Critter Conspiracy

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by James Roddy

I have a garden in my back yard to grow vegetables. I’m in competition with the critters who want my veggies also. Their threshold is earlier than mine. They’ll nibble on yellow tomatoes but i like them red. I wouldn’t mind if mice ate 5% or 10% of my beans, but not 80% to 90% of my bean plants.

My back yard is surrounded by a 4 foot chain link fence. The garden itself is raised about 8″ above the yard and it is surrounded by a 3 foot wire fence. Full grown rabbits can’t penetrate the chain link fence but baby rabbits can zip through it at full speed. Fences can’t keep out moles, voles, mice, chipmunks and squirrels. Deer can jump a 4 foot fence with a standing jump. That won’t slow them at all.

Deer got in once and ate some pepper plants and decimated my tomato plants. Any gardener who reads the garden manuals knows that tomato leaves and stems are poisonous because it is a relative in the deadly nightshade family. The problem is that the deer are not reading the garden manuals. After munching on my plants, the deer went across the street to my neighbor’s house and munched on his apples and pears. This is progressive dining in the deer world.

I like to grow potatoes and enjoy the flavor of fresh home grown Norland red spuds. Apparently, so do the moles, voles, and mice. They get into the rectangular potato plot and devoured everything except those potatoes on 3 sides of the periphery. I got back about the same amount of pounds of potato that I planted. Mouse traps baited with peanut butter help but the potato plants are so tall and dense that it’s tough to spot intrusion until it’s too late. Beets have a similar problem. The critters attack from below and the first thing you see is that the plants are wilting because they have no root. I baited a mouse trap with peanut butter and came back the next day to find it still set but cleaned of peanut butter. Rebait the trap and come back the next day – same thing. I rebaited it again and came back several hours later. The trap was covered with tiny ants. Mystery solved.

The squirrels like the corn. They will strip an ear off the corn stalk and leave the empty cob on my pool railing near the corn patch to let me know they were there. Imagine how pleased I was. I once had this theory that purple dye in various types of veggies was a bug deterrent. Many vegetables have a purple variety: tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, beans, cauliflower, lettuce. I planted several different kinds of beans: green, yellow, and two purple varieties, Roma (flat) and cylindrical. The Japanese beetles showed up and ate the heck out of one type of the purple bean plants and left all the other beans alone. The purple dye, instead of protecting, made that bean variety sacrificial. So much for the purple protection idea. Another great theory shot to hell.

I resorted to a Hav-a-Hart trap once. Instead of catching mice or voles, the squirrels would get caught in there. The squirrels are big enough and clever enough to flip the trap upside down and escape with the bait. I found one once sitting on the fence calmly munching on the cracker with peanut butter, looking at me as if to say “Is this all? What else you got?” I rebated the trap several times with the same result. You know, these humans aren’t as smart as they think. I caught a chipmunk in the trap once and since it was near dusk, I decided to leave him overnight and take him elsewhere to release the next morning. When I came back out, his squirrel buddies had flipped over the trap which was pinned to the ground by metal loops that I use for garden mulch fabric. No way could that chipmunk have flipped the trap over himself. It’s a critter conspiracy, I tell ya.

The YMCA where I go started a community garden with some funds a local donor gave them and 4 other area Ys. The Northwest Y in Greece has won the contest among the donor gardens for the past two years and we, the Westside Y in Gates, came in second both times. I volunteer to help on the garden both planting and picking and we weigh what we pick. I had just gone out looking for some more black fabric mulch to prevent weeds and wanted our YMCA to use it, especially around the peppers instead of the grass mulch we had been using. Not only will it keep weeds down without introducing grass and weed seeds, but it will heat up the soil to stimulate plant growth. I looked in several stores, and they carried it, but the product they had was laced with Roundup, a potent herbicide. If we used that and planted peppers in it, the peppers would be dead in 2 days.

At a garden planning meeting, I suggested that we buy a roll of it and give it to the Northwest Y and even volunteer to install it for them. Kind of the gardening version of the Trojan Horse. One lady was horrified because she thought I was serious. Everyone else just chuckled.

PS: The Northwest Y just won again this year. Time to import some critters to make their gardening experience more realistic.