Mountain Garden Maintenance
Marley disappeared early one morning last year. He was with us for nine years and, like most pets, he was our buddy. Not only do I miss the lovin’ this little guy gave us, but I did not realize that he was also the maintenance guy for my garden. Let me explain. This year we had a lot of snow and that meant a lot of moisture this spring. My garden was looking very healthy and coming in beautifully. As the season progressed my healthy garden was about to burst into a rainbow of colors, but I started noticing a few plants were gone. I wondered if something was eating my plants.
The Garden Helper
We planted this cutting garden seven years ago, primarily to use at my flower studio for bridal bouquets, wedding design work and everyday orders. The flowers we grew provided that perfect touch of a fresh picked look to my floral arrangements. My garden was void of any wildlife or critters, as Marley stood watch most of the day. This little guy would camp out in the garden and catch mostly mice.
Over time we realized he wasn’t just a mouser, he was a killer. It was not uncommon to have three or more dead animals in my driveway in one day. He would eat most and leave what he did not want, so it was easy for us to see what he was up to. We would put him inside a few hours before dark each day. We never let him out at night.
Natural Predators and the Cycle of Life
Ironically, as I write this blog, I realize that it was a year ago that Marley went missing. As summer turned into fall, the local wildlife, the coyotes and foxes were coming down into town and taking cats and small dogs for their local dinner selection. One day, as I sat at my desk and looked out the window, I noticed this big dog with a thick tail walking briskly up the street. I realized that it wasn’t a dog at all, but it was actually a coyote. We had seen foxes before, but this was very bold for coyotes to make themselves seen in the middle of the day. I expected them to be night time stalkers, as we could occasionally hear them further up the valley.
We never really had to worry about the foxes, as they chose easier targets and food choices, like mice, rabbits and even received handouts from unknowing tourists and locals. They were really quite forward and my husband recalls a neighbor hand feeding a hot dog to one. Obviously that is wrong and you should never feed wild animals. We even saw a fox run across the back deck and Marley was seen seconds later, chasing after it. He was quite a fearless animal and very protective of our yard and garden. However, one morning I let Marley out and he never returned.
We talked to a few neighbors after putting up signs and looking for him. He would constantly come by the house, multiple times throughout the day, if we were home. He would always be sitting on the porch or would be in the garden when we pulled up after working. He would run across the yard to meet up.
The Garden Destroyed
Getting back to my garden, devoid of Marley’s constant watchful eye, a third of my garden had disappeared. Because of the extreme wet winter and spring, our area has experienced a vole explosion. I never knew the damage these little animals can do. So, all my pansies and dianthus are gone. And, that wasn’t good as I went nuts this year with pansies. They have tunneled under my big oriental poppy plants and some of the plants have already died because the roots were eaten. They ate all my spinach too. Well, all except for the batch I got to before they could go to town on it. I left my lettuce and swiss chard for them because I was getting thoroughly disgusted by them.
Flower Farming and Other Methods of Pesticide
The saddest part was this year, was that I had the fantasy of being a sweet pea grower in the mountains. Since I have had amazing success with some gorgeous stems that smell so fragrant, like bottled perfume, I planted an entire bed over 200 seeds. As soon as they grew to a few inches high, I noticed that they had been chomped on. They were all gone.
They would leave some of the plant so that it could grow back and then they would do their rounds and eat them again. You are probably wondering if I have tried to do anything to stop them? Yes, but I did not want to use any harsh chemicals, so I went to the local garden center and asked them for advice. They sold me a small bag of fertilizer, and it wasn’t cheap, costing me fifty dollars.
They said it stunk and that the little animals won’t like it. The directions were to put a layer around the plants in the garden and on the lawn. Supposedly, I would see these little guys running out of my garden and looking for a new home. Well, that did not happen. Being optimistic, I tried it again a few weeks later and it still didn’t work.
I have resorted to spraying water at full force down their holes, only to find out that they created new tunnels elsewhere in the garden. My husband pulled up a video clip of Bill Murray in Caddy Shack and said I was acting like him. If you don’t remember (I didn’t), the whole movie is based on Bill Murray taking extreme measures to get rid of a gopher on a golf course he works on. I am becoming so obsessed with how to get them out of my garden that I think about them at night.
One of my neighbors has resorted to sitting in his backyard after work and while he enjoys a beer he tries to shooting them with his BB gun. After talking with another neighbor, I learned that last year they had caught 173 voles in her garden. I did not realize how big the problem was. I thought this was the damage from just a few animals!
She suggested that I get a Haaheart trap. Well, I have had the traps for three days and I’ve got nothing. I’m starting to think about digging up my beds and trying to put them in a bucket and then throw them in the river. What do you think? I don’t want to use harsh chemicals, but before I get another cat for next season, I might need to. If any of my neighbors are watching me, they probably think I went nuts. I know my husband does.
In memory of Marley. We miss ya buddy!
RIP Marley: 2005 – 2014