How About Snail Farming? Guest spot by Helen Howard – the edible snail farmerPosted by Fiona Nevile in Discoveries | 19 comments
A few weeks ago I got an email from Helen Howard, the Kent snail farmer. I was intrigued – what did the process actually involve? Why had she started snail farming? Do they need a special diet? Where does she keep them? My brain whirled.
We don’t have a large snail population here at the cottage. We are lucky that we have many frogs and a large community of birds living in the garden. When they do appear snails are a menace. The thought of nurturing and breeding them albeit to eventually eat was a wonderful reversal of the traditional gardening snail horror movies!
Years ago I’d heard that snails are very amorous and make love for hours at a time. I didn’t actually ask her about that. But I reckoned that reading about snail farming would probably be of interest to loads of people and asked her if she’d be interested in writing a guest blog.
Helen generously obliged and this is her guest post.
“There had to be a better way of earning a living. That was uppermost in my mind when I was made redundant from a job that paid the mortgage but did little for my sanity. As I child I had an aquarium of water snails on my window sill – no fish just snails and I found them fascinating. From time to time they laid their eggs in a blob of jelly on the glass that slowly turned into miniscule perfectly formed transparent snails and crawled away.
I’ve got quite a big garden but it’s not a smallholding by any stretch of the imagination. As farm animals edible snails have a lot going for them and one advantage is they don’t take up much space. Finding out how to rear snails was no easy task and with so few snail farms in Britain it was quite a lonely furrow to plough. So it’s been really great to encourage other people to take them on – now I have a growing band of other snail smallholders to talk to.
In Britain it’s usual to keep snails indoors all year round because the summer season is so short but it is quite labour intensive with the constant round of feeding and cleaning out. Yes, I know, that is the smallholders lot! But I had a choice. After four years without a break, I decided to let them have a different sort of life out of doors. So, with the help of my local Produced in Kent organisers, I looked round for a patch of land and I was really lucky.
Brogdale Farm at Faversham houses the national fruit collection and Grow is the garden centre where you can buy trees from the collection. In their grounds Grow have community allotments and last year I was able to have the use of an allotment sized patch of ground for the summer. It’s not exactly free-range farming because of the need to keep all those potential predators at bay – I refer to my patch as Alcatraz.
All summer I was able to keep those thousands of hungry mouths satisfied with fresh fruit from the packhouse and waste vegetables from a big local greengrocer. It was so much easier than indoor farming, I could let the public visit and I enjoyed being out of doors all the time. When I take my snails into schools and brownie groups for Meet the Snails days, the teachers are often surprised to find themselves entranced by the slow hypnotic way they explore your fingers. But feeding them on rainy days was quite another story, with hungry snails galloping about under my feet desperately looking for something to eat.
So here we are again, the end of May already and it’s time for Slow Summer Snail Farm to re-open its doors. If you happen to be passing on May 28th 2011 do drop in and try our hot snails Spanish style at Kent’s first Snail Festival and look out for me at Smallholder shows. (www.snailfarm.org.uk)”
Look forward to meeting you
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