Archives for posts with tag: harmful animals

When a pirate buries his treasure, it is not for forever; he expects to come back for it. It may take some time before he can return—there are many ships to rob and his own vessel’s speed is limited by the winds—so it is important that he prepare for an almost inevitable occurrence: that he will forget where he buried for it.

How does he prevent that from happening? Well, the organized pirate makes a treasure map.

And not just any treasure map. If the pirate is also clever (and if he is alive, he most certainly is; most dumb pirates will quickly end up dead), he will incorporate some sort of code into his map. That way, if it falls into enemy hands (a competing raider’s, say), the location of the chest of gold (or what have you) will not be immediately revealed. In the time it takes to decipher it, the original pirate can track down the thief (who, most unfortunately, will probably end up walking the plank) and reclaim his map.

Even for non-pirates, making a secret map to protect one’s buried treasure is a pretty good idea. Except for certain buried treasures.

I’m talking, of course, about flowering bulbs.

When I bury a chestful of these little golden orbs, I want to forget where I left them. One of the greatest joys of planting bulbs is the exhilarating jolt of surprise when the blossoms are first sighted in late winter or early spring, usually pushing through a crust of snow. Having a map that gives their locations away would spoil half of the fun, for me anyway.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I want to leave my buried treasures susceptible to theft. If I thought it would help prevent the squirrels from stealing my precious stash, I would employ the most enigmatic map I could devise.

And if I still caught them plundering my treasure?

Arrgh! I would send those marauding squirrels to Davy Jones’ Locker!

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So far, we’ve been lucky.

When we started planning the garden—back in 2011—a location that would keep it secure from animals was a primary criterion. We were mainly concerned about deer, who in our experience will munch on just about everything. But we had also seen beavers, groundhogs and rabbits in the neighborhood and, of course, there are squirrels and chipmunks in large numbers.

We were happy, then, when we chose a spot next to the swimming pool, which is surrounded by a four-foot high picket fence. It won’t keep the deer out if they really want to get in (they can jump up to six feet) but it does deter them and screens the garden from view (they can’t hurt what they can’t see). Similarly, squirrels and bunnies can easily pass between the pickets but the fence seems to be diverting their attention elsewhere.

Later, when we designed and built the raised beds, we kept potentially harmful animals in mind. Our planters are on the high side—almost two feet—which minimizes bending over (my aching back!) and provides comfortable seating, our main considerations. However, the extra height also elevates the plants well above ground level. Coupled with the planters’ bordering trim, which extends six inches above the soil level, there is no line of sight to nearby critters who pass by unaware. (On the other hand, if deer were to enter the pool enclosure, the planters would be at feeding trough height.)

During construction, before filling the planters with soil, we installed a layer of galvanized wire mesh. The hardware cloth forms the bottom of the planter through which water freely drains. But should a gopher or mole decide to attack our vegetable garden from underground, the mesh should prove an effective barrier.

I say “should” because it seems that our luck may be running out.

Up until recently, we had never seen signs of subterranean marauders. Sadly, though, as winter was ending and the snowpack receding, the telltale serpentine humps were revealed, the topsoil pushed up through the dormant grass. Depictions of this in old Warner Bros. cartoons is not an exaggeration. The route map of the gopher subway system was easily identifiable.

At first, the tracks were limited to the lawn areas. Eventually, though, we discovered them leading into the vicinity of the vegetable garden and then right up against the planters (I can imagine the clang as the Goofy Gophers banged their cute little heads into the wire mesh). In one or two spots, the tunnels breached the surface, where apparently the little rascals popped out to get their bearings.

Fortunately, we have not witnessed any carrots or beets disappearing into the ground, pulled from below by hungry rodents. Just in case, though, we will keep a rubber mallet near the planters so we can play an at-home version of the carnival favorite, Whac-A-Mole.

One of the fringe benefits of a heavy snowfall is that because the ground is continually covered, I can literally track the variety of animals that live in our neighborhood.  Most of them I am already aware of—we see deer, squirrels and birds on a daily basis—but when they leave their footprints in the snow, I can get a clear picture of their movements.

For instance, earlier in the winter I observed a set of tracks leading up to our potted hibiscus plant, now leafless, and then continuing off into the woods beyond our yard.  When I went down to inspect the tracks more closely, I was able to confirm that yes, deer had in fact munched the tender ends of the exposed hibiscus branches.

Similarly, the ground around the birdfeeder is littered with bird, squirrel and chipmunk prints along with the discarded shells of sunflower seed (birds can be messy eaters).  Last year, a flock of wild turkeys added their tracks to the clutter (and they are even less tidy).

But otherwise unbeknownst to me, many of these critters come very close to the house.  The floor of our back porch (a semi-enclosed space) has been scattered with dainty bird tracks in what looks like the aftermath of an avian dance party.  Of course, the tracks alone cannot provide a definitive record of the number of birds involved or when they occurred; for all I know, the tracks were produced by one crazed nuthatch.

I’ve been a lot more interested in tracks left by larger animals that I have found on all sides of the house.  They may have been left by local dogs (one of our neighbors cannot seem to keep their spaniels from getting loose) or cats (there are plenty of feral cats around).  But there is a beautiful red fox in the area and I have seen (and heard) coyotes as well.  Mountain lions have also been reported near here.

Whoever it is, what are they looking for?  Unlike the case of the deer and the hibiscus, there is no obvious answer and I will probably never find out.

Just when you think you’ve had everything dealt to you and just when you think you’ve dealt with it all; just when you think there couldn’t possibly be another plant disease or chomping insect or marauding animal that you haven’t seen; just when you think that maybe, just maybe, you’ve got a few things figured out and maybe, just maybe, you have everything under control; well, that’s when Mother Nature serves you up something new and unexpected.

I’m exaggerating a bit, of course, and we have had a successful and relatively uneventful year in the garden.  But after morning inspection and a nice swim, I looked over to the east planter and saw a pile of what looked like sawdust at one corner, clear evidence of carpenter ants.  These guys aren’t after our vegetables or even the leaves or soil.  No, it is the planter itself that they are eating.  Well, strictly speaking they don’t eat the wood but they do tunnel through it.  If left unchecked, the ants’ nesting will weaken the boards, accelerate their natural decay and eventually lead to their crumbling (structural engineers these ants are not).

When carpenter ants appear around the house, I sprinkle a few teaspoons of poison in their path which, if I am lucky, they take back to the nest and share with their siblings.  With further luck (and so far, so good), the colony dies.  This is one of the few occasions where I will resort to nasty chemicals—potentially, the integrity of the house depends on it.  I have never needed much nor needed it very often and our accumulated exposure has been relatively low.

Unfortunately, I can’t use any poison in the planter.  Granted, the carpenter ant infestation appears to be well below the vegetables (at the bottom of the planter) but it is very possible that the plants’ roots have extended that deeply.  Even if not, I do not want any dangerous chemicals that close to our food.  After all, I chose to use untreated lumber to build the planters; using a chemical pesticide would not be consistent with that philosophy.

So, what to do?  It’s not like I can ask them to leave.

On the other hand, maybe I can give them a reason to leave.

I brought the hose over to the nest’s entrance and set the sprayer to “jet”.  Then I placed the nozzle directly against the side of the planter—point blank range—and turned the water on full.  Any tunnels, caverns or shafts that the ants had created should have been instantly flooded, and possibly collapsed.  At least, I certainly hope so.

Problem solved?  We shall see.

Providing freeze protection is annoying.  The plastic sheeting must be supported above the seedlings (so as not to crush them) but it must also be weighted down to prevent it from flying off in a gust of wind.  Furthermore, it cannot be put into place until the sun is low in the sky (otherwise, the plants would cook) and needs to be removed shortly after sunrise (for the same reason).  Ironically, the early morning hours can be the coldest of the day.

But the freeze protection has its positive side.  There’s the protection against freezing, of course.  As a secondary benefit, however, the plastic sheeting also provides physical protection.  A critter (or critters) romped through the garden last night as occurs several times each season. They rarely damage the plants but with the garden covered, there was absolutely no danger.  The vegetable plants made it through the night untouched.

The beast (or beasts) had some fun with the uncovered east half of the east planter, though.  What a mess!  It isn’t clear what they are looking for.  Gold?  Buried treasure? Buried acorns?  Insects?  Nor is it clear whether they found anything.

Regardless of the intent or success of the overnight raid, the soil and mulch were easily restored.

The warm temperatures have continued long enough that some of our bulbs have started to sprout.  And because the deer are not the sort of critters to miss a feeding opportunity, the sprouts have already been nibbled.  It must be very confusing for the bulbs (assuming that they have feelings) when the weather freezes and thaws and then freezes and thaws again without an intervening flowering.

I know how they might feel.  The rise in temperature stimulates my desire for spring even though it is only early January.  With the post-Christmas snow now almost completely melted, daytime temperatures in the 50s, and the road deeply in mud, it feels as if it must be time to get back outside and start planting, among other things.  It is only my rational mind that tells me I have to settle for pleasant walks outdoors and a temporary respite from heavy coats and sweaters.

The question now, of course, is will there be a return to the much colder and snowier weather that is typical (climate change notwithstanding) for this time of year?  And will we be going through the freeze-thaw cycle once again?

When we returned from a hike this morning, we discovered that a critter had taken a merry romp through the planters.  Like Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe (who, while roughhousing, created the Rockies and the Grand Canyon), the little beastie disrupted the smooth surface of the soil and left it hillocky and rough, the mulch scattered about.

I’m aware that I am sometimes overly concerned with order in the garden and am an unabashed neatnik.  I know that tidiness does not lead to better produce and that oftentimes, in fact, the effort I exert laying out straight rows of vegetables and sweeping up spilled compost might be more efficaciously applied elsewhere.

I’ve come to this conclusion on my own, though, and do not need a self-righteous squirrel or busybody woodchuck to show me some tough love.  Besides, I will have to clean this mess up and when I do, the mulch and compost I layered on yesterday will get mixed in.  Don’t these animals know we prefer the no-till method?