Sunday, May 26, 2019

Groundhog Day

Kim and I are both a little hesitant to bed out a few more Mortgage Lifter tomato plants. We're just not quite sure that we're free of our rodent problem.

Or, more precisely, our groundhog problem.

It wasn't that long ago – maybe a few months – when I just happened to look out my kitchen window and saw a 10- or 12-pound groundhog traipsing through our backyard.

I didn't think much of it at the time, other than how peculiar I thought it was for a groundhog to be inside the city limits. I mean, we've lived in our present location for more than 15 years now and had never seen anything more destructive than a couple of platoons from the army of squirrels that overrun our neighborhood.

Then, a few weeks ago, Kim sowed 11 Mortgage Lifters plants in a patch of earth we'd carefully nourished and cultivated with compost since the beginning of last winter. We were ready.

The abundant rain we had this Spring was wonderful. The plants were growing and producing blossoms. I even had them in cages. Mmmmm. Tomato sandwiches by July.

A Mortgage Lifter tomato plant under assault...
 Then, one day, the groundhog was back after a brief absence. I saw her. What I didn't see at first was the damage she was doing to our tomato plants. Apparently, groundhogs are connoisseurs of fine tomato plants. She'd eaten the leaves off three of our plantings, leaving only sorry looking stalks.

I went into action. I called Animal Control. But unless this was about cats or dogs, all they could do was give advice. Groundhogs are considered "wildlife" and as such, it is up to us to determine how to rid ourselves of the pest. We can do just about anything except shoot them because it's unlawful to discharge a weapon within the city limits.

The next day, Kim happened to look out the kitchen window, trying to spot the culprit groundhog.

"Bruce, come here," she hollered to me while I was watching TV in the next room. I'm always watching TV in the next room. "You've got to see this."

What I saw was four – count 'em, folks, four – groundhog young'uns in my next door neighbor's yard, grazing on the clover, I suspect.

What we decided to do was set up a humane trap, especially since I'm not partial to using poison in a vegetable garden. I ran to Wikipedia to find out how to bait groundhogs and learned they like cantaloupe, among other things. So we borrowed a trap from one of our friends, baited it and set it in our neighbor's yard, because that's apparently where the burrow is.

We once used a humane trap to catch opossums ('Possums' if you're Southern) when we lived in a different neighborhood, but all we ended up catching was our neighbor's cat. Twice. She looked confused.

Anyway, getting back to our current dilemma, I set the trap and patiently waited until morning. No groundhog, but the cantaloupe was gone, once again proving how much smarter nature is than we are. Unless a cat is involved, I guess.

A groundhog young'un (dead center, maybe even dead) plans his assault.
 In the meantime, something traumatic happened. One of the groundhog young'uns met its demise, apparently trying to cross the street without looking both ways first. Even today, four days later, his carcass is in the middle of the road, flatter than a postage stamp. The coroner's report said it was death by motor vehicle.

Groundhogs have few natural predators to begin with: foxes, coyotes. Maybe Chevrolets. One of my neighbors is a biology teacher and she noted this was simply an example of natural selection.

Oddly enough, we haven't seen any evidence since then of the surviving groundhogs. I don't know if they've gone into mourning, or what. But it's why we're reluctant to try more plants. We just don't know whether it's safe to replant or not.

Nevertheless, we're still leaving the remaining stalks in the ground. Some still have leaves, and we've been trying to rejuvenate them with Miracle Gro, knowing full well that a miracle is what is required. It could happen. You never know.

Meanwhile, word has spread through the neighborhood about the groundhogs. Other neighbors have reported destruction in their gardens. One local business said, forget it, there are groundhogs all over the place. We might be overwhelmed and just don't know it yet.

I'm constantly amazed by how much wildlife is inside the city limits. In the past decade, we've seen possoms (Okay, so this Yankee has been assimilated), raccoons and now groundhogs. My wife works near the old hospital and the employees there have recently seen a doe and her fawn.

Nature. Who knew?

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