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The Lost Battle

by germinatrix | September 12th, 2009

Has anybody who used to read my old Domino blog noticed that I haven’t been posting pictures of my vegetable garden this year? There is a very good reason – one that my followers on Twitter have been privvy to (much to their chagrin – my shrill ‘tweets’ must have been a touch grating!) … I have been HORRIBLY beset by critters. Actually, ‘critters’ is too cute a word. MONSTERS is more like it. My lovely vegetable beds were no match for the gophers/possums/moles/voles/rats/squirrels that descended on my crops and turned my organic garden into their private Farmer’s Market.

rat 1this is the work of a rat, who I call ‘ratfink’. Yuk.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was just the voracious ratfink – I’m used to him … we did battle last year, and at a certain point we settled into an uneasy kind of ‘detante’ … he didn’t do too much damage, and as long as I tossed the bad veg his way, the impact was fairly minimal. But this year it was more than the gnawing of a rat. There was the work of a squirrel, too – who picks the desired tomato or strawberry and takes it with him, so you don’t even see a half eaten fruit as evidence! You just look for the nearly ripe vegetable you were  about to pick and think “Am I crazy? Wasn’t it here yesterday?”. And then there was the worst, the varmint that drove me out of my gourd … that made me come face-to-face with my choice to have an organic ‘no-kill’ garden, what that means to me, and where that becomes impossible. The gopher.

he at all my fennel, all my artichokes, all of my parsley ...he ate all my fennel, all my artichokes, all of my parsley …

I thought it was a vole – but then I saw him. A classic, dorky looking buck-toothed gopher. And I have to say, he was so close I could have beheaded him with my trusty hori knife – but he was so cute and so timid.He kept trying to get to the artichoke that he’d recently felled, and he just couldn’t … he was scared. I let him live. My twitter posse told me I was a fool – and I KNEW they were right, but somehow I thought that we’d made a non verbal promise – I won’t behead you, and you stop fucking with my precious garden! Stupid, stupid human. The gopher obviously wasn’t on the same page. The next day, he ate all my lettuce.

what a bastard! never trust a gopher ... they have no soulswhat a bastard! never trust a gopher … they have no souls
here it is - a gopher hole. he covered it over within minuteshere it is – a gopher hole. he covered it over within minutes

The solution was obvious – take all the soil out of the beds and line the bottom with chicken wire. I guess I should’ve done it during the building of the beds – but we’d NEVER had gopher issues in this neighborhood! I never even thought about it! So most of this summer was about retro-fitting the beds rather than growing fabulous organic produce. And once the beds were done, I breathed a large sigh of relief.

Stupid, stupid  human.

Organic vegetables aren’t the only things gophers love to eat. Among their favorite snacks are phormiums, grasses, and – aloes. Yes. I saw them fall, one by one, as the tunneling demon made his way to my gravel seating area, which is ringed by some very prized specimen aloes. First, three beautiful aloe barbadensis, all flowering – toppled over, roots and crown gnawed into oblivion. Then the phormiums, two 5ft tall Phormium tenax bronze came apart in my hands as I inspected them to figure out why they were flopping. Then a beautiful Phormium ‘Red Dark Green’ I’d put in three years ago. An aloe plicatilis was the next victim, and then I realized where this devil from hell was going – to Willard – my Aloe marlothii!!! (everybody who reads this KNOWS how I feel about HIM!). What a feast THAT would be! The blood froze in my veins. That was IT. I had been pushed over the line. No more flooding tunnels, no more smoke bombs, no more granulated castor oil, no more sonic thumpers (USELESS!) – and for the record – he ate Euphorbia martinii (which could be considered Gopher Spurge) for breakfast. I WILL NOT lose my ALOES! You have pushed me THIS far – NO FURTHER!!!

I called The Gopher Patrol.

I didn’t want to know what they were going to do. I will be in denial over this. Over this, I am no longer strictly organic. I understand that some awful gas was pumped into the tunnels. The attacks have stopped. The gopher is dead. My big aloes are alive.

… but I feel bad. Really, really bad. Damned gopher. Rest in peace.

the little aloe on the right was the first one to go.the little aloe on the right was the first one to go.

14 Responses to “The Lost Battle”

  1. I’d feel bad, but I’d have done it too, Germi. One can only take so much plant abuse before one has to protect her babies at any cost.

  2. Germi, dear Germi,
    Need I say that you did the right thing?? You took action in the only way left after so much loss – Something’s gotta give – our little friend pushed you to the limit!!
    Your post has me a bit crazy because I’ve had weird and strange losses with ornamentals. I see evidence – heaps of soil as in your picture – and did see gopher or vole/mole holes last year & the year before. Mature beloved shrubs and specimens plants – a variegated Osmanthus, rare abutilons from Hersonwood, a lovely tiarella & a Salvia, among them – have dropped dead!! I can draw a line 8 feet long or so connecting one plant to the next to the next, et al. But the reality is… I’m just not able to deal with it right now. I’m livin’ in dah state of de…nial.

    If your garden is at last peaceful & hassle-free, it’s well deserved and that’s for sure :~] tendril

  3. Hi Ivette.

    I don’t know which is worse, having a Tahoe run into the side of your house or having this eating and digging machine going berserk in the garden. “Why you little!” (insert Homer voice). At least I can call the insurance company!

    I cannot believe the damage he was doing, one thing is a vegetable here and there, but when the agaves and a host of other plants start falling…oh yeah, it was more than time for him to pop his clogs, sorry, I mean pack his bags and “go”! I think I would have been out there lurking in the ornamental grass with a 12 bore! Sonic thumpers? It sounds more like these would be attracting rather large worms (worm sign) than discouraging gophers!

    I had a really horrible experience with rats in my garden shed a year or so back, (tingle in left foot), all of these vermin are all around us all the time, but it seems at some point a line is crossed then we have to take more “drastic” measures, then naturally feel guilty about it.

    Glad you have the status-quo restored, you will be all ready for next years veg garden.


  4. You are not a stupid human. There was a time when we were smarter though–we could coexist with other mammals. In our need for new housing and further human use of the land, we have left the critters little and yet wonder why why why they are eating our plants and doing all kinds of other damage. You have moles, rats, squirrels–we have all of those plus woodchucks, rabbits, fox and deer. No, I don’t live in the country. I live in NJ 30 miles from NYC in a neighborhood of 50 x 100 lots with little woodland and lots of paving–not much for the non-human mammals to eat. If we really want the earth to be a better place, we have to do so much more than organic gardening–we have to find a way to include all species in our mix to be truly sustainable. I’m getting off my soap box now…

  5. If you could have seen the pain on my face when I read about your wildlife visitors! I know how you feel because we once had a mole and in the end resorted to one of those horrible mole traps. We got him in the end but I felt horrible about the whole thing. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  6. Yikes. One…you have made me feel so lucky that I have never had to face this. Two…I would have done that same thing you did. Maybe sooner (I know, I am a bad person). Be at peace.

  7. This post has forced me to come to grips with my self-absorbed plant obsession. I was reading along, wincing in sympathy, then came to the part where you mention your Phormium ‘Red Dark Green.’ What? A phormium cultivar I don’t know?

    And poof, all your troubles vanished from my brain as I raced to Google away my ignorance.

    But now that I’m back, no question you made the right decision. That gopher was a terrorist.

  8. Germi oh Germi,

    Let me tell you we have been there. I actually played tug of war with a prized aloe–I tugging the top the gopher working downward. I saw the whole darn thing wiggle before I went & grabbed it.

    I was always too chicken too kill them even if I managed to spot one.

    Nick on the other hand has drowned them, exploded them, beheaded them, always without mercy. We never got to gas but then we didn’t have to. Killer Nick, plus the increasing feral cat population, plus some helpful (if scary looking) six foot gopher snakes got us back in balance.

    Would you like some feral cats? Please?

    Meanwhile, stop worrying about killing that gopher. Plants are sentient beings too, and they have a right to be protected!

  9. Oh, you guys – thank you for the kind words! I’ve been poking around and still have seen no evidence – so hopefully this fiend is gone, and I am doing what I can to prevent another one from taking up residence!

    Pam! You are right – that is what I felt like – an angry mother! A Mama Bear! It had to come to this … but I am still very committed to my organic practices, and will hopefully NEVER have to resort to another foray into BADNESS!

    Sweet Tendril, I understand the DENIAL! I was there – and I’d rationalize, and ignore – it’s funny that as soon as the species that I collect were threatened, I couldn’t take it! Watch those piles of soil carefully … and I’m here for moral support should you need to take the big step. XOXO!

    OMG, ESP – I think your recent Tahoe-In-The-Living-Room experience trumps mine! I was driven mad by the gopher, but my fury at a drunk driver plowing into my house would have been enough to turn me into a vengeful beast! I have to totally hand it to you for keeping your head!
    (BTW, I was so excited about the mention in your blog! I too, must have an opuntia tree – but I think first, I must have an opuntia!)
    The sonic thumpers may be useful on Arrakis, but not in Eagle Rock. Well, they did turn into french bulldog annoyance devices – Sadie would dance around them, tossing her head and trying to get it to charge at her. I haven’t seen any extra large worms, but if I do, they go right into my compost bin! After I ride it around the garden, that is!
    OOOOOO…. rats …… bbbbbggggglllllrrrrr….. they are permanent residents of my garden, thanks to my neighbor, who seems to really enjoy their company. I try to have a carefree, ‘I’m cool, you’re just a rat’ attitude, but I have to admit to being creeped out. But I try to co-exist. But ICK! I hope your shed remains rat-free. Thank you for your good thoughts and yes – here’s hoping next year’s vegetables are eaten by my family and friends rather than my vermin!

    Oh, Susan, I love your soapbox! Feel free to hop on it ANYTIME you’re here! I agree with you, and my situation is similar to yours – we in Los Angeles live VERY close to wild areas, and we encroach and take natural open space away from native wildlife all the time … where else can they go? Even though Eagle Rock is an old neighborhood well inside the city of LA, we have open, uncultivated hills all around us that are unfortunately being developed – and so I think your point is very important – how do we coexist? It IS their planet, too, afterall! Just DON’T TOUCH MY ALOE! sigh… I am still so conflicted about this! Thanks for the thoughtful words!

    Oh, Jenny, was it one of those terrible decapitation devices? Have you seen those? It looks like a horrible ancient torture device ( which it is, I guess!), a triangular trap that looks like a crocodile’s mouth – you open the ‘jaws’, put it in the tunnel, then wait for it to bite the critter. BBBBBLLLLYYYYUUUUUKKKKK! I havt that we have to resort to these measures! I’m so glad you solved your problem in whatever way you had to, because your garden is SO AMAZING, and it ould hurt my heart if there were any serious damage. I’m with you – we have to do what we have to do, but the guilt remains. But thankfully, so do our gardens!

    Loree! Thanks for the comforting words, because even though I KNOW I had to do it, I still feel bad … the gopher was kind of cute, kind of Disney. But still – he was a fiend. I hope and pray you NEVER have to deal with a gopher! Because they tunnel, I think they are the most destructive – or at least as destructive as deer. After all of the damage, I think I SHOULD have gone to the big guns sooner – but at least I feel like I learned something along the way that I can impart to clients. When it comes to gophers, serious action needs to be taken quickly! XO!

    Susan you made me laugh SO HARD – I am the same way … my emotions can be all wrapped up in a story, but if a plant I don’t know is mentioned – hold the phone! I have to see it, find it, and possibly buy it before I can continue with the story! HAHAHA! We are plant maniacs, afterall! P. ‘Red Dark Green’ is really lovely – I’d describe it as a smaller version of P. ‘Maori Chief’, which I love. I am going to be replacing my lost one ASAP! And thanks for the kind words … it really helps that the gardeners I admire are understanding. It makes the difficult decision sit a little better … I can put it in better perspective. My garden is everything. My pride, my joy, my laboratory … how wonderful to be able to reach out to a supportive and understanding community.


  10. Dude. I totally understand. A raccoon stripped open my english peas and ate them straight from the pod and left the pods dangling from the vines. Grrr.

  11. Thats really sad to see what they have done to your sweet garden. although i dont get any gophers or moles or squirrels but the naughty kids in neighbor fill this deficiency.

  12. Hi Germi! I was wondering what became of your veggie beds. Sorry to hear about the evil onslaught! I set up raised beds this past Spring and miraculously have not had critters eat anything. The only problem is that in the last month (and only in the last month) I’ve noticed little tunnels in the beds. Some animal is burrowing from the top of the bed, down below, and coming up on the other side of the bed. The beds are only 8 inches high and have weed block fabric underneath. There are no gopher holes anywhere in my yard. This critter isn’t taking anything, it’s just tunneling. Any ideas on what this could be?!

  13. In the last year my cat posse brought 5 gophers (and 4 squirrels) inside (catdoor) and left them on the bathroom rug. they are immensely cute and furry. only one was alive and somehow NOT injured i picked him up, pet him, admired his teeth, and put him back outside. so far they’re in a part of the yard inhabited only by a young olive tree. wish i could get them to rototill the hard as rock dirt for a new planting area. then leave of course. wanna borrow Wyatt Earp chief gopher hunter?

  14. Smoke bombs do not work the mole has escape tunnels far below ground where the air is very thin. Smoke will not be able to reach it and predators will run out of air. Flooding is also not very good and very inhumane. Moles are good swimmers and once the water has dried out the mole will return. hope this helps.

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