As a novice gardener I have lost many crops from birds pulling them up while looking for food, strong wind breaking the stems of young seedlings, snails and slugs feasting on deliciously looking young shoots and white butterfly caterpillars hole punching the flawless leaves of my little babies (and let’s not even get into cats). And each year I try to come up with a plan to beat these public enemies at their own game (and before I start, there will be references to death in this post). My most recent experiment has been to cover young seedlings with 3litre juice bottles with the bottoms cut out and the lid taken off (free) and pushed into the ground. I have also invested in a couple of wire mesh plastic covered tunnel houses for the seedlings, too ($9.95 each from Palmers).
I leave the seedlings covered for 10 – 14 days. This gives the young plants enough time to establish their root systems, stems and leaves without being hammered by the wind, pulled up by birds and even stops slugs and snails from chomping the delicate growth shoots. I do put a few slug and snail pellets at the two ends of the tunnels. I have also tried putting crushed eggshells around my seedlings to stop snails with fairly good results. The bottles and tunnels both act like mini greenhouses giving light, warmth and shelter to the seedlings. I did a little experiment during the last couple of weeks. I planted two identical sized seedlings next to each other, one with a bottle and one without. Have a look at the growth rate difference (the one with the bottle is one the right). I had to replant the one without the bottle due to a bird digging it up.
Dave asked a question during the week (see has comment on the cauliflower post ) about his problem with caterpillars eating his crops and not wanting to use sprays. I too have struggled with this problem. A young seedling can be totally destroyed in only a matter of days by caterpillars. This year I have gone out to the garden every evening and rubbed off all of the eggs that were laid that day with my thumbs, this requires looking on the under side of each leaf. This was really effective all though time consuming, some days were worse than others. A great friend of mine called Alexi (an all round excellent gardener who lives in New Mexico) once told me a story of how he was taught to deal with caterpillars and their eggs. He wrapped packaging tape, with the sticky side out, around his hand and dabbed all over each plant that were affected. The caterpillars and eggs would stick to the tape. There are also homemade chilli or garlic sprays that can be made and sprayed onto the leaves to stop chewing insects (just google this and you will find a recipe). I have also tried planting other plants (like lavender) away from my veges to give the butterflies somewhere else to lay and feed. Maybe other readers could make suggestions about methods they have tried. Comment below (choose anonymous if not a member).