Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gardening against the odds: Part Two - Critters

Critters, love 'em or hate 'em and
sometimes both.

 I consider myself fortunate, I only have to deal with deer, chipmunks, squirrels (who raid my bird feeders), snails and various garden bugs, snakes (that pick off my frogs in the pond)...oh and two border collies running ruts into the lawn, rolling in fertilizer and peeing on my perennials. BUT it could be worse...thankfully I don't have rabbits, which I rate a bigger pest than deer, groundhogs, vols, woodchucks and assorted other critters that ravage the garden, tunnel everywhere and basically are total nuisances.
With any critter, you can plan for certain situations but then some things just take you completely by surprise...for instance, I spray for deer and if I'm diligent I don't have a problem but this year I was caught off guard. I have never sprayed my vegetables nor my dahlias and they have never been affected before. Imagine one evening picking some lettuce and everything was lovely and the next day the horror to find everything gone...I did put temporary netting over the bed to prevent further damage until I could do something more permanent, since the only thing affected was all the lettuce and one cabbage plant, so it could have been worse. Obviously I didn't close the netting properly and in the course of the night, it came undone because the next morning the deer had  paid another visit and finished off everything that they had missed the previous day...all cabbage and now dahlias...gone, BUT they were kind enough to leave the celery with only a few nibbles marks. I have since put proper netting around the bed and have learned my lesson...if deer are hungry enough they will eat anything, and never assume.

The difference between this before and after picture was ONE day.

I have a ton of chipmunks on my property and I must admit, I adore them and love to watch their antics...however this year they crossed the line. During the winter they tunneled into my greenhouse and ate 20 of my 25 dahlias which were stored there and then to my surprise one day I walked into the greenhouse only to have the pathway imploded under my feet.
The rocks that have been used to fill the foundation were nearly two feet deep and each rock is probably the size of a chipmunk but that hadn't stopped them. The second picture is the pathway in the process of being ripped apart to be rebuilt...the tunnels extend where ever I have lifted the pavers, probably a bit further.

This Alberta Spruce went from beautiful to horrid in the course of a few days...I suspect it wasn't the lack of water but a case of mites that have eaten the plant from the inside out. This plant will be replaced in the spring because I doubt it will's pretty far gone and our lack of rain, isn't helping. Usually Alberta Spruce are pretty bullet-proof...I have another one that is 15 years old and not affected at all.

Snails are a universal problem of most gardeners...they love Hostas among many other plants, nearly as much as deer do...the tried and true method for preventing snails is beer...placed in shallow trays. They are attracted to the smell, and will fall in and drown. However for a spell I was going through a six-pack of beer a week and not getting any enjoyment from I stopped. There are products on the market that you can sprinkle around a plant that will kill the snails when they ingest it, but the most effective method, is also the least enjoyable and that is going out late at night with a bucket of soapy water and hand picking the culprits off your plants.

Our feathered friends are fun to look at, we even put out birdhouses and feeders to attract them, but sometimes they would prefer to make their own accommodations and look for food elsewhere, such as the sides of our homes. These holes, in addition to many others around my house, are courtesy of my local woodpeckers, most likely looking for bugs in the cedar siding, and in the process making my house look like Swiss cheese. And after they are through, other species of birds move INTO the holes and set up housekeeping. Meanwhile I have very expensive birdhouses throughout the property that are left unoccupied...the little ingrates.

I must admit I would rather have a flock of deer, wild locust and practically any other plague upon my property than Wild Grape vines...they are a serious problem for me...they can grow miles in the course of a season, strangling and suffocating any tree or shrub that comes within their path. Usually in the spring before the trees have filled out, I go throughout my property, cutting the vines, sometimes an inch or more in diameter and pulling what I can from the affected plants and trees. Than I paint a product call Vine-X on the stump which absorbs it and kills it at the root. This is an ongoing battle and if I miss one year, such as I did this year, I soon regret it. Early this spring on one side of my property I hacked away an eight foot deep tangle of wild grape and wild rose. In the course of two months the wild grape has come roaring back covering lilacs, a butterfly bush and even ornamental 20 foot or more length vines. What makes it so horrible is it grows around and throughout a plant, making it very difficult to remove and it can shimmy up a 40 foot tree in no time. Even cutting the vines you have to be careful..I place them in bundles in an open place and making sure they die before I toss them into a pile for fear they will reroot and live to suffocate again.

Gardeners are soldiers, always fighting some battle, be it too much rain, too little rain, too hot, too cold, a variety of bugs, wild critters and even pets. I also believe gardeners are among the most optimistic people around since despite what happens in one season, we are ready to put it behind us and think about the next and how we can learn from our mistakes and change things. It takes a lot of heart and perseverance to fight the good fight each year. But oh what a reward when it works.

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