It’s perhaps an unexpected remark to come from a gardener, but Matthew Appleby says: “Hug a slug.”

To most gardeners they’re public enemy number one, or certainly vegetable patch enemy number one.

But Matthew points out that they’re creatures like anything else. They’ve got to eat.

Matthew is not just an organic vegetable grower and author. He’s also a vegan.

And his principles dictate that he shouldn’t be harming slugs – even if they harm his lettuces.

Veganism is growing very rapidly, which pleases him, but Matthew insists he’s not evangelical about it.

“I’m not into protests or lecturing people,” he stresses.

“I wouldn’t tell anyone not to do what they want to do. I’m just trying to put the idea out there.”

One way he’s doing that is through his book Super Organic Gardener: Everything You Need To Know About A Vegan Garden.

It’s a guide to going beyond organic gardening to veganics – growing not just without artificial chemicals, but without any animal inputs either.

One part of the book explains the case for doing so.

While vegetarians don’t believe animals should be killed for food, so vegans don’t believe they should be exploited or confined for our use either, and that living creatures shouldn’t be treated as commodities.

And if you’re going to go vegan properly you need to be aware of all the unexpected places where animal products creep up, such as bought fertiliser which can contain animal blood and bones.

The new polymer banknotes contain animal products, as do some beers and wines, although Matthew shares some good news.

“Guinness is actually vegan,” he says.

Matthew was born in Carlisle 47 years ago and grew up in Stanwix and in also lived in Keswick.

He’s a former pupil of both Trinity and Keswick Schools, and turned vegetarian in his teens – influenced, he admits, by The Smiths’ album Meat Is Murder.

The step to veganism was influenced not by Morrissey but by a woman. “In the late 90s I had a girlfriend who was a vegan,” he explains.

“So I went vegan as well.”

Vegans and vegetarians always cite three reasons for their choice.

One is health. Dietitians are warning us that we are eating too much red meat.

The World Health Organisation ranks processed meat such as bacon, ham, and sausage alongside tobacco as a major cause of cancer, and it has declared that red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

Matthew is also a keen fell runner and says: “The health side is an important part.”

More obvious, perhaps, is the compassionate side that sees livestock farming as cruel.

“In the 1980s animal rights were a big deal, but that side has always been there,” he adds.

The third factor is the one that’s receiving more attention now – and is regarded as a large part of the reason for its sudden growth.

It’s the enormous impact of farm animals on the environment.

Livestock farming makes up anywhere between 14.5 and 18 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

By comparison, traffic is responsible for around 14 per cent.

Much of the gas farming produces, moreover, is methane, which is many times more potent and harmful than carbon dioxide.

Arguing against it might not go down well in a livestock farming area like Cumbria, but Matthew explains that veganism has a long history here.

Donald Watson, the man who coined the word “vegan” and founded the Vegan Society, came to Keswick as a woodwork teacher and lived in the Lake District for the rest of his life.

He died in November 2005, at the age of 95. “That shows something about the vegan lifestyle.”

Then during World War Two we were urged to “dig for victory” by growing our own vegetables. Meat was in short supply – and the UK population was reportedly at its healthiest then.

He adds: “During the 40s and 50s there was a lot of radical thought. People were thinking hard about the future.

“And in the 1970s, with the oil crisis, there was a movement towards self-sufficiency, growing your own.

“In the 1980s there was quite a groundswell of opinion about animal welfare. Think about the Body Shop not testing cosmetics on animals, living without cruelty. That led people to think about all the other things they consume.”

Matthew’s family aren’t vegans. His wife Bethany is pescetarian – happy to eat fish.

They also have two sons, William, aged nine, and Ted, seven, and he points out: “When they were old enough to make a choice, they chose to eat sausages!

“A lot of people are quite puritanical and radical, but I’m not into converting people.”

Yet there’s hardly any need to be. “It’s really snowballing.”

There are now an estimated three million vegetarians in the UK, and their number has been increasing steadily.

But vegan numbers have increased exponentially. In 2014 there were 150,000 and last year there were 600,000. They have quadrupled within four years.

The growth in vegetarianism has of course led to a growth in vegetarian food options, because it’s good for business. “It’s a lot easier now,” he observes. “It used to be hard to get decent food.”

The family now live in Wimbledon in south London, and he finds: “In London there’s a big mix of cultures so there were always lots of options. But nowadays there are some great vegetarian restaurants in Cumbria.”

Or you can grow your own fruit and veg, in a garden or allotment. But not all gardening is 100 per cent vegan or environmentally friendly. “If you care about what you eat, you should care about how you grow it,” he adds.

“Going super organic is ‘clean gardening’, like clean eating. It’s getting rid of stuff that, if we thought about it, we might not want to use.”

The first part of book states the case for it. “It explains why you’d want to do it in the first place,” the author says.

The second part gives tips on alternatives to animal manure or fertiliser with animal ingredients, such as comfrey and seaweed, which contain a lot of the essential nutrients for plants.

The third section recommends what you need to grow to ensure you get the essential nutrients for humans too. Vegans can’t live on Guinness alone.

“You’ve got to think about protein and iron. Broad beans are protein-rich. Artichokes are good, and are dead easy to grow.”

And the fourth part is about making your garden wildlife-friendly – and allowing a proper balance of nature.

“If you have to kill animals to grow a crop, then don’t grow the crop,” he advises.

That includes slugs and snails. “I’d say: ‘Hug a slug.’”

There are humane ways of dealing with them. “Slugs come out early in the morning and late at night. Go out and pick them up carefully and move them.

“They don’t like copper or coffee granules, so lay those.”

But they do like young, tender, juicy plants. “Start plants off in your greenhouse and then move them out when they are more mature. If it’s a bit older they are less likely to go for it.”

Matthew is the author of two other books, The Allotment Planner and The Children’s Garden, but says: “This new one is something I’ve been working on for a few years.”

Super Organic Gardener: Everything You Need To Know About A Vegan Garden is published by Pen & Sword.

It costs £16.99 and is currently on sale via Amazon.