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Gardening for Life: Preventative maintenance may keep varmints from wreaking havoc on your garden

I would expect anyone who has gardened to any extent has had a problem at one time or another with animals competing for their vegetables. I’ve sure had my share through the years. I suppose one of my more unusual stories is about the neighbor’s cows getting loose and being chased through my garden by the county police at 2 a.m. But that was many years ago when there were many small dairy farms throughout Elkhart County.

More recently, my experience with animals getting into the garden is typical for most country gardeners, and probably similar to problems a city gardener might have. It seems like I hear more and more of raccoons, coyotes and similar pests being a problem in populated areas. But when you think about it, the animals were here first. So who is the real trespasser?

Two of the animals that will always be a potential problem for me are rabbits and groundhogs. I think there are two groundhogs living on my 1.14 acres at the present time. I have peacefully co-existed with the groundhogs for a number of years now, but we have had our differences in the past.

One year I came home from a weekend bluegrass event in early June and discovered a young family of groundhogs had mowed down nearly all my young bean plants. My beans eventually recovered, the groundhogs did not.

Killing anything is against my nature, but when it comes down to it I will do what is necessary to protect my garden. Over the years I have tried a number of things to repel animals. Blood meal, human hair and coyote urine crystals are some of things I have used with little effect. Eventually, I came up with the best solution I know of in keeping most critters out of my vegetable patch: a fence. I think a fence is the single best thing you can do to protect your garden from four-legged pests. Raccoons coming after your ripe sweet corn is another story altogether.

I fenced in about a third of my garden area with something substantial enough to keep out rabbits and groundhogs. The fenced in area is where I plant most of my crops that those animals prefer. They will eat most any garden veggie, but do seem to prefer beans, peas and carrot tops. I have never had any problems with such things as potatoes and tomatoes.

When I built my raised beds a few years back, I had in mind something that would help keep out rabbits. By having these beds several feet high it seems to keep animals from getting into the vegetables I plant inside. Of course, groundhogs are good climbers, but they tend to go for the easier stuff.

I have used live traps to capture groundhogs, raccoons, rabbits and several unlucky feral cats. When you trap and release animals you need to take them to an area at least a few miles away to prevent them from returning back to your property. You also need to have permission of the landowner. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources does allow for trapping or shooting of some these animals if they are causing problems for the homeowner.


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