This is one of the many e-mails that I receive from clients, friends, former students and readers asking for my advice. Of course it’s impossible for me to diagnose a problem and suggest a treatment without first seeing the damage or knowing particular details, nonetheless, most people request this type of information:
“Remember that I said something was eating my lettuce? Well, they are now dining on my basil. I just put out a fresh bottle of beer in two spots in case there are slugs. But, really I’ve never seen one in the garden, can you help me out?”
I’m well aware that homegrown seedlings, especially those raised by newcomers, are quite special because it takes lots of hard work, and the gardener feels responsible to keep them healthy throughout the season. Suddenly unknown assailants damage or destroy your priced possession and revenge is your first reaction, which usually resorts to using means to destroy the insect without identifying what caused the damage.
Even though it feels like a major catastrophe when it happens, don’t search the internet to find instant gratification and spray with whatever someone (whether they are qualified or not), suggests. First determine if it’s the work of insects or otherwise, what type of damage the plant has sustained, and contact knowledgeable people to guide you through the situation.
After this person sent me a picture of pill bugs, better known as roly-poly’s, I knew they could be the culprits. Do not take anything from granted. These insects usually feed on decaying organic vegetation, and at times, especially when large in numbers, they’ll feed on tender foliage, young vegetable seedlings, and transplants. Pill bugs, like slugs, feed at night and spend bright daylight in damp/dark areas, and to catch the “thieves”, lay down a piece of board or several large leaves (Brassicas) and uncover in the morning, only if they are damaging your tender crops.
Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian