Thursday, May 28, 2009


What do you do about woodchucks? The perennial question keeps coming. When I started gardening, woodchucks were only a part of a silly rhyme, and their lack certainly helped my prolific yield with so little time. However, they do visit me now. They are also called "ground hogs" and are a problem whatever you call them.

First, I discovered that human hair scattered around the garden really does work. Someone suggested that barber shops probably give fewer chemicals than beauty shops. Anyway, for a short-term fix, go to one or the other. Give them warning so they can sweep up the hair separate from other garbage. This deterrent will last until the next rain, and then you must do it again. I got tired of this activity, and the residue is truly ugly in the garden.

I'm told that coyote urine works for one gardener, but it too needs to be replaced after every rain. It and fox urine are commercially available. Some recommend fox urine, but it didn't work for me nearly as well as human hair.

Then I hired someone ($75, I think), who put a trap in my yard with store-bought broccoli in it. No results. The only success I've had with trapping is to put it just outside the hole after the woodchuck has gone in (could be late in the evening) with enticing goodies in the trap (leaves of Jeruselum artichoke works best for me) and clog up the sides of the trap to prevent an alternate escape. Then what? The NJ DEP forbids transferring wild animals to another location, and allows killing only by lethal injection. This seems more practical for woodchucks than squirrels, but they didn't tell me where to get the equipment for such injections.

Jose (, 973-233-1106) tells me he can build a fence to keep them out of a garden, but this is a real project. The fence must be sturdy, at least 4' high and must extend at least a foot below the ground's surface. I'm not sure how this affects the resale value of a house, but it certainly affects the lifestyle of a gardener. My daughter and her husband installed one last month, a first-time adventure for both of them, but they had "had it" with invaders.

Early on in my woodchuck days I installed an electric fence. This worked, but a neighbor disapproved, and we couldn't find a replacement battery to make it work the following year. It was an expensive way to have one woodchuck-free year. A friend told me her children liked to touch her electric fence to annoy her. I accidentally touched it once, and wouldn't do that again just to annoy someone, but I didn't seem to suffer any adverse consequences after the brief encounter.

Last August I was given a plant that presumably keeps woodchucks off a property, and I had none for eight months. However, we now see them here repeatedly. The gifter assures me that when the plants get bigger and spread, my woodchuck problems will be over. I like that dream.

Meanwhile, my current coping mechanism is to work hard at rejoicing at what the woodchucks leave for me and other humans. (A neighbor told me recently she saw TWO cavorting on my next door neighbor's front lawn.) Fred and I each ate a half a pea yesterday, a big come-down for someone who froze dozens of servings of peas last year. But the Sugar Anns have revived admirably and the Sugar Snaps are sneaking up the fence wherever they are protected by tomato or pak choi plants. Incidentally, I don't perceive garlic as being a deterrent at all; woodchucks don't eat garlic, but they eat right around it. I planted four replacement broccoli, and one lost its head yesterday. Maybe some will last for humans! We are sharing the parsley. They have eaten lots of lettuce, but enough has burrowed itself in the pak choi and tomatoes for humans to have a decent salad each day thus far.

On the positive side, woodchucks don't eat tomato plants, although they will take a bite out of large tomatoes (and my prized 1" green tomato last month). They don't compete for Hakurai turnips, and I'm stirring lots of their greens into stir-fries these days as well as reveling in the roots. Collards are abundant and unmolested. Pak choi thrives. Radishes don't fill you much, but they are available now. Fred and I have had LOTS of strawberries on our breakfasts yesterday and today, and that is LIVING. It looks like strawberries will continue until the promising raspberries are available.

So life is still good, and the garden is satisfying, even though both can be frustrating.


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