Chopped slug or snail toast?

 

Tincture of ladybird and toasted snail could be what you need to tackle pests the homeopathic way, writes FIONNUALA FALLON

RIDICULOUS, I KNOW, but the very first time that I knowingly sliced a slug in half with my secateurs, I was overcome with a mixture of remorse and disgust. It didn’t matter that this slimy gastropod had already greedily devoured a tray of tender young seedlings, which technically made its grisly end quite justifiable; I still squirmed uneasily in my self-appointed role of garden assassin.

I am, pathetically, just as much of a wuss when it comes to stamping on the large brown shells of the common garden snail, Cornu aspersum, crushing sticky aphids between my fingers (yuck), or picking the gruesomely destructive larvae of the gooseberry sawfly off the leaves of infested plants (yuck again). Faced with the task of drowning the wriggling caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly in a bucket of hot salty water, I prefer instead to bribe my suitably bloodthirsty young son to do the job for me, while the mere sight of the revolting larvae of the vine weevil (plump, pale and maggot-like) makes me squeal like a two-year-old.

So what to do? Over the years, I’ve experimented with various organically acceptable pest controls including beer traps, iron-based slug pellets, pyrethrum (a natural extract of Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium that’s an effective insecticide), nematodes such as Supernemos and Nemaslug, and biological controls such as Bacillus thuringiensis, all with varying degrees of success.

Now, on the advice of the Dublin-based homeopath Martin Byrne, I’m about to experiment with some very different sorts of remedies that include minute doses of toasted snail (Helix tosta) and tincture of dried ladybird (Coccinella).

Yes, I agree, it does all sound a bit weird – and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am more than a bit sceptical – but Byrne’s argument is that these agrohomeopathic treatments for common pests should have a place in every garden.

“I’ve used them in my own garden, with almost instant results. Obviously they aren’t miracle remedies, in that if the growing conditions aren’t right for your plant, then it just won’t thrive.

“But, just as with people, homeopathic remedies can be used to successfully build up the immune system of a plant, rather than treating the symptoms as conventional pesticides do,” he says.

Byrne’s interest in the usefulness of agrohomeopathywas first sparked some years ago, as a student at the Irish School of Homeopathy ( ish.ie) in Sandyford, Co Dublin.

“A lecturer made a passing comment about how homeopathic remedies can be just as effective when used to treat plant pests and disease, and it really stuck with me. Some years later I came across the writings of the Dutch homeopath VD Kaviraj, in particular his groundbreaking book Homeopathy for Farm and Garden. I found the subject absolutely fascinating, so when I was given the opportunity to attend an agrohomeopathy workshop held in Gloucestershire last year, I jumped at the chance.”

Also attending the same workshop were biodynamic farmers from Germany, agronomists from South America, gardeners from the Belo Horizonte botanical gardens in Brazil as well as delegates from India, South Africa, Spain, Portugal, Pakistan, Hungary, Italy and Greece. They were all already experimenting with using homeopathic remedies to treat a range of plant pests and diseases (see agrohomeopathy.orgfor more details). And also there, as one of the speakers at the workshop, was VD Kaviraj.

“I was hugely impressed by his knowledge of the subject – it made me want to find out even more,” explains Byrne, who subsequently invited Kaviraj to Ireland, to give a two-day workshop later this month (see left for details).

As for those who say that homeopathy is unscientific quackery, whether practised on people or plants, Byrne’s reply is that “if you’re a chemist, yes, I can understand that it seems ludicrous. For example, homeopathy uses remedies made from mineral, plant or animal sources, but in tiny doses that are then added to water at very, very high dilution rates, whereas the law of chemistry states that once any dilution passes what’s called Avagadro’s number, there’s nothing left of the original substance at all.

“All I can say is that agrohomeopathy works, by boosting the plant’s health and making it immune to attack. I use Helix tosta (the agrohomeopathic remedy for slugs and snails) in my own garden at a dilution rate of 6X or 1/1,000,000 and it’s dramatically reduced plant damage.

“Critics talk of the placebo effect when it comes to the success of homeopathic medicine in treating humans, but who ever heard of a plant displaying a placebo effect?”

By his own ready admission, Byrne is a very keen beginner gardener rather than a horticulturist. But a quick scan of Kaviraj’s book reveals that the Dutch homeopath is highly knowledgeable – there are chapters on plant structure, companion planting, bacterial, fungal and viral diseases, and plant nutrient deficiencies and imbalances, while he lists an often baffling range of detailed homeopathic remedies for everything from damping off young seedlings (a dilution of chamomile) to plant injuries (arnica for bruising, calendula for open wounds).

And whatever one might think of some of the more obscure remedies, it’s good to see that Kaviraj also emphasises the absolutely vital role of healthy soil (one that’s well-aerated, rich in organic matter and full of microrganisms) in producing healthy, vigorous plants.

So am I convinced of the benefits of agrohomeopathy? I’m waiting to see how I get on with my toasted snail and tincture of ladybird.

Garden pottery

Sadly, after more than 30 years in business, Kiltrea Bridge Pottery is closing its doors. Instead of its annual Easter sale, the Kiltrea Retirement Sale begins on the April 5th and will be gardeners’ last opportunity to purchase Kiltrea pots for their homes and gardens. See kiltreapottery.com

Diary date

Agrohomeopathy Workshop at The National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin on April 26th-27th. Cost €50, including tea/coffee. For more information, contact Martin Byrne on 086-2206564

This week in the garden

Plant dahlias and gladiolus outdoors

Sow lots of different vegetable seeds outdoors

Keep weeds under control with a regular hoeing routine