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Jackie Hope: Harvest time can be a real slugfest

October: The month of harvest festivals, harvest moons, harvesting gardens and harvesting slugs. This time of the year, most people bring in tomatoes and cucumbers and leave them on the kitchen counter to ripen. And some of us bring in slugs and leave them on the kitchen counter to, um ... to, uh ... to do their little sluggish things.

We're not talking about the slugs that are another name for bullets in a Mickey Spillane novel. We're not talking about the slugs that are the little quarter-sized metal discs some people put into vending machines and parking meters instead of putting in real money. We're talkin' mollusks here.

Garden slugs are gastropod mollusks, like snails, but without shells. They have sensory tentacles -- feely thingies -- on their head ends, a breathing hole on one side, and a river of slime on their footy undersides. They are mostly water, and live in mucky muddy places that are dark and damp and, well, mucky and muddy. Slugs are not the frontrunners in the evolutionary race. Heck, they are not frontrunners in any race. They're slugs, for crying out loud.

Slugs are simple and primitive and -- how can we put this delicately? -- they don't exactly have separate genders. What they have are exactly two genders, both in each slug. So that means any two slugs can produce a whole slug more of slugs.

Slugs make great science projects. They eat every vegetable imaginable, and a few unimaginable ones, like kohlrabi. Have you ever seen that stuff? It kinda looks like what happens if you cross a cabbage with a garden troll, and it has all these leafy stems coming out of its top-like green dreads. Some people even claim to have eaten a kohlrabi. I'm guessing that is just an urban legend. Nobody could really eat one of those things.

Anyway, slugs make great science projects because you can feed them darned near anything, and then you can chart their growth and their food preferences. And you can race them if you have a whole lot of time on your hands.

Now, there are a few important things to know about slugkeeping.

Slugs live in the dirt, so you'll need a terrarium to house them. Slugs are in hog heaven in a terrarium; but not so much for any plants in the terrarium. Hey, you've seen what they do to your prized tomatoes, right? They slurp out the bottom of the fattest tomato, then slide over to scarf a cuke or zucchini. It's best to house slugs in an unplanted terrarium and toss in a veggie or two for their slug-a-licious smorgasbord.

Slugs like the dark. They will hide in the dirt during the day, and come out for a sluggardly cruise during the nighttime. Know what else slugs do at night? You're apt to find underground clutches of eggs snugged up against the glass sides of your terrarium on many mornings. In just a few weeks, you'll have beaucoup slugs 2.0.

And here is the biggest tidbit for would-be slugkeepers: put a lid on them. Put a really secure lid on them and tape down the edges because slugs have nothing to do all night long except eat, lay eggs and devise ways to get out of their terrarium and take a cruise across the counter. Slugs are like lemmings. They'll ooze under a plastic wrap cover, bungee jump off the kitchen cabinet on a slime string and land juicily on the floor. Really juicily.

Slug slime is probably the ickiest stuff in all creation. It is the best of slimes and the worst of slimes. Remember the ectoplasm slime from the old "Ghostbusters" movie? Slug slime is ickier. Remember the nastiest sneeze you ever had? Slug slime is slimier. And when one of those little boogers gets loose -- sorry, bad choice of words. When one of those little sluggers gets loose, it leaves the queen mother of foot trails.

For reasons known only to other slugs, when a slug goes rogue it hot-foots it, in sluggish slo-mo, underneath things. Things like computers and microwave ovens. Things you don't usually look under until you notice strange smells. Wow, that'll turn your email into snail mail, and Windows will send out a SOS -- sluggish operating system.

Safety tip: Count your slugs every morning. And never, ever put them next to your laptop. Just sayin'.

So what have we learned about slugs?

Slugs make great science projects because you can get them for free. Slugs will eat anything, even kohlrabi. Slugs are escape artists, the world's slowest escape artists. Never leave slugs alone with your notebook computer because it is, like, an open book for them. Now that's a whole slug of knowledge for you.