Garden snails are my friends — but they might not be yours
Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens:
During my recent barberry picking expeditions to make barberry jam I encountered more than just garden spiders and other insects. These are photos of three different snails I encountered last week. The first time I spent an hour picking barberries for making jam last week was after several hours of hard rains. The garden beds (and my neighbors’) were soaking wet. I live at 7,000 feet elevation. Our summers are wet (if we’re lucky), with cool night temperatures. You might not think that snails could survive here, but they do, sometimes in abundance.
I saw several dozen snails, including a couple that ended up on my latex glove as I was picking berries. I wanted to take some pictures, so I had to run upstairs and around the house looking for where Dan had set down the camera with a snail on my gloved finger. I had not previously known it, but snails LOVE latex gloves. The snail was not afraid as I carried it inside. S/he (snails are both female and male) glided around my finger like it was an ice skating rink. I thought it was pretty cute.
During the monsoon season the snails some out of hiding, presumably in the earth where they stay moist during our long dry seasons and cold winters, and appear in my two front garden beds. I cannot plant leafy greens in those beds without having them eaten by snails. I don’t mind this gardening limitation. You see, I love shells. I have sea shells in every room of my house that I collected on beach combing expeditions in Florida, the mid-Atlantic, New England and California. I think my garden snails are adorably cute. I was happy that they were not afraid of me, but just happy to be out in the rain, their favorite time of year. I grow my leafy greens in raised beds and containers where the snails do not roam. My front garden beds only grow apple trees, barberries, Alliums (onion family bulbs), strongly-flavored herbs and other fruit orchard guild plants that are not very susceptible to snail herbivory. I also strongly favor permaculture garden ecosystems that are in balance. However I understand that you might not be so keen on garden snails and their slug cousins if they are eating you out of house and home.
Tips on protecting crop plants from snails and slugs:
Snails have shells. Slugs don’t. They both have useful ecological contributions to the garden, including eating algae, fungi, lichens, rotting plant matter, and generally shredding material and speeding decomposition. Their slime also helps to bind soil particles together. However, they also eat garden crops, especially tender leaves. Predators include some birds, including domestic poultry, some beetles, turtles, frogs, toads, salamanders, lizards and snakes. Make plastic cuffs from soda and water bottles to protect individual plants (slugs and snails cannot climb over them). Hedges of volcanic cinder rocks, recycled glass sand, diatomaceous earth and other rough surfaces discourage them from entering an area, as do drying substances like wood ash (keep in mind that too much wood ash might make your soil too alkaline, depending on where you live; my soil is already quite alkaline). Keep mulch from touching slug-attracting plants to avoid providing an easy pathway for the slugs. Place boards between plants; slugs or snails will collect underneath overnight. Hand-pick the slugs and snails. Slugs are also famous for being attracted to bowls of beer (stale is OK) and falling in and drowning.