Good Fences Don’t Always Make Good Neighbors

Lushness of July

Moby Dick the woodchuck is back. No, he is not an albino woodchuck. He just keeps resurfacing. At the moment, he looms larger than life in my tiny garden. I analyze the damage in the morning, raise my fist, and mutter epithets toward the sky—though he’s a groundhog. There’s no question I’d like shoot to him, but I can’t. We live in town.

He has eaten all of my brassica plants: the entire row of broccoli, grown from seed under the grow lights in my living room, tenderly handled, repotted and hardened off outside; and all of the Brussels sprouts (ditto). He has eaten the tops off a row of the best carrots I have ever grown.  He has chewed the vines of the cucumbers, and stolen peas. Now he is turning to more gourmet pleasures: the radicchio grown from seeds I got from a friend in Italy.

It started five years ago.  Eleven o’clock one July morning, Divine, a student from Tanzania whom we were hosting for the summer, sat on the back porch steps eating a sandwich while I was making jam in the kitchen. “Mum,” he said, bursting suddenly into the kitchen, “Mum, there’s a little brown man in the garden!”

A little brown man? Was I was on the verge of learning a new piece of Tanzanian lore? “Come quickly! He’s eating the broccoli.”

I ran onto the deck, and sure enough, standing tall between two raised beds, there was a sleek, light brown woodchuck with a large piece of broccoli between his two front paws. “No!” I yelled – as if he were a dog – “Down! Go away!!” I clapped my hands and glared. He flashed a knowing look, and shimmied off through a break between the fence and the house. Then I glared at our dog sleeping on the deck. Not known for her intelligence, apparently her eyes, ears and nose didn’t work either.

Some folks use these solar powered beepers that emit random high frequency blips to keep animals at bay

And so war broke out.  Every morning at eleven o’clock, the rascal appeared. He entered the garden through multiple points.  We blocked them. He came in anyway. We borrowed a Havahart trap and received many pieces of advice. “Bait it with chrysanthemum leaves.” “They love tuna fish—put in a tin of tuna.” “Try sardines.” “They love peanut butter.” “Try broccoli, or carrots.”  We tried each and every suggestion.  All we caught was a huge possum that my sons dubbed Yoda.

We started plugging the holes in the fence. He still entered. We got a good slingshot. We missed. Divine offered to teach us how to use a spear.  We discovered Moby had built a home beneath my studio. With its radiant floor, he was set for winter: a quiet snug burrow, with a warm ceiling. After we destroyed that hole, he moved under the garbage hutch on the north side of the house. Every time we blocked it off, he came back and dug in. We notified our neighbors that we were putting rat poison down the hole, so they should keep their cats inside for a few days. But all we got were dead voles.

When he finally moved out that year, it wasn’t because we’d gotten the better of him: the vegetables were all gone. The next two years, we did not plant broccoli.  Moby Dick did not return. So this spring, I decided he was truly gone, and planted one dozen carefully grown brassica plants.

Jane's electric fence is knee high, so a person can just step over it. A wood chuck, however, leads with his nose, and bumps into the strands.

Not so. My neighbor Jane, who has been waging war with multiple woodchucks in the College meadow that slopes down to Otter Creek across the street, has just put in an electric fence around her vegetable beds, in addition to multiple fences around the edges of the property and solar powered beepers in random corners of the garden. The day she plugged in the new fence to the solar powered transformer, guess who appeared at my place?

While Barbara (www.openviewgardens) celebrates the flow of wildlife at her place, relishing the rabbits, the deer, the wild turkeys, the squirrels, and the raccoons, I do not. I don’t have enough vegetables to spare. When I complained to my friend Peter who lives in Salisbury, he just laughed. “You should have seen what happened the day a moose came and lay down in my potato patch.”

Solar Power powers Jane's electric fence

A moose?  Now there’s a Moby Dick!

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2 Responses to Good Fences Don’t Always Make Good Neighbors

  1. farfalle1 says:

    Oh what a pity. But take comfort in knowing that the broccoli probably would’ve been host to all those teeny little worms that only appear when you cook the stuff. yuck. (or, alternatively, yay – protein!). I’m surprised the boys didn’t take up Divine’s offer of spear lessons – sounds like fun and useful in many places other than the garden. Might you consider an electric fence as well? I wonder if the beeping thing works. We considered trying one against some pesky rats, but ended up, with great regret, putting out poison after the bastards ignored the Havahart. If only they *understood* what we’re trying to do…

  2. Aaren says:

    There is a product that I have heard tell works, though of course, too late for the broccoli. It is a granular repellant called Plantskydd. It is OMRI approved as well. We have caught a woodchuck in a live trap with peanut butter on a carrot, but it was probably just luck! I know the feeling. Crop loss is just so frustrating. I lost most of my crops to deer last fall while I was still trying to earn a living farming. Good luck!

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