Monday, September 20, 2010

Woodchucks (aka. Groundhogs)

Woodchucks, also called "groundhogs," have been the worst garden pest for me by far. Since I have received a number of pathetic appeals for help recently, I will devote an entire email to them.

I had none when I started gardening here 32 years ago, and for quite a few years thereafter. I remember hearing about their destruction in central Jersey with some skepticism, which now prods feelings of guilt. Then they arrived here.

It was more than 12 years ago because I my father was still alive. I asked him what his father had done about woodchucks. I still remember his answer with shock. His father was the supervising principal of the Middlesex Township public schools of Cape May County, traveling far and wide to lead many one-room school houses in those days before busses. Yet he raised the family's vegetables in Cape May Court House, as all good fathers did in those days.

- "He had me shoot them," my pacifist father said with downcast eyes.
- "What! You used a gun?!" He nodded, found out.
He had never joined my mother's relatives in their sport of hunting, and I sensed disapproval as they reported their adventures, although he did join in eating the hunting harvest.

Today's gardeners can't use that method of checking our wildlife. It's against the law. So at first I hired a pest exterminator. We paid him $75, and he didn't catch any. Then I bought my own woodchuck-sized cage. At first we were as successful as the exterminator, but then Trina told me you can catch them if you put the cage with bait just outside their hole, blocking any other escape, so as they come out hungry, they don't notice they are walking on metal. I used Jerusalem artichoke leaves and caught many. One can, of course, use anything they eat in your garden for bait if you have something left.

It didn't seem to decrease the number of woodchucks. There were more and more, as I caught more and more. At the July 2008 Open Garden the topic of woodchucks came up, as by then it always did. Jean Blum said she had trouble until she got a plant from a gardener in central NJ that seemed to keep woodchucks out of the garden. She offered me some, and in August 2008 I planted three around my yard. I had no noticeable woodchuck damage for ten months.

Then I had by far the worst of my gardening career. I've had essentially no broccoli the past two years, and before that it was a winter mainstay after I ate and froze lots in the warmer weather. I would harvest it until Christmas.

Last year my peas were almost non-existent. The woodchucks not only ate the peas, but tore down the vines so neither they nor we would get more! This year I have had a decent crop, but not like before. I started Sweet-100 tomato plants in January, and put them with the peas to climb up the fence. I harvested decent peas where the tomato plants protected them. I tried the same with pac choi with no discernable success. I guess next year I will have LOTS of tomatoes. (Not that I don't this year, but I like tomatoes.)

Meanwhile, last August (2009) we hired Keil's Construction Company to replace our garage floor since we had seen them burrowing through in many places. That seemed to stop the woodchucks for another 10 months.

There was much less damage this year than last. The euphorbia (the official name for the anti-woodchuck plant) has been prolific, and perhaps that helps.

However, now it is VERY prolific and I spend an amazing amount of time tearing it out. Since I'm retired, it's okay; I prefer doing this to having woodchucks wreck havoc with my garden. However, I hesitate to recommend it because it is so invasive and there are other variables that may have caused my decreased woodchuck damage this year. Also, I still lost my broccoli.

Last week Pepper left me a perennial plant that she claims woodchucks don't like and isn't invasive. Can you give up its name, Pepper?
Perhaps I should cautiously share some of my euphorbia with those who beg if they assure me they know it is very invasive. Someone told me that Plock' sells it under the name of "mole plant" because it deters moles. Others assure me that there are 2000 varieties of euphorbia, and my eyes and knowledge don't support finding more details of the name. I'll spread the word if someone who thinks they know tells me the complete name.

Gardening is still satisfying and healthy for me, but writing this emphasizes how truly we are all "beginning gardeners."


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