Sustainability, the First Time Organic Gardener, and Carl Spackler

chipmunkIf you were one of my Facebook friends, you would be able to see that right now “Robin is channeling Carl Spackler. Where’s the dynomite!”

You remember Carl Spackler, don’t you? The Bill Murray character from Caddyshack. The guy whose only goal in life was to get the gopher. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t. Because he knew. He knew that “a varmit will never quite – ever. They’re like the Viet Cong – Varmint Cong.”

Okay, let’s back up. Late last year, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Up until then, I had been focusing a lot on energy conservation and recycling. But Kingsolver’s book opened my eyes to the importance that food plays in sustainability. I got excited and couldn’t wait for the spring so I could plant an organic garden.

In April, my kindergartener and I planted seeds in yogurt cups and nurtured them while they grew on the window sill. In May, my husband (with a broken arm) tilled a plot in the back yard. My family loaded up garbage cans full of compost from a local department of public works and dumped it into the garden. I bought organic plant food from the farmer’s market. We planted four kinds of tomatoes, carrots, peppers, eggplant, green beans, and a variety of herbs. Then we waited, lovingly weeding and watering and watching.

Then came the varmints. First they got the carrots. I didn’t freak. I knew carrots were a risk with all the rabbits we have in the backyard. Then they got my cilantro. Next went the green beans and every single flower on the eggplants. I tried various natural critter control. None of it worked. I even planted marigolds that are supposed to repel the bunnies. The bunnies ate them. They invited their friends the squirrels and chipmunks to the party, too.

Although I was a bit disappointed that half of my garden was gone, I still had my tomatoes. They weren’t touching them. I somehow thought there was an unspoken agreement between me and the critters. I didn’t freak about the carrots and beans and they would leave my tomatoes alone. It took what seemed like forever for the first ones to start to turn red. I waited and watched. One morning I saw that the first tomato was just about ripe for picking. “One more day in the sun,” I thought.

Later that afternoon, I went outside and there was my tomato, half eaten in the middle of the backyard! I went in the house and asked my husband how long it would take me to buy a high powered rifle.

We decided to go a little less violent route, though. We built a frame around the tomato plants and secured it on all sides and on top with bird netting. It took us the better part of last Saturday. We thought it was the perfect solution.

An hour later, I went outside, and there in between a couple of tomato plants was what was left of a beautiful red Roma tomato that had longed to become sauce. I looked and inside the newly constructed varmint proof structure was a chipmunk. It made its way out, nimbly squeezing itself under the bird netting that we thought was so secure.

That’s when I started to channel Carl Spackler. I was a woman obsessed.

I started to investigate some not so natural varmint control. “Just a little bit of chemicals,” I thought. Enough to keep them out. My kids wouldn’t need to know I did it, and It seemed like a safer alternative than the high powered rifle.

Then my senses came back to me. I would not give in. I started taking the tomatoes off the vine when they began to show signs of turning and now I’m ripening them on sunny window sills. They’re all over the house right now.

I don’t get everything right when it comes to trying to live sustainably. This garden was one thing that I committed to doing right from start to finish. Nobody said it would be easy. But I’ve got neighbors watching and two young boys. I’ve also got myself to live with. Carl’s dynomite is safe for now.

So how do you, both practically and mentally, deal with the pests that throw parties in your gardens?

Image of the varmint courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Read more about organic gardening:

Edible Activism: Changing the World Through What We Eat

Involve your Child in Your Organic Garden

My Garden Rant: You Grow Girl

  1. codesuidae

    For tomatoes, get them growing nice and straight up, and tie them up to a trellis to keep everything going up. I don’t use those silly cages that turn them into big tangled piles ‘o plant, I train them into flat forms (espalier tomatoes!) on a support made from electrical conduit.

    Once you get them going up keep the bottom several inches trimmed free of branches. One source I read says to prune all branches up to the first one that is flowering, and to remove those that aren’t flowering. I try to keep about the first 8-10 inches free of branches.

    This tends to discourage squirrely critters around here. They can climb and jump if they need to, but they are less likely to discover the good stuff up above and so desire to do so. Maybe not a bad idea to grow some diversionary crops that they would like to eat in locations that provide more cover for them. Most squirrels don’t like dense populations and they can only eat so much, so if you keep them full of stuff you weren’t going to eat anyway it helps to keep your crops safer.

  2. Liquesence

    There are organic repellants that work: Liquid Fence is one, made of putrescent eggs and garlic. It stinks, but it works, and deer and rabbits hate it. I planted collards, lettuce, turnips, tomatoes, and peppers, and had nary a problem with creatures (and i live in the rural southeastern US) As for Chipmunks, they burrow underground, so that is why the netting didn’t work for them. If i correctly recall, the makers of Liquid Fence make a variety of repellants. The thing i am stuck on is how to keep aphids and whiteflys from infesting the garden (i have green “recipes”). Another thing you might try (which i had thought about to keep DOGS from trampling my garden) is to run an electric fence around it (electrified chicken wire). Hope this helps you for next year!

  3. Robin Shreeves

    Thanks for the advice.

    codesuidae – you know, I’ve taken a few tomatoes and placed them outside the fenced area, and they are left completely intact!

    Liquesence – I’ll look into Liquid Fence.

  4. Pam

    LOL…I don’t even bother with any of it. I do the CSA and bought in to a local organic farm share. Less effort, less stress and for the same amount of money I’ll be supporting my local farmers. πŸ™‚

  5. Robin Shreeves

    Pam – That’s great that you support the CSA and local organic farm share. I think there needs to be both going on. Those who aren’t interested in gardening or can’t garden for one reason or another supporting the local farms and people who are willing to plant gardens in their backyards and balconies.

    I have to tell you – right now there is a pot of sauce simmering on my stove with Roma tomatoes, basil, parsley and oregano picked from the garden and it is the biggest sense of accomplishment. Something like that makes a normal Tuesday night dinner extra special.

  6. suzanne

    I am have big hopes of starting my first organic garden this year. After reading your posts, I am worried about pests. I also am a little overwhelmed because it’s all new to me. Does anyone have tips for getting started. This is how funny it is: I bought a compost pail for indoors. I have filled it up with food scraps and now because I don’t know what to do next exactly, my little pail is just sitting there and the new food scraps are going in the garbage. Help!

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