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