Thursday, June 7, 2018

Time to Reevaluate

I've been in a fairly deep funk about vegetable gardening lately. There are times when I just want to rip everything out and throw it in the compost and give up trying to grow vegetables. If I could just flip a switch that would turn off the compulsive desire to grow good beautiful things to eat I would do so without hesitation right now. Why, I keep asking myself, can't I just be like a normal person and leave the work and the heartache of growing food to someone else.

Every time I find new destruction wrought by some effing rodent it sends me into a tailspin.

I've been in a lot of tailspins.

The neighbors within earshot must think I'm off my rocker. "She's screaming at the rodents again!"

Oh please, put me out of my misery.

As I spin down into a sea of frustration and anger I still can't stop myself from grabbing at ideas of ways to thwart the DR's with plans of ever more elaborate systems of protection. Egads. Enough already! And yet, and yet, there's another 100 foot roll of hardware cloth that just got delivered.

Sigh. DEEP SIGH. I don't grow veggies to save $$$.

But because I don't have an OFF switch for fanatical vegetable gardening I have to reevaluate what I can grow and the lengths to which I will go to protect whatever ends up in the garden. I can't stop gardening but I will not make it easy for the DAMN RODENTS to find their next gourmet veggie treats.

First step. What are the favorites? Not mine, the pertinent question is what do the RODENTS love to eat.

What has entered the jaws of death? The list so far...
  • amaranth (maybe it was birds and not rodents?)
  • beans
  • beets
  • broccoli
  • broccolini
  • cabbage
  • calendula
  • carrot tops
  • cauliflower
  • celery root (just the sweet fat root, not the tops)
  • chard
  • collards
  • coriander (seeds not cilantro, usually)
  • corn
  • cucumbers
  • fava beans
  • fennel
  • kohlrabi
  • melon blossoms (they don't even wait for the fruit to form!)
  • mizuna
  • napa cabbage
  • parsley
  • peas - snap, snow, and shelling
  • peppers
  • radish tops
  • tomatoes
  • tronchuda beira
  • winter squash (some)
What does that leave that hasn't been attacked yet.
  • arugula (birds eat the babies)
  • basil
  • brussels sprouts (birds like the tops)
  • celery
  • corn salad/mache (birds eat the babies)
  • cress (birds)
  • eggplant (a whole other story of pests and diseases)
  • garlic (no-grow because of rust)
  • kale (birds)
  • lettuce (birds)
  • mustard (mostly)
  • onions and shallots (no-grow because of downy mildew)
  • pac choi
  • parsnips?
  • potatoes (so far)
  • rapini
  • spinach (birds)
  • tomatillo?
  • turnip
  • winter squash (some)
  • zucchini (birds)
Just because something hasn't been attacked yet doesn't mean that given the opportunity and a lack of more tasty targets that just about anything edible will be on the hit list. But, as I've indicated, what's not on the rodent hit list is not necessarily free from the attentions of birds so I have to consider that too.

What on the rodent/bird favorites list can be protected in a fairly reasonable manner. Or perhaps I should start with what can't be protected in a fairly reasonable manner.

So, not worth the effort.
  • anything too tall to grow in a cage.
    • corn (I will not wrap every frigging ear in hardware cloth again)
    • fava beans (sob)
  • anything too big to fit into a cage without being overcrowded
    • large varieties of cabbage
    • large varieties of cauliflower
    • large varieties of anything
    • sprawling space hogs like most winter squash or melons
  • pretty much anything that needs to or can grow on a trellis
    • pole beans
    • tall peas
    • cucumbers
    • melons
    • winter squash
    • one exception is summer squash, so far the DR's prefer the seeds of mature squash
  • tomatoes (if I'm honest but I'm not)
So, what is or should be easy to grow in my hardware cloth tunnel cages. 
  • amaranth (hard to find dwarf varieties)
  • arugula
  • beans (bush)
  • beets
  • carrots
  • celery root
  • cilantro
  • cress
  • kohlrabi
  • lettuces
  • pac choi
  • parsnips
  • peas (dwarf)
  • pea shoots
  • radishes
  • turnips
Things that can be grown in individual hardware cloth cages.
  • broccoli
  • broccolini
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower?
  • fennel?
  • peppers (really just for seed saving, the confined plants don't seem to be as productive)
Things that might be safe to grow "free"
  • basil
  • Brussels sprouts
  • celery
  • potatoes
  • summer squash/zucchini
  • not much else!
There's just no way that I can anticipate just what will or won't be targets for DR consumption. (Aeoniums? really? yes!) So it's been a learning process as the DR's keep switching targets.

So, here are my latest schemes to keep the DR's away from my veggies. It involves a lot of hardware cloth.

One of the first lessons I learned in my battles with the rodents is to not wait until the destruction begins to put up de fences (ha ha, get it? defenses...  sorry). Reams and reams of hardware cloth fences. The second lesson is that the fences are only as good as the gaps that you leave in them. Trust me, if the DR's know that there's something good on the other side of the fence they will find the gaps. And if there are no gaps they will dig their way in. And if they can't dig their way in they will climb in.

So put the fences up before anything goes in the ground. This is important for 2 reasons. First, to avoid smashing and slashing (the plants, not you) as you try to put the floppy "cloth" into position. And second it might prevent the DR's from getting that first bite that will bring them and their family and friends back for more. (Oh wow, have you tried her fava beans this year? You have got to try them, they're fantastic!)

I'll start with my attempt to protect the peppers. I'm going with a 2 layer system for the pepper bed. First a short fence that is stapled to the inside of the bed. All the way around with NO GAPS. At the other end of the bed where it crosses on top of the soil there's about 12 inches that covers the soil beyond the perimeter of de fence.

The next step will be to put up a second layer that will overlap the first layer and extend the fence up to about 2 1/2 feet. That layer will be in removable panels so that I (and hopefully only I) will be able to easily reach into the bed to harvest the peppers. The biggest issue with barriers, aside from cost, is that they must keep the critters out but I must be able to have fairly easy access otherwise it's too much of a hassle to harvest or plant things.

I'm growing some bush dry beans in another bed. I put up a similar system for them, although the sections of hardware cloth running through the center of the bed are buried 6 inches deep in the soil. The panels that will run along the outside edges of the bed will be attached more securely because I shouldn't have to get access to the plants until it's time to pull the plants to harvest the dry beans. I only put one row of beans into the space to allow them room to sprawl inside the enclosed area. I've learned that cramming too many bean plants into a restricted area just invites disease and insect pest problems. At the moment the beans are under cloches to protect them from birds and climbing rodents. My plan is to eventually cover the area with some lightweight fabric or mesh.

Earlier this year the broccoli, cabbage, Tronchuda Beira, and broccolini plants were attacked even though they were in a bed protected by a hardware cloth barrier. That was when I learned that the rodents WILL find the smallest gap in a barrier that they can fit through. It's also when I learned that they WILL dig their way under a barrier. They WILL climb over a barrier. And I learned that they don't like the taste of spicy peppers.

Encaged Batavia Broccoli

This week I managed to harvest a head of broccoli in that bed. The plant was protected by a ring of hardware cloth and I had liberally sprinkled the plant and surrounding area with hot pepper powder. (This year I'm growing a couple of full heat Habaneros just so that I can have an extra spicy rodent deterring pepper powder). The problem with pepper powder is that the rain washes it off the plants so it's not useful here in the winter. Once the winter rainy season is over though it's long lasting and easy to wash off at harvest time.

Post Harvest Batavia Broccoli

I have learned which rodents like what veggies mainly by what I've trapped in proximity to damaged plants. Last year it was voles in the corn patch. In the past it's been tree rats in the tomato vines. The latest was a roof or Norway rat (I can't tell the difference) in the collards (the barrier climber). And I have no idea what the mice are munching. I'm really tempted to get a critter cam that can take night shots so that I can see what is scurrying around where in the garden. It does help to know which rodents are attacking what because different traps are more or less effective at trapping different rodents.

The Best Kind of Rat
So, my rodent woes are why I've not been posting lately. It's just been so frustrating and depressing that I've lost interest in writing about it. But until I find that elusive OFF switch that will transform me from a vegetable gardening fanatic to a normal person I will continue to try to grow good things to eat and my blog will continue to be the place where I try to record both the good and the bad about my veggie garden.

Enough of this, I need to get out to the garden and wrestle more hardware cloth into place.



  1. Well, yeah, I kinda expected this since you were so quiet. You are persistent. But then so are the animals. I can't understand why you get attacked so often. There must not be any other gardens in your vicinity. The fight only seems worthwhile once you sit down to eat the goodies when you can. Otherwise it is so discouraging. Don't know what to say except that others can read and profit from your problems and solutions. Lots of love to you.

    1. Jane, thank you so much, I deeply appreciate your kind words. I guess I am persistent, or just plain stupid, maybe it's the same thing. I do understand why I get attacked so much, it's because I've set up an all you can eat gourmet buffet on the edge of a rather stressed natural habitat and the hungry critters know a good thing when they find it. I keep reminding myself that I am so fortunate that my garden is not crucial to my survival. Unlike a lot of people in the world when my garden fails to produce I can just go buy what I need. It still doesn't take the disappointment out of seeing hard work and investments of time and money destroyed overnight. Bleh.

  2. Oh my, non-gardeners just don't 'get' this - that compulsive need to grow things! It's sooo hard to let go of that urge. I often think in another life I was a farmer but then I realize I AM one in this life! I wonder if the critter cam might actually be a good idea, to see the perps in action. Though it sounds like you know many of the ways they get to your crops. I hope you find some workable solutions, or at least come to a happy and peaceful spot where you can enjoy growing things.

    1. You are so right. My Dave asks why I just don't do something else and I just can't think what that something else might be. I have other interests, but gardening is the one thing that I'm really passionate about and I just can't imagine not doing it. And yes, we are farmers, just on a small scale. And I am slowly adjusting my outlook on the problem. I looked around the garden today at the things that are growing and saw some wonderful things that I will be able to harvest. It may not be everything that I would like to grow but it's still special so I'll learn to be satisfied what I can grow. So it's going to take an attitude adjustment on my part. And more hardware cloth...

  3. Wow! I suppose that we here shouldn’t grumble about the slugs and wood pigeons (but we will). You certainly do have to go to extremes.

    1. Well, I certainly am grateful that I don't have to battle slugs and wood pigeons in addition to the rodents!

  4. It makes me sad how your garden is such a battleground. But I understand the drive to grow things. There's just so many varieties of peppers and tomatoes out there that aren't even available at markets. Plus the world of greens is just massive. I hope things get better for you soon.

    1. Thank you Phuong. I too am hoping things get better or at least that they don't get worse. There are so many vegetables that really are not possible to enjoy unless you grow them yourself and that's what really irks me, the lost opportunities to try some of those special things. But still I try to remind myself that in the big scheme of things that those are luxuries, I'm in no danger of going hungry.

  5. sounds like you need to just build a giant garden cage top to bottom and put raised beds inside of it. What a bummer. And yes, only us gardeners understand the compulsion to grow and grow more! And fight the pests!

    1. I have fantasies of building that giant cage. Crazy. But for now it remains a fantasy. We will continue on gardening in the face of pests, diseases, foul weather, and whatever else can go wrong. It's time to look at how full the glass is and shrug off the empty part.

  6. "Why can't I just be like a normal person"...that bit resonated so much I laughed out loud when I read it. Once you have the bug (as in the gardening bug), it's damn near impossible to get rid of it.

    Oh boy, Michelle - I'm aghast at the list of rodent's twice as long as the other list - argh!! I'm with you on fencing FIRST - the dang rabbits found every little gap to ravage the veg only AFTER they had their first taste. Best to not let them know what they are missing so they don't try as hard to get in.

    I have my fingers crossed that your enhanced fortifications will result in more food for you and less for the rodents. Hopefully you are able to find a combination of crops/defenses that will once again turn your garden into a pleasure rather than a source of frustration.

  7. Awwwwww!!! I know exactly how it feels to be discouraged and yes, I have the "bug" too!! There is so much to grow and only so much room and water! :-) We have to haul our water where we live so my husband used to get by with getting water once every couple weeks now he's hauling every few days. I had stopped gardening for a long, long time due to critters. First it was the birds and the cottontail bunnies and the round-tailed ground squirrels. I finally had my garden fenced on all sides and the top with chicken wire and steel panels on the sides as well. The gophers finally did me in. I don't know for sure how long I didn't garden, maybe 6 or more years!? This past October my husband put together a garden area for me as an anniversary gift and I have been having such a wonderful time with my garden. I am always bracing myself for the critters! I am not sure why they haven't found my garden although one of our cats is a mighty hunter who eats what he catches so maybe that is partly why. I just found your blog today and would love to do something similar in listing what I have growing and how much we've harvested. I have been tracking my squash yields and once a month video tape my garden and put on YouTube. I've subscribed to your Feedburner so I'll visit again. We are in similar zones - I'm in 9a in Southern Arizona.

    1. 6 years!? I don't know that I could go that long without gardening. My critter woes started with gophers and moles which is why I had my big box beds built, they're all lined with 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth to keep the gophers and moles out. Little did I know that the bunnies, rats, mice, and voles would take up the slack. Bunnies aren't a problem since I beefed up the garden fence with hardware cloth but it hasn't stopped the rodents.

      We may be in similar zones but those say nothing about high temperatures, I have to imagine that your summers are a little different from mine. :-)

      Good luck with your critters. Oh, it is handy to have a cat with good hunting skills. One of my cats is retired from hunting duties, he's almost 17 and stays inside now, but in his day we called him the "Rodenator". He even caught a number of bunnies.

  8. Hopefully I’ll have TONS o tomatoes to share! Plants doing well SO far... knock on wood... though one TOTALLY just up & disappeared (?) .. there’s some limited gopher activity... but usually the tops are left ... plus sooo far no holes around the tomatoes... knock on wood!!
    Regarding your rats... have NO IDEA if this would work ... but have you looked into electric fences? They sound like they’re pretty inexpensive... don’t know if they’d help with the digging part... but there MUST be a way??

    1. I am so happy to hear the the tomatoes are doing well. I fantasized about electric fences at one time but it never went beyond that. But just today I doused my squash and cucumber plants with HOT pepper spray and powder because SOMETHING has been munching on the squash vines and it wasn't an insect or bird. Hopefully that will do the trick otherwise it's either more hardware cloth or the compost bin. I will not share with rodents. No way. Period. Not if I can help it.

  9. I don't veg garden because of the rodents (gophers, moles, voles) keeping my plants in the bulls eye. Deer also invade (here in AG). BUT I do try to keep waterwise plants around, and that means natives and Mediterranean stuff growing so we don't look completely hardscaped over. I go out every morning and survey what's still here and count my gopher traps to make sure all six are still "producing." This should be called the Year of the Gopher.

    1. Oh yeah, I go on "rat patrol" every morning to check all the traps that are set all over the place. This seems to be the Year of the Rat/Rodent Third Edition. We had a horrible year in 2011 and then last year and again this year. I've got deer here too but as long as I remember to keep the garden gate closed and securely latched they can't get into the veggie garden. Good luck with your gopher problem. I remember when I had a big collection of regularly used gopher traps...


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