A Gardener’s War

Some guys love working in their yards, planting, digging, pruning – I confess, I’m not one of them. While I enjoy having a home surrounded by blooming plants, along with a hillside of fruit trees producing oranges, lemons, and in good years, nectarines, I contribute nothing to their maintenance and good health. Miki, on the other hand, is a true Taurus. She loves planting fresh flowers, working outside, and exercising her green thumb.

We are fortunate to have a pool in the yard, as well as a quiet spot on a hilltop at the end of a cul-de-sac, next to a city water reservoir surrounded by undeveloped land. This means a mini paradise for possums, raccoons, ground squirrels, moles, rabbits, and coyotes, along with an assortment of flying creatures from hummingbirds to hawks. They are given means, motive and opportunity. There is no way to truly control their activity, though this hasn’t kept Miki from trying. She has spent princely sums buying and planting flats of flowers, only to have them rapidly become rabbit or rodent food. While she has thrown in the towel in her attempts to grow tomatoes and grapes on the hillside, she remains undeterred in her war against the critters that routinely destroy her plants. (At $60 per salvaged tomato, along with the arrival of some truly ugly tomato worms, I was able to persuade her that it’s a lot more economic to get them at the Farmer’s Market or the store.)

While she grouses about the coyote coming around and leaving his poop around the pool deck for her to clean up, she at the same time is starting to appreciate the animal’s place in the food chain, keeping down the numbers of the destructive pests. Years ago, she declared open war on the moles and ground squirrels, who not only feast on her plants, but whose tunneling on the hillside makes it a major orthopedic risk for her to venture there. First, she read an article about keeping the offenders at bay using ultrasound devices buried in the dirt. She bought dozens of these (each requiring 4 D-cell batteries) only to find the tunnels adjacent to the devices, as the critters seemed to enjoy the massage of rubbing against the vibrating tubes.

She next resorted to hiring a pest service that would come twice a month to place poison pellets down the tunnels. While this method decreased the amount of infestation, it by no means eliminated it, especially as the neighbor on the other side of our fence provided safe haven to rodent refugees. Then, the man who provided the pest control service injured himself on a job, and went out of business. Surprisingly, it’s very difficult, at least in our area, to find someone who does this work with any degree of reliability.

As we are entering the third phase of what appears to be a remake of “Caddy Shack”, Miki has shifted strategy. One article she read proclaimed that coffee grounds or moth balls can help keep ground squirrels away. Do you have any idea of how much coffee grounds you need to cover a third of an acre of land? I do my part by drinking three cups every morning, but really! As for moth balls, not only are they expensive, but the smell would keep me away as well. So the latest plan is castor oil and liquid soap diluted with water, which can then be sprayed in the areas at risk. She just came home with a large stock of castor oil, no doubt making the lady at the checkout counter wondering about the state of  Miki’s bowels. I’ll keep you posted as the battle unfolds. In the meantime, Miki can continue to indulge her weed pulling OCD.

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5 Responses to A Gardener’s War

  1. Miguel says:

    I once asked my barber what they did with all the hair they swept up from the floor. She said they sold it to the city to stuff into gopher holes, and this kept the gopher population in check. Couldn’t hurt to try, I suppose. Judging from the condition of the local city-maintained park, I wouldn’t expect too much.

  2. Jorge Medico says:

    Now we can look forward to gophers with beards!

  3. I love reading about Miki’s attempts to stop the pest. I used to have a small garden in our house in Los Angeles. Rabbits, birds, and squirrels would make quick work of most of it.

    But the story reminded me of this YouTube video about a physicist, his bird-feeder, and the squirrels around his yard. It’s worth checking out.

  4. Jorge Medico says:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Interesting video!

  5. Ana Daksina says:

    Tell her to sprinkle red pepper on and around the plants. I got rid of a red squirrel in my flowers this way with one single application ~ and, though I was generous with it, the flowers were never hurt.

    I applaud Miki’s efforts. We all need to lose dependency on our current, awesomely inefficient, planetarily unsupportable, and overwhelmingly ineffective food production/distribution chain.

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