Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Critter Protection

In my prior post I discussed the challenges of protecting a vegetable garden in the Tucson region.  I have chain link around the garden area, but small critters such as chipmunks, ground squirrels, rabbits, mice, birds etc. can easily come in and set up shop.  Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening (see link on side bar) recommends constructing a cage out of chicken wire that is easy to lift and place over a raised bed garden.  Materials used are chicken wire and 1"X2" select pine boards.  Mel uses less expensive chicken wire with larger 1" or 2" openings, but it won't keep smaller pests such as chipmunks from squeezing in and gobbling up your tender plantings .  I purchased a heavier wire with smaller 1/2" openings which takes more time bending to shape but is still light enough to easily lift off your bed when tending/watering the garden.

I built two 4'X4' cages to fit on top of one of my 4' X 8' beds.  I found I could cut a piece of  4' wide wire 7' long and bend, with the help of a straight edge (see photo to the right), 2 even creases 18" from each end to form 2 of the 4 sides.  That left only two 18" by 48" pieces to cut for the remaining two sides.  The base of the wire was then stapled to the 4'X4' frames and the two single sides attached with those nifty plastic awning lock ties you can get at Home Depot.  To easily lift off and replace the cages on top of the beds I created a 12" long plastic handles out of left over pvc pipe and wire and attached one to the top of each cage in the very center.  For step-by-step directions for building these cages see Mel Bartholomew's New Square Foot Gardening book.  Having completed the cages, I planted seed of lettece, bunching onions, radish, spinach and snap peas with hopes that the resulting harvest will now be protected.

For my remaining raised bed and fiberglass barrels I have removed the bird netting (effective, but awful stuff to work around and a lizard strangler).  Since these plantings are mature (tomatoes, strawberries and herbs) I am taking my chances they will survive most attacks.  If not, I plan to set out a small Havahart critter trap that will be used to humanely capture the rodents and remove them far from my property.  I've heard peanut butter works well.  Before replanting the remaining bed, I will build two more 4'X4' cages to protect it as well.  I will share the results of these endeavors to protect my garden in future posts.  

Just a side note for Amber Rose, our 9 year old grand daughter.  Your strawberries planted in the gray sink had babies!  Tendrils from your plant crawled over to the sink next to it and rooted. I'ved transplanted several of your baby plants to another barrel so there will be more strawberries to pick when you visit.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Summer Garden "Issues"

The photo above was taken on our Pacific coastal vacation towards summers end after our grand daughters returned to Missouri. But more of that later. This post is to explain my absence this summer and what has been happening in the vegetable garden. My spring vegetable garden efforts were thwarted at every turn this year. No sooner had a seed sprouted or transplant put in they were gone within a few days. As you can see in my earlier photos I use raised beds and large containers to grow vegetables. My early conclusion was a wily rabbit who had figured out a way to get by my chain link fence. This proved to be true to a certain extent. One morning I witnessed a small one that was able to wiggle underneath the fence. But it would take one great hopper to jump into my fiberglass barrels. Thinking I had solved the mystery I covered everything with chicken wire and re-planted. And waited.
A week went by with incident and then it happened again. Everything stripped to the ground. At this point I was considering cutter bees, but nothing of the plant was left over. Surly if it had been bees there would have been large pieces left. I increased my observation efforts throughout the day. Then, finally, I observed two very small ground squirrels frolicking among my beds and pots. We had noticed in increase in ground squirrels in the neighborhood, but had thought nothing of it. Ground squirrels have no problem fitting through the openings of a chain link fence.

So, I begin covering everything in bird netting and re-planted. A real pain. But it did the trick for about 48 hours. But then it happened again - everything except a few mature plants were gone. At this point it was funny and I pretty much gave up. This was hard as my two grand daughters would be staying with us for a couple of months this summer and they expected to help me in the garden. Only a few days before they arrived I witnessed the same 2 ground squirrels I had seen earlier inside the bird netting. When they saw me they quickly escaped through what I later discovered to be tiny folds of loose netting that hadn't been secured down. At this point I was left with 3 tomato plants, some squash and a couple of barrels on strawberries. I turned my attention towards other goings on at this point.

As it turned out, our grand daughters kept us running this summer and there was little time to garden. After they returned to Missouri Chu and I headed for the coast and slowly moved north to keep cool. Incredible scenery and, compared to desert fauna, all plants are on steroids. Our favorite spots were the small towns of Elk (20 minutes south of Mendocino, CA) and Yachats, OR. You can see photos and videos of the trip on my Facebook. Both were fabulous coastal areas surrounded by beautiful national forests.

So, now I turn my attention to the fall garden. And better ways of protecting my vegetables from desert creatures.