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Learning about living things #crowdfunding

On Thursday we were invited in to Wickhambreaux primary school to the after school young gardeners club for a Meet the Snails event.

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We took a mini farm with some baby snails and some big ones too so the children could see how they grew. One of the girls ran her finger round the spiral shell and told me how the shell grows as the snail gets bigger.

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The excitement of the children is always infectious on these occasions and this was no exception. They were amazed at how hard the shell was when the babies first hatch and how fast they move when they can smell food. The children were mostly six or seven and they were very knowledgeable about snails already but did enjoy feeling the radula in the snail's mouth gently rasp their fingers. It is difficult to explain in words how the snail eats but when you can feel it with your fingers it all makes sense. We sprinkled some dry snail food onto the inside of the mini farm bell too so they could see the snail opening its mouth to show the black radula inside and scrape the food off the surface.

The children already knew that snails laid eggs but they didn't know how many one snail could lay so it was good to be able to show them a clutch that were laid the previous week.

It's their long antennae that always fascinate me - they way they wave about in all directions. Because our eyes both normally point the same way so we can focus on an object, it is difficult to imagine what it's like to have eyes that just rove about randomly!

All too soon it was time to go for the molluscs and me so we said goodbye and left them to tend their gardens.

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Roman invasion 2014

They're here! Every day I've been searching the Roman snail pen for signs of the hatchlings that I thought I ought to see. I was beginning to lose hope, thinking the weather conditions or something else had perhaps not been quite right but they were just teasing me.
baby Romans

Yesterday these long anticipated baby Romans appeared like little brown grains of sand along the seams of the netting in each corner of the pen. I've read that they spend quite a long time underground after hatching so I suppose that's where they've been as I'm pretty sure the eggs were laid weeks ago. I wanted to let this colony live as naturally as possible within the confines of their pen but I did leave them a present of a slice of marrow and some chopped up french beans. The pen is full of fresh lovely spinach which the adults are not eating and to be honest I'm not sure what they are eating except when I leave them a few titbits of vegetables and a sprinkling of powdered snail food. Let's hope they survive and grow - I've got my fingers firmly crossed.

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Meet the Snails day

Festival time again! It’s the Strawberry Fayre at Brogdale this weekend so Sunday is the first ‘Meet the snails’ day of the summer season. I will be there with snails big and small explaining how they live to anyone who wants to listen. You can handle the big snails and let them explore your fingers. They’ll probably give you a gentle nibble to see what you’re made of but it doesn’t hurt – it tickles.Image People are often surprised to find that snails lay eggs but gardeners usually say ‘Oh that’s what they are!’ They’ve seen them in the garden, probably in the soil round a potted plant, but didn’t know what they were. The baby snails, for the mini snail farms, will wow everyone as usual – even people who don’t like snails have to admit that the babies are cute. Their shells are translucent and they move so fast, waving their ridiculously long antennae.Image

As well as the Roman snails I’ll be taking some petit gris – the little snails that are so popular in France.Image

(a reader who is more observant than I am noticed that this photo has been reversed so that the snail shell is spiralling the wrong way!)

Look forward to seeing you there!

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Biological control

Have you ever bought ladybird larvae to eat the greenfly on your roses or nematodes to get rid of slugs? Biological control is the perfect way to solve some problems. This year for the first time I’ve invested in some predatory mites that feed on compost fly grubs. Have you noticed those little black flies that infest the compost in your house plants? Those are sciarid flies and their grubs destroy seedlings and the roots of potted plants. But they can also attack snail eggs and, from my point of view, they are a potentially a big problem. So I bought some Hypoaspis miles – there’s a name to conjure with! (www.defenders.co.uk) They came through the post in a sprinkler pack that I shook over the compost and now I just have to sit back and wait for nature to take its course.

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