Gardening for Life: Pests sometimes come in unusual and cuddly forms

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By: Jim Carpenter

The phrase “those darn cats” has been uttered by me several times these last few days.

This is in reference to the “digging in the dirt” evidence these animals have left in my recently tilled garden. I should mention that these are feral barn cats that have lived here for a number of years. A best guess at their population is around the 2 to 4, in cat range. I say range because I haven’t seen two of the cats for a number of months. I am hopeful.

We inherited these feline creatures several years ago from a cat-loving daughter who was living with us at the time. She at least got them all fixed before she moved on. Cat-less, I might add. I continue to provide food and water, and there is some straw and shelter in the barn they stay in. Their usefulness seems non-existent these days, as we still get mice in the house and the moles run rampant in the yard. My goal right now is simply to out live them. But I know there are far more serious problems in the world so I guess I will just pretend I am taking care of my livestock and recall memories of those early days on the family farm.

Back to the problem at hand. A few years back we actually had a much larger colony of cats living in the barn than we do now. Those cats considered any freshly tilled garden area to be their own giant cat box. The fenced-in portion of my garden was originally meant to protect my crops from rabbits and groundhogs, but ended up being more important as a means to keep the barn cats out. But lately, with diminished numbers of cats roaming the property, I made the decision to remove the fence. It was not the best decision.

Usually the cats do not dig enough to disturb the transplanted plants I will put in later. My potato pieces are not usually dug up either, although I have had to replant a few hills (albeit very carefully considering what might be deposited around it). It is in my raised beds that the cat excavation can be quite a problem. Most of my smaller seeds (carrots, lettuce, etc.) I try to plant in one of my raised beds to better control weeding, watering, etc. This is where a little digging by one of the cats might seriously disrupt the carefully planted rows. I try to repair the damage, but I sometimes end up with uneven rows. This is mainly a problem when I want to lay down mulch between the rows.

Needless to say, I have had to do a little reconstructing with some of the early seeds I planted recently. I have also had to replant some early onions that were dislodged from their initial places in the dirt. The onions hadn’t started growing yet, so as long as the cats don’t get too carried away I should be okay. I think the cats do some of their digging merely out of curiosity.

It has been several days, and it looks like the cat damage may be mostly done. Actually, now that I think about it, beyond a little digging in the spring, the cats do nothing else to hurt the garden the rest of the year. In fact, if I want to get real charitable, it’s possible they may even keep some vole/rabbit type pests away from the garden.

Switching gears away from feline difficulties, I have seldom grown peas in the garden as I just never had much luck with them. My main problem was not providing a good support or trellis for them to grow on. Looking at a book in the third grade elementary class I volunteer with, I saw where the girl in the story made little tripods with bamboo sticks for her peas to climb on. Interesting. I was looking at my seed packs the other day and noticed I had a partial container of heirloom pea seeds.

Now I have a small crop of peas planted. I have them planted around four 3- to 4-foot long sticks in a kind of tripod (quadrapod?) fashion. I stuck them in the dirt a bit and then tied them together at the top. I constructed two of these supports. Since the pea seed was several years old I planted it a bit heavy.

I don’t know yet if I might be able to raise a small crop of peas this year, but it really was kinda fun making the supports for them. I guess it is exactly this type of enjoyment that helps offset the times when a cat might take it upon themselves to rearrange some of your garden!

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