The annual battle begins anew each summer. It’s us against marauding underground country critters looking for munchables – in our garden! Where we see a tender new plant filled with promise, the local critters see lunch.
My story of the annual battle of the backyard was published by Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home in May 2014.
From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home
By Judy Harch
“There is no gardening without humility…”
Our children were grown and on their own. My husband Chris and I had finally realized a long-awaited dream and moved to a cottage in the country. Now we could wake up each morning and look forward to watching an occasional deer meander through the yard, spot squirrels scrambling up trees with their acorns, and observe the social order of birds at the feeder. Blue jays first, unless a bully of a redheaded woodpecker lurks on a tall tree trunk nearby.
Life in our new home would have been grand if it hadn’t been for those unseen critters waging war with this pair of country newbies. My love and respect for the animal kingdom was about to be sorely tested. For those of us who feel a kinship with animals, occasionally there comes a time when an earth-shattering upheaval, so to speak, separates theory from practice.
During that first summer in our new domicile, my mettle was tested by a platoon of voles. They are the insidious little critters that hide in the dark netherworld of our yards. They stealthily slide along their well-crafted underground tunnels, munching on tender plant roots they view as a well-stocked salad bar.
They’re probably held in high regard among their animal friends since they believe in sharing the wealth. Voles act as company commanders forging the way for other tunnelers, like chipmunks and field mice. Our back yard had become one big garden party down there at our expense.
Ferreting out this destructive militia became our summertime obsession. We had called upon our animal-friendly arsenal of weapons but were failing to reclaim our territory.
Over breakfast one morning, I’d said to my husband, “I’ve been getting neighborly advice about ways to send those critters packing.”
Chris was immediately interested, if somewhat reluctant to look like a country bumpkin, when I suggested theory number one — human hair as repellent.
Undaunted, I continued, “The next time you go to the barber shop ask for a bag of hair.” I related the theory that the voles would be scared off by the scent of big, bad Homo sapiens.
Reluctantly, Chris marched off to the barber shop, collected several large paper bags of hair, spread it around the garden, wet it down, and waited for the motley crew to turn tail and head for the hills. It didn’t work. The voles must have had a good laugh at that over lunch.
It was time for theory number two. Someone suggested rolling up several sticks of chewing gum and shoving them down the vole hole. Allegedly, the voles would get a fat wad of gum in their jaws making it impossible for them to munch on plant life — at least for a while. Hah! The Juicy Fruit turned out to be nothing more than a pre-lunch appetizer.
Theory number three: the high-tech approach. A sympathetic friend bought us a sonic tube that you insert into the ground. It is battery-operated by a small fortune’s worth of D-sized batteries. This theory purports that the underground tremors created by the sonic tube would drive the voles and their party animal friends away. Mission unaccomplished.
Then the nasty little critters began taunting us. Yes, they really did. One day, Chris was in the back vegetable garden with our yellow Labrador Retriever, Savannah, who was on a leash. He watched in utter disbelief as a budding pepper plant was pulled underground right before his eyes. He was quite sure those criminal masterminds knew he wouldn’t let go of the leash long enough to save his new sprout.
We stopped relating that episode to our friends when they began comparing us to Bill Murray’s character in the movie Caddyshack.
The war took an ugly turn about midsummer. By then, at least half our prize hostas were chewed off at their base. Our lush borders of variegated greens along pathways and around thick tree trunks looked barren. Little did we know that the final defeat in our battle was imminent.
We had received a beautiful, young Japanese red maple tree as a gift. It was both sentimental and valuable. Its feathery, deep red leaves graced a small garden by our front porch. One day I saw Chris holding what was left of the tree in his hands. It literally had been chewed off at the base. He cradled the poor, dead tree in his arms, took it out back, and laid it to rest. I could see the crushed spirit written on his face. Then he got mad.
“We’ll fix those nasty little creatures,” Chris said through gritted teeth. He called our local Cooperative Extension Service. One of their master gardeners mailed us a brochure full of tips for getting rid of voles.
When the brochure arrived, our hearts sank. Short of using pesticides (which we preferred not to do), we’d already tried every recommended remedy. After having lost each skirmish in our battle of wills, we surrendered. The underground army had been triumphant. It was time for compromise.
These days, every plant we hope to harvest lives in containers, above ground. Peace reigns. The salad bar crowd has moved to a new neighborhood.
UPDATE: The white flag of surrender remains flying. We continue to plant our hostas in containers. We’ve given up on raising a vegetable garden. Those country critters have driven us to local farm markets. Sooner or later, we all learn which battles to concede.
(photo of plant courtesy of amenic181 at freedigitalphotos.net)
(illustration of wagon courtesy of debspoons at freedigitalphotos.net)