Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Combating groundhogs

Digging Prevention
After a few days of "groundhog induced depression" I began planning how to reconstruct the garden to effectively keep out groundhogs. I now knew from experience that they can easily dig under a fence and I also learned that they can climb fences. As I was watching one ground hog pulling collard leaves off the plant I could see another one sitting on top of the five foot wooden fence that surrounds our backyard. There are videos of ground hogs on top of twelve foot fences.

Climbing Prevention
I looked through a number of different websites (most of which can be found on under gardening, challenges, pests) and determined that fencing was my best option. But it had to be done correctly. Since ground hogs can dig under fences it is necessary to put a barrier on or under the soil at the base of the fence.  That is what is shown in the photo to the left. I used two foot chicken wire laid flat on the ground. I first raked as much of the mulch and soil as I could off the path and rolled out the chicken wire.

Then I began putting in 3 foot metal fence posts about every five feet. The posts were five or six inches from the edge of the chicken wire.
These posts have a 3-4 inch stabilizer that needs to be pounded into the ground and so it was necessary to cut away some of the wire around where the post was going to go so that the stabilizer didn't "hang up" on the wire as it was pounded in. I found it useful to take a two foot piece of rebar and pound it in where I wanted the post to go to make sure that I wasn't going to encounter shale. If the rebar went down as far as the post needed to go I knew it was okay to pound in the post. I used a level to make sure each post was as vertical as possible.

The next step was to add the four foot vertical chicken wire, attached to the posts. Four foot fencing on three foot posts was intentional. Groundhogs are good climbers. But they don't like wobbly fences. The top foot of the chicken wire is not connected to anything and it tends to flop backwards toward the path. It is secured to the post near the top with zip ties so that it can't easily be pulled off the post by a ten pound ball of climbing fur.

The next step was to crawl around the fence and connect with vertical chicken wire to the horizontal chicken wire with zip ties every six to nine inches so that the fencing effectively becomes one piece.  The final step was to pull soil and mulch over the chicken wire on the ground so that the wire was covered.

There is only one entrance to the three garden beds that are enclosed in the fencing. It is where the black pot is in the photo. I slid a piece of plexiglass on the inside of the fencing using rebar to keep it close to the two fence posts and I slid an old bike route metal sign (gathered some years ago from Onondaga Creek during a clean-up) on the outside, again using rebar to keep it close to the other side of the two fence posts. Presumably ground hogs cannot climb up either of these surfaces.

The only potential weakness I see is that around the opening and at the corners the fencing is taut and could be climbed. At the top the animal would then have to jump into the garden. I plan to add a few aluminum pie plates in these areas because apparently things that move frighten ground hogs.

Nothing is more disheartening than animals eating our food.

We had seen a groundhog in the back yard from time to time. It had been living under our rain barrels at some time because when I finally got around to leveling the slightly tilted rain barrel there was a huge hole underneath it. Too large to be from the rain overflow when the barrel was full. Plus the soil was pushed up against the wood fence, not something that water would do. I filled in the hole but a couple of days later it was there again. Ground hog, I concluded. I called the trapper and he set a trap on either side of the hole. No success. I filled in the hole again and put wire fencing on the ground over the area.

Having learned previously what ground hogs like, I planted our greens (collards, kale and some Asian greens) along with parsley, peas and pole beans inside a fenced area. The ground hog was still seen in the yard outside the fence. I believed my greens, etc., were relatively safe although I knew that ground hogs could dig under fences. This fencing only extended a few  inches below soil level. The fencing was three foot rabbit fencing.
Dinosaur Kale

I haven't studied ground hog psychology but it seems to me that it didn't attack my garden until I ticked it off by adding wire fencing around the bottom of one side of the wooden fencing that runs around our back yard. As soon as I did this the ground hog (or hogs as the case seems to be) went under or over my fence and laid waste to the kale, collards, and parsley and started on the beans and peas. The dinosaur kale, seen here, was wiped out because not only the leaves but the growing centers were eaten. This was not true of the white Russian kale (below) either because they didn't find that so tasty or were interrupted before they could clean that out.
White Russian Kale
Not only were some of the leaves left but the plants have their growing points intact.
The parsley was also chewed down but looks like it too will grow back.

I had two trellises of pole beans. I put a circle of fencing around one of the trellises. Next morning the beans that were not protected were eaten.

In the fenced area I have a wooden frame with screen covers. The purpose was to grow Asian greens inside protected from flea beetles. One of the two screens had been pushed aside and a few of the greens eaten.

It is hard to explain how annoying/irritating/depressing it is to find plants that were growing nicely and producing daily meals of greens devastated overnight. I just felt helpless. There is a fence around the yard. There is a fenced in garden area. I was working on making the wooden fence more secure. I was outwitted by a fat little (at 10 pounds probably not so little) rodent. And it didn't even share nicely.

Another loss in the fenced-in garden was some of the soybeans. They had been recently planted and were just emerging and were under the rectangle of hardware cloth that is seen in this photo. The covering was not nailed down and the groundhog just pushed under the edge of it and ate about half of the seedlings.

 The groundhog(s) apparently entered the fenced area from the path to the right as there were three or four places where the soil had been moved and there were also bits of fur on the path, perhaps from a hasty retreat when I saw them and came screaming into the back yard. I wanted more than just fur!