Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Varmints

Lets talk about varmints. First, this is a typical conversation during the course of a garden consultation:
New Client: “We have a lot of raccoons (and/or rats) in our neighborhood…are they going to eat everything?”
Me: “Of course!”
New Client: “How dreadful!”
Me: “Life is merely a series of tragic episodes, each more devastating than the last!”

Based on our experience, every neighborhood in this city (and presumably other cities?) is full of raccoons, rats, opossums, moles, voles, crows and countless other vermin in such numbers that we are probably better off not thinking about it. The good news is that, generally, most of these varmints have little interest in your vegetable crops. (Your chickens are another story altogether: chickens will eat your vegetable crops and varmints will certainly eat your chickens).

There are of course many, many exceptions to this…one notable case would be that of the lowly vole. Should you worry solely about voles, or voles and moles? Remember this, Voles eat Vegetables (esp. the roots of your favorite crops) and Moles eat Moths (or at least the larvae of moths). If that is a poor pneumonic device it is only because I just made it up. I am sorry. Moles may make mounds in your lawn, but generally won’t go after your crops; whereas voles are straight-up varmints. Maybe this is better: Voles are Varmints and Moles are Marmots (even moles aren’t actually marmots).

Anyways, if voles become a problem, as far as I know, the best strategy is peanut butter baited mousetraps...The other most common varmint we see is the rabbit. If you have seen rabbits hanging out at the end of your street after school, it is best to organize a neighborhood watch with the other parents on the street. Alternatively, you can put up a short (2-3’) fence around the perimeter of your garden before planting. Rabbits should be considered ruthless, and at the very least, not merciful. You might also have deer. In most of the urbanized greater Seattle region, deer don’t pose much of a threat, but if you know that deer are in your area, you probably have little choice but to build a fence (a high fence).

Other varmints can become troublesome from time to time, especially in the late winter (the lean months for varmints of all kinds). For example, rats seem to have an affinity for Peas, which are planted early and therefore a likely target for a hungry beast. Come to think of it, there are endless cases of animal attacks on unsuspecting vegetable plants. Just last summer I heard one report of a rouge raccoon attacking a Zucchini plant! The creature did not have the common decency to eat the fruit, but instead shredded the plant down to a ragged nub! There was also a report of a Mountain Beaver cruising out of the nearby woods to wreak havoc in an otherwise civilized garden...Not to mention the crows in Wedgewood that will pull newly transplanted Brassicas out of the ground and let them wither away in the summer heat! Always keep in mind that your neighbor’s cat will inevitably mistake your newly cultivated garden beds for…well, you know…

As you can see, there is much anecdotal evidence of varmints in the vegetable patch, but it has been our experience that most city gardeners will have limited trouble with these small and medium sized animals. If you feel the need to worry about something, worry about insect pests and plant diseases (which we can discuss later).

There is certainly no shortage of bizarre happenings in the garden at night (crop circles, drum circles, etc.), but for the most part the free-roaming animals of the city are not going to destroy your vegetable garden...at least that is what my blog says...