet 550 million years ago, equally at home in the tropics, dessert or deep water.
The largest is the African snail with a record of 38cm long and the smallest is .8 of a millimetre.
Shelley has up to 14,000 little teeth that rasp bits of leaf off. They can take about a week to travel one kilometre, have a small lung to breath, and are deaf and almost blind despite their popping out eyes.
Their sexual habits are amazing. Hermaphrodite, they can circle each other for up to 6 -12 hours in a slime fest, and then when they are ready, they shoot love darts into each of their bodies. The mucus on the tip of the dart activates their spurm retaining systems to better aid conception. After they have had sex, each penetrating the other, they go their merry ways and a few weeks later give birth underground to up to 30 eggs. The little babies are left to fend for themselves.
It is said that snails inspired the story of Cupid and his love arrow!
They have represented the Deadly Sin of Sloth in the past, and have been eaten in most cultures, even in Scotland during famines. Some cultures eat their eggs which are known as White Caviar.
Shelley hates direct sunlight and their mucus trail, serving was a slimy path to slide on, works best at night when there is no sunlight to dry it up. They will often ride along another snails slime path. During Winter they block the entrance to their little shell and hibernate underground. They live between 2-5 years but in captivity they can live up to 25 years!
A snail form Egypt laid dormant in a glass cabinet in the British Museum for over 100 years before it started moving again, living for a year and a half.
Whilst we generally hate them, they are a vital source of food to toads, birds, beetles, mice and hedgehogs.
Every Garden Advice show has a snail question. Recently the RHS did a large experiment using all sorts of physical barriers and none were proven to be effective!
My friend recently picked off over 100 from amongst his vegetables, and did this every night for a week. By the 7th day he could hardly find any- so perhaps the best method is to manually remove them. However, if you are thinking of chucking them into your least favourite neighbour’s garden think again. In 2010 Mrs Brooke won the British Amateur Scientist of the Year award by painting snails with nail polish, then carrying them into a nearby woodland. Most eventually retuned, proving they have some kind of homing device. She suggests a 300 foot buffer zone would be effective!
There are other methods of reducing the Shelleys of this world. The Soil Association approve Ferric phosphate though the RSPB warns that it also includes other chemicals which aren’t good for worms.
There are the beer, yogurt and fruit traps, nematodes especially effective against slugs, or you think about creating a lovely lettuce patch for them and so distracting them form the real vegetable patch.
Whatever your relationship with Shelley, they have lived on the Earth more than half billion years. That is something!
What to do with your vegetables this August
Irregular watering can lead to problems such as blossom end rot in tomatoes and splitting of root vegetables, so make sure to water well during dry spells.
Weeds compete with vegetables for water and act as hosts for pests and diseases, so remove them regularly by hoeing.
Marrows should be raised off the ground slightly, to prevent them discolouring from contact with the soil.
Continue earthing up celery, putting a layer of paper between the stems and the soil and take care when thinning out any late-sown carrot seedlings to prevent the scent released attracting carrot fly females.
Finally, check vegetables regularly for aphids and deal with them as soon as you see them. Make sure you understand the different requirements and threats to your vegetables and take the correct precautions and your vegetables should survive the hot and dry month of August!
Where to visit this August
If you haven’t been to the National Trust garden, Nymans to the east of the village of Handcross, then a visit will be thrilling to you. The garden was developed, starting in the late 19th century, by three generations of the Messel family, and was brought to renown by Leonard Messel. So it is a horticultural collection of fascinating plants.