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Raising Snails for Food... not really llivestock, but.... — The Grow Network Community
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Raising Snails for Food... not really llivestock, but....

The common brown snail was brought to the Americas by European immigrants as a very important food source.  Not only were these snails commonly eaten in Europe, but their dormancy made them ideal for people traveling long sea voyages.  Snails go dormant at the first frost, withdraw into their shells and remain in dormancy until exposed to the right temperature AND water.  So long as they are kept dry, a bag of dormant snails could store for months!  For many, snails were the first "livestock" they had once they landed. Snails are essentially terrestrial clams.  They are hermaphroditic and each snail can lay thousands of eggs (which also makes a nice, earth, mushroomy caviar, btw).

Snail farming goes back at least as far as ancient Greece, BTW.  The larger, turban snails used in restaurant escargot have an inferior taste and texture, but due to their size, have become the snail for commercial production.... though many commercial operations use the meat from huge African snails!  Snails are very much like chickens.  They are sensitive to heat and cold and need clean living conditions or they will become sick - leaving rotting vegetation in your snail farm, or letting even one slug get in (slugs prey on snails) can cause the loss of your entire snail farm within 24 hours!  For this reason rather than use the traditional snail pen method, I use something closer to a worm bin or a terrarium

Snails can eat through wood or paper.  You can use wood, so long as it is not chemically treated, but keep an eye out for escapees....  Snails will not cross copper, and traditionally this was used as a barrier.  I prefer using old window screens.  Ideally, use two bins - either plastic or glass (like an aquarium).  The bottom must drain so there can be no stagnant water (which will kill you snails - they must have fresh water).  Put down some gravel or glass marbles, good, humus rich soil and cover the top with either moss (preferably live)  or a mulch.  Plant as many radish seeds as you can in it.  Radishes provide fresh food and support the snails immune system - this is a tried and true French practice.  Vitamin rich and antibiotic culinary herbs may also be used - parsley, chives, oregano... but go sparingly.  Find a few common brown garden snails and make sure they look healthy. Put them in your bin and feed them fresh vegetable scraps daily.  Remove anything they don't eat before it rots.  Make sure slugs and flies do not get in.  To water the snails, use a couple of plastic jar lids - like from mayo jars.  They need to be able to crawl out if they get in the water - snails will drown.  You can keep adding snails as you find them, but be careful of over crowding.  If you an see snail poop, you'll need to move them to the second container.  Plastic bins make this easy, as you can put a fist-sized, matching hole in each one, and cover it with a little door made from the plastic you cut out and some duct tape. When you need to move the snails from one container to the other, Match the holes together, put fresh food and water in the new one and stop putting food and water in the old one.  After two days, all the snails will be in the new one.  Sit the old one in the sun for a couple of afternoons, but just until all the snail poop dries up.... because, there will be snail eggs under the moss.

I began my first snail farm with 3 dormant snails that I found under a water pipe in the winter.  They awoke when I watered them (after the last frost) and in about two months, I had over 100 baby snails!  Baby snails need no special care.  They grow quickly.  Calcium rich greens help with shell development.  In the winter, when they go dormant, store your snails in mesh bags - like onion or orange bags and hang them in a dry, shady spot.  Then you can use everything in the snail bins as excellent garden fertilizer - crazy nutrient rich!

If you decide to eat the snails, harvest about 1 dozen per person.  Healthy snails on a good diet, are good as is.  But, most people like to "clean them out" by feeding them on wheat flour and fresh water for 24 hours.  Drop them in boiling, salted water to kill them and remove the snail slime.  Pour that water off.  Let cool and remove from the shells with a toothpick (or fancy little specialized snail forks)… sauté with shallots, butter and cream.  Or, leave them in the shell and add them to a good (Belgian style) snail soup.  They are almost identical to clams, so cook them the same way.  I like to make a "clam sauce" with snails and serve over linguini!  They also pair incredibly will with mushroom.  Minced, mixed with vegetables, herbs and bread crumbs, stuffed into large oyster mushroom caps, topped with parm and broiled until the cheese bubbles.... YUM!!! 

As Bill Mollison said, "The Problem is the solution!"


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