This year we start our first year of snail farming and as I’m writing this, we have reached the end of week 10 of lockdown, following the Coronavirus Pandemic in the UK. Life in lockdown, as it has been for many people is bitter sweet. We have been able to appreciate the lovely life we’re creating here in Somerset, whilst balancing this with worries about our financial future and health.
What time out has enabled us to do is focus upon our snail farm. As a fledgling business this is not the only way we earn a living. All our other work came to a sudden halt, time available means we finished building our infrastructure and immersed ourselves in the breeding season.
And a busy season it is!
Getting the breeders off to a good start
For our first year we’re using the combined system, where our adult snails are given all the right conditions indoors to start breeding from Jan/Feb. Hatchlings then go into a Polytunnel and go outdoors to grow to full size, when it becomes warm enough in May.
We started a little late in mid February as our breeding room and table was unfinished before that. And our snails got off to a great start! Within a few days of waking from hibernation they were mating.
Our days then consisted of cleaning the breeding table each day, collecting pots to check for eggs, collecting eggs and putting into trays, spraying trays daily and then transferring hatchlings to a table kept in warm conditions to encourage growth.
A place for hatchlings to grow
Alongside this we were finishing putting up the polytunnel and the enclosure, thankful for the free labour from 3 of our children who are in their late teens and 20’s.
As we didn’t get the polytunnel finished in time for our first hatchlings, we improvised and made another small table which is in our breeding room. The hatchlings have grown well there.
We now have another 2 tables in our finished polytunnel. (Watch the babies enjoying greens). One of my favourite things about the warmth and protection from birds is that we are growing courgettes and tomatoes in there too. Keeping the snails well away from those obviously!
So, with our just in time approach, we have also finished our enclosure. We have 6 beds, but this year we will be using 2, maybe 3 – we don’t know how much space our snails will take up yet. One of the others is growing broccoli, sprouts, chard, carrots and spring onions – the first year I have ever been successful in vegetables actually surviving. It helps that we water the snails twice a day to keep the moist conditions they enjoy, so the veggies get a good drink too.
Stopping egg production
From early May we stopped feeding and watering our adult snails, so they would stop breeding. Snails are clever creatures, so these conditions mean they ‘estivate’ to reserve their energies until food and water is available again.
We estimate we’ve had around 125,000 eggs from 1000 breeders. It’s likely not all of these hatched and not all will survive. So we’re interested to see how many we will have at the end of the season, around October time, when they should all be fully grown.
So, as I said bitter sweet. We have been able to focus upon a successful start to our year, but our main customers – pubs and restaurants have taken a big hit. So we’re uncertain at the moment what this will mean for demand when our crop is ready.
It’s a times like this that we wonder why we started a snail farm! However, we are staying positive, our snails can be hibernated for a period of time, meaning we can keep them in stock until they are required. And we plan to investigate ways to process and package cooked escargot, maybe ready made snail bombs?! This will be another big learning journey, as we swot up about food hygiene and kitchen safety.
And this week I was reminded of the importance of being grateful and loving this time in the slow lane for us all. Our bees swarmed, so Rob and I got our suits on and went to look at the hive. As we sat there in the sunshine, with the hypnotic buzz of bees in our ears, looking out over the fields, I thought ‘this is what life is about, how could anything be more perfect’.
More on our journey here.
Lyn, Snail Herder and Conversation Starter