With victory over snails comes satisfaction

I found the Afghani green zebra winter squash seeds at Camelot Gardens in Montrose. They are from a small seed company, High Desert Seeds, which is also in Montrose and carries seeds that are supposed to do well in our western Colorado climate. Because I was certain the snails would eat some of the seedlings, I overplanted, and now I have at least seven winter squash plants that are supposed to produce mammoth squashes.

I had no idea I could be so bloodthirsty, but when the dead bodies started piling up, all I felt was cold, heartless satisfaction.

Each tiny, desiccated and motionless carcass gave me an intense feeling of victory, with a renewed hope that I may yet triumph over my enemies.

In my defense, I should mention the snails started it.

Over the years, I've learned the hard way that plants such as cucumbers, beans, squash and melon grow better in my garden if I plant them from seed rather than buying plants.

Transplanting those types of plants, especially if I wait too late in the spring and the weather is warm, seems to send them into shock, and shocked plants make easy targets for insects and heat exhaustion.

It can take weeks for a transplant to recover, if it doesn't die or get eaten first.

To avoid transplant shock last year, I planted squash, bean, melon and cucumber seeds, monitoring them carefully to cheer them on when those first two little leaves emerged from the ground.

Soon after those precious cotyledons sprang up, something bellied up to the salad bar in my garden and ate them. Every single one was killed.

I went through several packets of seeds. I set soy sauce traps for the earwigs. I laid netting to protect against birds. In desperation, I sprayed to protect against unknown insects.

While I'm not an organic adherent, I really hate to use sprays, but I was determined that something (other than the ravenous, chomping invader) was going to survive.

Then one morning, I took a garden stroll and found the enemy with tender squash leaves still in its mouth.

I smashed that snarky snail under my foot — luckily, I was wearing shoes, but I probably would have done it had I been barefoot — and promptly drove to Bookcliff Gardens for snail bait.

After spreading the snail bait around some seeds, a few squash and cucumber plants managed to emerge and grow last year, but they weren't happy, and I could count on two hands the number of squash and cucumbers I picked.

I wondered if I drove away the bees with the insecticide I used, although it seemed like I had plenty of bees buzzing around in the garden.

This year, I determined that I was going to ambush the snails, and I knew I had my work cut out for me, thanks to our unusually wet spring.

I stocked up on snail bait and spread it liberally wherever I planted melons, squash, cucumbers or beans.

I also bought a few summer squash plants and put them in the ground in early May, just in case the snail bait didn't work.

At first, the only thing I noticed was that in spite of my vigilance, two tiny plants got chomped before they formed their first true leaves. A couple of plants also showed evidence that something had nibbled on them, but not devoured them completely.

Then the snail shells started appearing. I found one by the melons, several near the cucumbers, and more in random places where I had sprinkled the snail bait. I noticed that most of my seedlings were alive and forming true leaves.

I had, of course, over-planted, since I wasn't positive the bait would work. Now I have at least seven Afghani green zebra winter squash plants, which are supposed to produce 40-pound squashes.

A second look at the garden told me that most of my seedlings were in danger of getting swallowed up by weeds, so I vowed to spend 15 minutes out in the garden in the morning before work, pulling a bucket of weeds at least four times per week.

That vow lasted exactly one week.

But I have every intention of starting my devoted weed-pulling sessions again soon. Very soon.

Meanwhile, if you've got a savory recipe for winter squash, please send it to me at penny.stine@gjsentinel.com. My hubby says he doesn't like winter squash, or at least he doesn't like sweet winter squash baked with cinnamon, butter and brown sugar. Yes, he's insane that way.

He finds it more palatable when winter squash is roasted with a little olive oil, garlic and chipotle powder.

But I'd love to get more recipe suggestions since seven plants could keep us in winter squash until Valentine's Day.

Penny Stine is an avid gardener, who makes a lot of gardening mistakes and occasionally learns from them. Look for her column on the third Saturday of the month during the growing season. Stine is the staff writer for The Daily Sentinel's Special Sections department and can be reached at Penny.Stine@gjsentinel.com.

Recommended for you