Tuesday, September 4, 2018

And The Garden Goes On, Rodents Be Damned, I'm Back

Back on August 6 I secured the veggie garden gate and with mixed feelings of disgust and relief I bade it farewell as Dave and I set off on a 3 1/2 week hiking adventure to Norway and Iceland. Honestly, as we were traipsing the trails I barely gave my garden a thought. Whatever was happening in the garden was beyond my control and was not worth worrying about.

Before our departure I had done everything I could to try to deprive the local rodents of an opportunity to feast while I was away. Pretty much everything that pleased their palates was encased in hardware cloth. Other things like squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes which could not be enclosed in rodent resistant cages were relegated to the compost bin. It's hard for me to believe but this is the first summer in years that I'm not harvesting homegrown tomatoes. So it goes.

So what did I find upon my return? Let's see.

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first.

Peppers from 2017
There's a few pepper plants growing that came back from 2017 and those plants aren't protected in any way. Of course the rodents have developed a taste for Jalapeño peppers and have figured out how to eat just the mild flesh and the seeds and leave the spicy core. I got home in time to rescue most of the peppers on one plant and pretty much stripped it of the green peppers but now I have to figure out what to do with the green peppers. I much prefer ripe red Jalapeños but I won't let the green ones go to waste. The rodents are also nibbling at the Aji peppers but so far haven't done much damage. There was a couple of cherry tomato vines behind the pepper plants but the rodents started to eat the tomatoes at the end of July so I ripped out the plants back then.

Rodent Gnawed Peppers
I had been a bit concerned that the broccoli plants would throw up some tall shoots and push open their cage while I was gone, but the rodents dug their way in and took care of trimming all the tender young shoots for me. They didn't manage to completely destroy the plants and now that I've made it more difficult for them to dig their way in I'm hoping that the plants may be able to produce more shoots.

Once the rodents were finished snacking on broccoli they dug their way into the neighboring cage where the Yellow Cabbage collards were growing and ate the tops of the plants which pretty much destroyed the plants so what was left of them is now cooking in the compost bin. After I removed the plants I covered the ground with hardware cloth to keep the boogers from digging back into the broccoli cage.

One other thing that the rodents have developed a taste for is Calendula seeds. I know it's not birds because the birds don't gather seed heads and find a nice cozy place to munch and leave behind a pile of eviscerated seed capsules.

So that was the worst of it, but as I said I didn't leave much exposed in the garden that they have a taste for. They don't dig for potatoes, celery isn't to their liking, basil is blah to them, parsley is passé, and bolting fennel is too funky. 

So let's check out the fortress that makes up the rest of my garden.

Most notable is the extraordinary defenses that I set up around the pepper patch. I put in 70 plants this year, filling almost an entire bed, and I'm not letting them go down without a fight.

I made a number of panels from 3 X 5 foot pieces of concrete remesh to which I attached hardware cloth. Those panels are attached to stakes with cable ties. I made sure that there are no gaps that the beasts can wiggle through.

In addition to the panels surrounding the bed I added 2-foot pieces of hardware cloth that juts out from the top of the panels just in case the Damn Rodents try to climb up the fence and into the bed. If they try to climb up and over they will find themselves wedged into a tight space. 

I made the "fence" fairly easy to disassemble so that if the harvests come on strong I can take the panels down for easier access. In the meantime I can use a couple of step ladders to get into the bed to check on things and do light harvesting. I don't want to get too confidant now but so far Fort Pepper seems to be effective.

First Pepper Harvest
In the bed on the other side of the main path, other than peppers from last year there's a cage where I have a couple of varieties of beans and a patch of cilantro that I seeded just before I left for vacation. I got my first harvest of Baciccia beans the first week of August and it was enough to enjoy some fresh and freeze some for later. 

I seeded some Castandel bush green beans at the end of July. Those are doing ok and I'm hoping for fresh beans in October.

On the back side of the bed I had been growing a long row of bush dry beans. As you can see the space is now empty but not because I harvested the beans. The rodents found a way into the cage that I had erected to protect the beans and they ate all the flowers and young beans. Those plants fed the compost bin back in July. I just covered the space with cardboard until I got home and just the other day I planted the corner of the bed that you see at the bottom of the photo with saffron bulbs.

Most of the rest of the veggie activity in the garden is in the next bed. One end of the bed is planted with 3 Brussels sprouts and 3 kalettes plants. Each plant has it's own protective cylinder of hardware cloth. The rodents haven't taken an interest in Brussels sprouts and kalettes in the past but I'm not taking any chances.

The celery was nibbled on back in July but the critters don't seem to have liked it so it's been unmolested since then.

That's a good thing because it grows too tall to easily keep covered up.

Mature flowering fennel hasn't been targeted by the furry pests but they have munched on young fennel at times so the new plants that I set out are in protective cages.

The same goes for the new chard plants.

Inside the cage are beets which in the past have been gnawed on, both roots and shoots.

July sown carrots are also under protective cover, rodents like carrot tops.

Celery stalks aren't on the rodent menu but they do like celery root (celeriac).

And parsnips are easier to grow under cover more to protect young seedlings from intense sun than from predation.

The last bed is where I would normally be growing mostly squash, cucumbers, and melons. There aren't any there now. I cut down the Tromba D'Albenga vines before I left for vacation because the rodents were eating the vines and the young squash. The cucumbers were also starting to attract the attention of the rodents and even without that concern there wouldn't have been anything edible on the vines after a month without harvesting so they also fed the compost bin. I wasn't even going to attempt to grow melons because last year the rodents ate all the flowers on the vines. And after my experience withe the Tromba D'Albenga plants this year the winter squash fell off the grow list also. What's left now is basil, parsley, Cilician parsley plants gone to seed, and bolting fennel from which I'm collecting fresh green seeds for culinary use.

There's a patch of Upstate Abundance potatoes left that I need to dig.

And in this corner where I dug the French Blue Belle potatoes the other day I've sown some Nema-Gone marigolds. The French Blue Belle potatoes produced a good quantity of potatoes but unfortunately a lot of them were infected with nematodes.

So that's the latest  in my garden. It's not quite what I would expect at this time of year but I'm grateful to be able to harvest what I can in the face of a seeming plague of rodents. The battle continues, I trapped another rat in the garden just yesterday and I know there's more out there because there was fresh nibbling in the unprotected pepper plants last night.

I'm back, I'm refreshed, and I'm inspired to start gardening again in whatever reasonable way I can.


  1. Well, for someone who gave up on your garden it looks like you’re doing pretty dang well. Congratulations for not giving up! Can you tell me if you had a tour company that lead your hiking? Or were you able to buy plans and maps on where to go? Sounds like something Bill and I would like to do. Thanks! Sue

    1. Dave did all the planning, booked the huts, arranged the transportation, all of it... In Norway in Jotunheimen National Park we stayed in huts where bunks with sleeping pads and meals were provided. We hiked from hut to hut but most of them were accessible by road so a lot of people drove or bussed in and spent the night and did day hikes. There might have been supported groups but I didn't take notice. I know that in Iceland on the Laugavegur hike that there were supported groups that only had to carry daypacks. Everyone hiked hut to hut but the tour guides got in by 4X4 vehicles. The huts there provided a bunk with mattress and cooking facilities but no food. The supported groups had food provided by the tour group but the rest of us had to carry all our own food. There's a lot of information on the web but you would have to talk to Dave about that since he did all the research.

    2. Wow, it sounds like Dave did a lot of research. Good for him. Norway sounds amazing, we've got to put it on our list. thanks!

  2. Good for you. You deserve success after all that effort.

  3. Awesome pepper fortress.Google has a lot of articles on rat killing dog breeds

    1. Oh yes, I've been really tempted to adopt a Rat Terrier...

  4. Fort Pepper - I love it! It made my morning to see this in my feed first thing. It's good you got away from it all for a bit and came back ready to go. I sometime smoke the end of season green jalapenos and other hot peppers for that matter like Anaheims and Anchos. It makes a tasty seasoning powder.

    1. Smoked green Jalapeños, great idea. It really did help to be away and not immersed in the daily battles. Now I have to come up with a new garden plan and find a source for good tomatoes.

  5. Hoorah! When I read your post about giving up on the vegetable growing I tried to imagine what it would take to make me stop. I couldn't imagine it so i am so pleased that you are back and inspired to keep going. May your chillis be hot and the rats find a pied piper to follow somewhere else!

    1. A pied piper, that's what I need! It seems that I've not yet come to the point of stopping completely but obviously I can't garden the way I did before so things will be changing.

  6. All I want to say is - glad your back and WOW, you are doing the best you can and I admire that.

    1. Thanks Shaheen. I just can't seem to shake the gardening habit.

  7. I'm so glad that your enthusiasm for the garden has returned & you are back! Sometimes all it takes is a wee bit of time out of the garden to get our garden mojo back :) Those are some defenses you put in place...looks like Fort Knox in there!

    1. The fortress just seems so ridiculous, all because of rats. It's a good thing I don't garden to save money. Or time. We'll see how long my mojo lasts this round!

  8. What Shaheen says.

    I haven't been monitoring vegetable and flower gardening websites since July. They all make me feel so distressed that I can't grow stuff like that. Except peppers. Got lotsa peppers.

    My sister went to Iceland hiking last year. She said the scenery was spectacular but all the same wherever she went.

    Very glad you're back to blogging. Love.

    1. Oh I know what you mean, I have had a hard time reading about other gardeners harvesting tomatoes and whatnot that is just rat chow here. Talked to a grower at the farmer's market this morning and he said that they're putting out LOTS of rat traps. The plague seems to be pretty wide spread.

      I agree with your sister, spectacular scenery, so different from anything here, but there's not a lot of variety. I'm really happy I got to see it but I don't need to go back.

  9. Thanks for the idea to keep the plant safe...

  10. Ha ha! You can't resist us or the garden! Look at that fortress you have built! Maybe you have or have not mentioned before but what about cats? do they not work on the rodents?


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I value your insights and feedback.