Friend or Foe?

Every gardener either already knows or soon finds out that Mother Nature can be quite a challenge to get along with. When you till and plant the earth, you must learn how to strike a balance between the results you want and what the varmints and conditions of nature will allow you to have. This usually means that the photos printed in the glossy seed and plant catalogs are not going to turn out in your (or my) garden. That is okay with me. I would, however, love to give the plants that I have nurtured under grow lights or in the greenhouse since January a good chance to become established outside. This is not always the case, however.

Over the past week and a half, I have been engaged in an on-going battle with several critters that seem to think my ”babies”, aka plants, are on the supper menu. At The Simple Heart of Life herb shop, we have been attempting to establish several herb and butterfly gardens to coordinate with the old-fashioned flower beds that have previously been established. The herb shop is a half mile or so from our house (even though it is located on the same farm) and it is impossible to monitor the wildlife activity in the yard without taking a short drive or walk. As a result, several different types of critters have obviously decided it makes a great buffet.

Don’t get me wrong. I just love the fact that we reside on land that nurtures white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, possums, rabbits, great blue herons, etc. But do they really have to chow down on my baby plants? We also offer several plots of acreage ‘set aside’ for the wildlife and the surrounding Mauvaisterre Creek to meander through and around. (Conservation is, in fact, very important to my husband and myself throughout the year). Not to mention the opportunities the creek itself and the timber that is nearby provide them. I guess the succulent leaves of the newly planted herbs, vegetables and flowers, along with the newly planted corn and soybeans are just too sweet and tasty. Oh well…

Detective work on the part of my husband and myself has revealed that fernleaf dill and several variety of tomatoes are a favorite. I have planted the dill 2 times and tomatoes 2-3 times. We believe the tomatoes were mowed off by rabbits. Not a sign of the upper vegetation or even paw prints in the mud. The first time, I planted them without any type of protection. For the second planting, however, one plant was surrounded by a clay tile (the only one we had left after planting our own raised beds) and the remaining 2 were surrounded by plant pots with the bottoms cut out. These pots were covered with netting that was tied to a tomato stake. Not only should these items help keep the varmints away, they will also provide some protection from the cooler nights. Let’s see the rabbits get around this method! (Oops. I spoke too soon. The tomato plant with the clay tile was missing in action tonight. No sign of the plant again, no paw prints and the clay tile was toppled over. (see picture) After replanting it again, I tied the tile to the tomato stake with twine. My fingers are crossed!)

The story of the fernleaf dill is a different version of the same. The Monarch butterfly bed that all four (yes, I said four) plants reside in is surrounded by a new application of cypress mulch. This mulch seems to be a great place for raccoons to dig for grub worms. And of course they destroy any plants that have been placed in the newly dug soil. Remnants of the dill remained on top of the soil but it did not even have a chance to survive : ( So, I decided a different tactic was necessary. First, I dug the new dill plants from our wildlife habitat gardens–gardens that have clay soil. The clay soil forms a clump when dug up with the plant that surrounds the plant stem and roots. Kind of a built in buffer system. After planting the clumps with the dill, and replacing the soil removed by the raccoons, I sprinkled hot pepper flakes around the plants and covered each with a milk jug or other type of protection. Hopefully, the hot pepper flakes will deter the coons enough to allow the plants roots to take hold. I will keep my fingers crossed as I still have more plants to plant.

No matter what type of battle ensues with gardening, for me it is still a great blessing. I can’t imagine not having the opportunity to get my hands in the dirt and watch things that I have nurtured grow. For me, gardening of any type is truly one of life’s greatest (but not always so simple) pleasures!

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