Monday, May 26, 2008

What Grows Up...

A cat in her natural habitat: Boxus cardbordus

I took the previous week off work to accomplish many procrastinated home improvement tasks. I ended up recaulking around the bathroom tub, painting the bathroom, painting the hallway, staining the deck, and sorting through piles of stuff in the basement. You can see Fiona is assisting me with organization! I even did some work in the garden, most notably struggling, sweating, and swearing while digging out the ubiquitous buckthorn (and as a bonus: poison ivy, oh boy!) around my two wild beds, and I used Roundup on the stumps. I'm overall an organic gardener but I do use Roundup on buckthorn (bad, bad invasive!) and poison ivy. Happily. Gleefully.

I also transplanted some winter-sown seedlings: catmint, castor bean, and kiss me over the garden gate, as well as some plants obtained at the plant swap: hens and chicks, sedum, and cosmos. (The best trade, a good size peach-colored trumpet vine, will go along the chain link fence bordering my neighbor, as soon as the Roundup has killed off said buckthorn. Thank you nice lady who brought this!)

And best of all, I started a little veggie garden this year, in the existing narrow bed along my driveway, which held zinnia and cosmos last year. The groundhog had eaten the tops of the zinnias twice before it dawned on me to enclose the area in a decorative metal fence I had. It fit exactly and by the end of September, I had six-inch high zinnia. The point being, this bed was both perfect in sun exposure (full) and security (fenced). I took down the fence so I could reach inside and weed the bed. Then I planted four baby red leaf lettuces, three romaine lettuces, one horse radish, four purple kohlrabis, and five winter-sown tomatoes. I also direct-sowed some zinnia and cosmos, in the small remaining area. I watered. I mulched. I watered again. I was tired and dirty and went in to take a shower, feeling pleased with my progress. Getting out of the shower, I realized I needed something in another room and out my front window caught a glimpse of the bed with the freakin' groundhog sitting smack dab in the middle of it!

I was so eager to chase away said interloper that I almost outdid Victoria of Our Life in Idaho, who chased after raccoons at night in her underwear, by running outside in broad daylight buck naked. No, no, don't panic; I said almost. I realized my nudity at the last minute and managed to find my robe before running out all crazy, sparing my gentle neighbors the sight of a chubby middle-aged woman running naked screaming at a groundhog. Heh.

I then hurriedly got dressed and drove to the nearby hardware store to purchase two rolls of a metal fencing with tighter space gaps (three inches apart). This fencing is shorter (maybe a foot) but the original fence is two and a half feet, so it was all good. The shorter fence comes rolled up so it was quite a job to straighten it after unrolling, but I steadfastly worked to place this fencing along the bottom edge of the existing fence. It even dawned on me to use cable ties to secure the fences tightly together. It was truly masterful, I can tell you. The next morning, I watered my babies again and even put down some fertilizer, using the remains of some Miracle-Gro that attaches to the hose from my gardening-for-clients days. (I don't tend to fertilize much, but I figured veggies could use a boost!) I watered again. Everything was so happy and pristine. My friend Wendy called and mid afternoon we went to the movies and then to dinner (a rare treat in the frugal person's world!). She wanted to borrow my chainsaw, so I was eager to show her my new veggie garden. Which was no longer there.

Oh, the fences were there alright, but the lettuce and kohlrabi were chewed down. The horseradish remained untouched (hooray horseradish pungency!) and by some miracle (or full tummy) the tomatoes were spared, too. It's just one of those things that your eyes process just fine but your brain is lagging behind, trying to match the visual reality to the unlikeliness of the situation.

But of course, there were things I'd forgotten. 1) Groundhogs are rodents and rodents are intrepid explorers. 2) Rodents are clever and inventive. 3) Rodents are made of Jell-O (my guess is lime or perhaps raspberry). They can squeeze themselves into physically impossible narrow shapes. I found this out when pet-sitting Wendy's rat, who also needed medication. She could scrunch herself into a ball one millisecond and into a long thin thing the next. 4) Rodents can jump. Not just the natural acrobats, squirrels, but also their more rotund cousins. I have a three-foot tree stump where I feed the birds and once saw a groundhog on top happily munching. Unless transported there by aliens (Esther, do you know anything about groundhog teleportation?), s/he must have climbed/jumped.

So, in retrospect, given that there was no burrowing into the bed, that clever little so and so must have somehow leaped over the lower part of the fence and then through the four-inch gap in the taller fence. If I had a video of this move, it might even be worth the loss of veggies! I can just imagine its thought bubble "Ah, you hapless human. It's so sweet and quaint of you to give me this acrobatic puzzle to solve. But truly, you underestimate me. This mundane two-fence system is for amateurs. Couldn't you have made it taller and the gaps narrower? I like a challenge, me. Verily, this is too easy. Thanks for lunch!"

I know, I know. In earlier posts I was trying to be all Zen and karma and cosmic universal balance about the groundhog. And I know you can't fight Mother Nature. And for better or worse, the groundhog is part of nature (and also a bit of a mother!). But because of last year's results, I truly thought I had the situation sussed. It never even occurred to me the groundhog would make it through. I should have known better. I am not going to get chicken wire or create a more elaborate fence. I've already spent enough time, energy, and money. I hope the tomatoes will grow, but I can always go to the grocery store. Groundhog can officially claim victory and human will claim defeat. Word.


  1. Oh! I don't know how you can bear it.

    In Dorset, we don't have to face down groundhogs or racoons. None the less, it's an awkward balance between tending a garden and a fortress.


  2. Very funny post! Of course, I can say it's funny because I don't have a groundhog in my garden. Oh my, rabbits, squirrels, blackbirds, and now a groundhog--we gardeners don't give up easily.
    Actually I was going to leave a comment on your post about containers. I just planted most of my containers, but they need "filling out" before I want to show them. But the picture of the cat caught my eye--I have a similar picture of Toby, our cat. He loves boxes, too, as well as bags, drawers, baskets, etc.

  3. That's too funny. I think I'll stick to chasing our raccoons around.

  4. P.S. I've been peering at your picture.

    What are you holding?

    Is it a gun, a fishing rod or a sword?

  5. Esther, I'm holding Ziggy, my electric-powered chainsaw--I was so happy when a friend had a use for it! (Ziggy is so named because the German word for saw is S├Ąge, which sort of sounds the same.)

    Rose, actually a photo of a newly planted container would be great because I want to get across that they will start smaller and grow over the season, if they make their own.

    Kim, I'm glad you find my almost-nudity amusing! ;-)

  6. Interesting.......

  7. LOL, thanks for this great post it just cracked me up! Congrats on the new veggie plot and commisserations on the groundhog thingy. The bane of my gardening life are slugs and snails. There's always something to spoil the fun, right? ;-)

    Love the pic of your cute kittycat in her natural environment. ;-)

  8. Running naked after a groundhog would certainly give the neighbors a fun story to share with friends :)'s good that your reasoning returned before all was bared!
    I'm pretty sure groundhogs, or woodchucks, as we call them in our neck of the woods, don't like maybe you'll end up with some of those, if nothing else. Oh, the joys of gardening! :)