Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Garden versus Groundhog (0-3)

The Papered House has met its match. On three separate occasions, we have been bested by a pudgy groundhog who skulks through our backyard. He has an insatiable appetite for leafy greens and seems to view our garden as his own personal salad bar. I've taken to calling him our nemesis. My husband has a much stronger name for him, not fit for this blog.

When we first planted the garden, we knew we would need to take some measures to keep the animals away. So we surrounded all the beds with a chicken wire fence. That worked for a few weeks, until our peas, cucumbers, and broccoli seedlings went missing. A groundhog had found a way in.

Our next step was to douse all the plants with a homemade pesticide made from habanero peppers boiled in water. This measure worked for about a month. But then our nemesis must have developed a spicy palette, because he kept munching away, this time on kale and bok choy. Seriously? He likes kale? It's as though we have a hipster groundhog who thinks he's entitled to eat all the kale because he was eating kale before it became a trendy superfood. Whatever, groundhog. I didn't really care about the kale anyway. We just grew it because, you know, it's supposed to be good for us. And also, kale chips are oddly delicious.

After the second round of vegetable thievery, we doubled down and protected each individual vegetable bed with fine black netting. The netting made it more difficult for us to weed, but we figured that would be a small price to pay for keeping the groundhog at bay. Right?

Unfortunately, this is the mess we discovered in our vegetable garden after the groundhog's most recent escapade. It's almost impossible to see in this picture, but the groundhog ate the plants through the netting. He got our lettuce, arugula, and beets. He also got the second set of broccoli seedlings, which we planted recently to replace the ones he ate. From what we can tell, he sat on the netting until the vegetable leaves poked through the holes in the netting, and ate to his heart's content.

He's one determined bugger. I have to admit that I'm sort of amused by his tenacity and resourcefulness. On the other hand, it's hard not to feel deflated after devoting so much thought and time into a project that isn't going to flourish (at least, not this year). My husband carefully picked out the vegetable varieties from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, even going so far as to select the Calabrese broccoli variety because it dates to the 1800s (apparently it's not sufficient to paint our rooms historically appropriate colors. We are also trying to grow the very same type of broccoli that previous owners might have. If you're rolling your eyes right now, I don't blame you. We're obsessive, I know.) Anyway, we planted some of these crops back in the winter, setting up fluorescent light bulbs and heating pads in our basement so that we could grow the seedlings when the ground was still covered in ice and snow. The seedlings grew really well in the basement, and we gradually hardened them outside, then transplanted them when the weather was warm enough. We were really looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labor.

I hope our nemesis enjoyed that organic heirloom broccoli.

Vegetable Bed 1: Formerly lettuce, arugula, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, & peas

This is Bed 1. It used to have lettuce, arugula, beets, broccoli, peas, and brussels sprouts (not all at the same time). The groundhog has eaten everything except the marigolds that we added to keep the bugs away. He also left us all the weeds, generous fellow. As you can see, he knocked over several of our plant markers and pushed the stakes askew, as well. In the adjacent beds, he has helped himself to the cucumbers, kale, bok choy, and beans. He also depleted the parsley in our herb garden. It appears he knows the value of a garnish.

If I gain weight this summer, I'm blaming it on the ground hog. "Gosh, I had every intention of eating a kale salad for dinner. But since all our kale is gone, I guess I'll just have to eat pizza and cupcakes instead. He has left me with no choice." It's entirely the groundhog's fault.

But other than our green vegetables, most of the garden seems to be doing well. We have tomatoes, corn, onions, shallots, and potatoes growing. We've harvested the first potatoes and could hardly believe how buttery they taste. Here are the remaining three vegetable beds.

Vegetable Bed 2: Tomatoes, Onions, and Shallots

Vegetable Bed #3: Corn and Squash

Vegetable Bed #4: Potatoes and Zucchini. Formerly cucumbers and kale, as well

The rest of the yard is also doing well. We've chosen a mix of perennials and annuals in the back and side yards so that we won't need to plant as much next year. We also planted primarily from seeds and/or bulbs to cut down on cost. We tried to select plants that could tolerate our shady yard, while also incorporating sufficient biodiversity to encourage bees, birds, and beneficial insects to make themselves at home. This sketch provides a basic idea of how we have arranged our yard.

When we moved into The Papered House, the upper half of the backyard (the part closest to the house) was covered in ivy. Over several weekends, we ripped out the ivy and had a blank slate to work with.

We planted peonies, liatris, ranunculus, and black-eyed susans. We also planted dahlias and poppies, as well as a shade garden and a bird lover's mix. The ranunculus and poppies never took, but the other plants fared well. Here is what has bloomed so far, in roughly chronological order. After such a long, harsh winter, we are enjoying the profusion of color in our yard.

Peonies (picture taken early June)
Baby Blue Eyes, Shade Garden (picture taken early June)
Annual Candytuft, Shade Garden Mix (picture taken mid July)

Shade Garden (picture taken mid July)
Bird Lover's Mix (picture taken early July)
Bird Lover's Mix (picture taken mid July)
Dahlias (picture taken mid July)
I'm anxiously waiting for the liatris to bloom. They look like they'll be ready any day, and I have a feeling that they will make quite a dramatic entrance once they are finally ready. In my mind, liatris are like the supermodels of the flower world. Tall, slender, and rather showy. They take forever to bloom, but they know how to strut their stuff. We kept the liatris far away from the humbler shade garden and bird lover's mix, to be sure the liatris don't steal all their thunder. 

If you planted a garden this year, I'd love to know how your plants are faring!
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  1. Even the grounghog stays away from zucchini! 😂

  2. Haha, yes! Zucchini is safe so far. I guess it's not his cup of tea. Not really mine either, to be completely honest...