Clark Hollow Ramblings: Critters in the garden

When I built the fence around my raised bed vegetable garden, the first thing I was thinking about was keeping out the deer. So I built it very high. The next thing to worry about was rabbits and groundhogs. I put chicken wire up about 24 inches from the ground.

Now, we know groundhogs, squirrels and raccoons can climb fences. So, I knew there might have to be some other measures to protect my crops. Also, blackbirds and crows pay no attention to fences. But, acting in my favor, blackbirds and crows are very smart.

Why is that in my favor? Because after several of them find out it is not smart to go fooling around in Mr. McGregor’s garden, they pretty much leave it alone. I reinforced this feeling in them with my 12 gauge and some birdshot.

What I hadn’t done until this year, however, was grow sweet corn in my little garden. In a discussion I had with Eddie Williams, he said the animals can smell the ripening corn. I think he is right about that. Something was getting into my corn every night. I put up bird netting about eight feet high around the corn. It provided further discouragement to the birds, but had no effect on my nightly visitor.

My bride proclaimed it was a raccoon. We had raccoons around the house during the winter. They frequently emptied out the bird feeders, and it was such a rough winter, we let them. But we have not seen a raccoon since the weather got warm. My son has a garden, and his is surrounded by woods and mountains. He knows the battle better than me. I borrowed a live trap from him, intent on catching the nocturnal raider.

I baited the trap with wet cat food, bird seed and the biggest, most succulent ear of corn I could find, which I smeared all around the front of the trap and then cut it into pieces and laid a trail inside the trap, where I put most of the the bait. I used rubber gloves while I was working with the trap.

The next morning, lo and behold, there he was, one mad raccoon. He tried to bite me through the wire cage. He won’t eat any more of my corn, but I wasn’t sure he was the only one. The next two mornings, I anxiously went to the garden, and found no more corn missing. But, on surveying the perimeter on Sunday, I found a new problem: Something had dug a hole under the fence, next to a post.

At first I thought it must have been a groundhog, but I know groundhogs can climb. I have seen them on the tops of fence posts and in trees, often in persimmon trees in the fall when the fruit is ripe. So, what had dug this hole? I immediately set to work patching the hole and making it harder to dig under the fence. When I finished, I told my wife that if the critter was still in the garden he wasn’t going to be able to get out.

No sooner had I said that when I caught sight of a small, brown furry animal dashing between the green beans and the limas. I went to the house for the 12 gauge. Linda was sitting at the back corner of the house snapping some beans. I told her it must be a small groundhog, but whatever it is, don’t get in my line of fire. Then I told her that if it was a rabbit, I was sorry. This was a preemptive apology for shooting a rabbit, because we have enjoyed watching the little critters all year. It seems like there is a bumper crop.

I went up one row and down the other, beating the corn and beans with my hoe in one hand and the shotgun in the other. He ran out from under the lima bean vines and square into the chicken wire. He was about half-grown, and scared to death. It was a rabbit.

You might not believe this part, but I figured I had fixed the hole in the fence, and he probably wouldn’t be able to get back in, so I opened the gate and got Linda to help me herd him out of the garden. Believe me, when he saw that he was free, he made a bee line for Mrs. Lee’s hay field, and he didn’t look back.

I sure hope he doesn’t dig another hole under the fence. I am not sure how much amnesty I have left.

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Richard Brady
About Richard Brady 128 Articles
Richard Brady was born and raised within sight of Rappahannock Peak, as was his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, etc. He graduated from George Mason University and was employed for 35 years with various agencies of the federal government. He retired in 2001, and he and his wife, Linda, live in Flint Hill, Va.