Gardening Basics

Raiding Rodents

Garden pests raid vegetables and fruit, frustrate grower to no end.

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Q. I've been having a very tough time with my garden over the last two years. It is enclosed in a 4-foot solid fence and every year after the seedlings emerge, within the first couple of weeks most of my zucchini, cucumbers, melons, beans, kohlrabi and peas are eaten to the ground. Whatever survives may last a few more weeks before it too is eaten. I feel it may be a woodchuck just outside the fence; there's a hole about 5 inches in diameter, and I saw an animal during the day that resembles a woodchuck with a whole slew of young. There are no holes that tunnel under the fence that I could see. The garden also is infested with chipmunks and I've seen them holding my nice strawberries while they eat them, and worst of all they only eat a small portion of them and leave the rest of them to rot in the sun. Any suggestions on how to combat these two "enemies" other than a couple of big tomcats from the nearby animal shelter? It's frustrating to spend so much on seeds and have them destroyed.

A. How frustrating! Cutworms can wreak havoc too, but they usually cut only the seedlings off at the soil surface, and leave the plant there like a toppled tree. How about covering your crops with fabric row covers? You eventually have to take the covers off to allow bees to pollinate, but by that time, plants are past their succulent, juvenile stage and less attractive to woodchucks and chipmunks. I suggest that you place fabric over hoops and anchor it to the ground with planks or 2x4s.

As for the strawberry plants, try a fine-mesh bird netting over hoops, anchored the same way. It should allow entry for the bees, but exclude the chipmunks. And as an added security measure, make sure there are no gaps under the fence. It's astonishing how small a hole a hefty woodchuck can squeeze through.

Both rodents also climb, and you can foil them by attaching a piece of chicken wire around the top edge of the solid fence so that it flops outward. If the critters climb the fence, their weight will pull the loose fencing backwards and drop them to the ground.

Good luck!

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