Category Archives: Gardening

The 2016 Garden: the Plan to Defeat the Procyon Pests

Winter is normally spent contemplating and planning for the next spring’s plantings, but this winter, I had to do an extra measure of planning. Last summer’s garden was seriously damaged by masked varmints: raccoons found the luscious ripening tomatoes, ravaging every plant, from the Black Krims to the sweet cherries, chomping the fruit and ripping down the stems. (The raccoons also did a bit of damage to the renovated breezeway, making a few small tears in the new, lightweight screen. Apparently, though, the fruits of the garden were much more attractive to the mischief-makers than was the food-free porch.)

I’d dealt with squirrels and successfully kept out rabbits in the past, but this was the first time I’d had to contend with the clever Procyon pests. After consulting with other gardeners, as well as my best friend—who lives in the country and deals with raccoons almost every night—I learned that I would need to do more research in order to find out how I might be able to keep the raccoons out of my 2016 garden.

The raccoon is an example of just how perfectly able animals are at adapting to almost any human-altered environment. When considering the “enemy,” what first comes to mind might be their forepaws, which are almost human-like in their ability to grasp and manipulate everything they grab. The raccoon’s sense of touch is its most important: not only are the front paws extremely sensitive, nearly two-thirds of the sensory area of the brain is dedicated to interpretation of tactile sensations. The raccoon “hand” only lacks an opposable thumb, which gives humans the advantage in that regard. The raccoon’s brain is also very adept, with excellent problem-solving and memorization skills.

My having opposable thumbs, however, did not give me an advantage last summer against the clever nocturnal garden invaders; I did not get to enjoy more than a very few of the fruits of my tomato-gardening labor.

Building a raccoon-proof wall—no guarantee there—around the vegetable garden is not practical. If I want to plant tomatoes and other succulent vegetables this spring, I would need to come up with something more practical, reasonable, and affordable. Winter investigations proved that for many, the first choice of defense was electric fencing, using a high-voltage, low-amp charger to deliver intermittent pulses to keep out the pests. For several reasons, this was not a solution that appealed to me.

Fortunately, I discovered that there are simpler, less expensive alternatives. These range from battery-operated sprinklers, to solar-powered “predator control” lights, to the simplest of all, a portable radio, set to a talk radio station. (Which leads me to wonder whether a station dedicated to “discussion” of the current Presidential candidate debates would not only drive animal pests away, but perhaps kill the plants.)

Spring 2016 has just arrived and while I haven’t yet decided on all of my vegetable plantings for this year, I feel much more confident about my choices, knowing that I have a number of good possible solutions for my raccoon rivals….provided they aren’t politicians.


Monarchs Rule

 9.18.15 monarch on mexican torch 2

Monarch visiting Mexican Torch sunflower

September 19, 2015

Today, for the first time in years, I am seeing Monarch butterflies in my yard.

First, this morning, one landed on the sedum in front of the evergreen bushes by the front door, then flew on to the Mexican Torch sunflowers at the other end of the porch. That single Monarch lingered on the sunflower while I ran an errand, tarrying there for nearly 20 minutes.

Later, as I relaxed with Melanie, Tank, and Donal on the breezeway, I watched a micro-band of Monarchs swarming the backyard sunflower patch. Four individuals flittered and danced from flower to flower, preferring the fiery red-orange Mexican Torches to the sedate pale yellow Italian Whites.

The sunflower patch can now be called a sunflower bush. Although beginning as several individual plants, they’ve grown so closely together, to over six feet tall and wide, taking on the proportions of a giant, multi-branched individual.

Between the critters and me on the breezeway and the sunflowers is a wide expanse of overgrown lawn. Grass and weed seed-heads sway in the breeze and pairs of tiny brown and orange butterflies swirl up from the blades, twirling and cavorting around each other before disappearing into the low-leaved limbs of the maple tree.

Although the grassy savannah closest to the house will become a vegetable garden next spring, I think the space just beyond, between the two pear trees will be set aside for a butterfly kingdom, a space where monarchs may rule again.