The Snarky Gardener discusses not his love for groundhogs, but what groundhogs love to eat from his garden.
For the garden, groundhogs are very destructive. They have great appetites and can wipe out a whole season’s productivity. Fencing does help, although groundhogs are known for going under or over to get at the buffet the Snarky Gardener has provided. After seasons of experience, the SG has developed a strategy to mitigate vegetable loss. Below is a list of groundhog favorites and another list of those that have never been touched. Some of the “groundhog safe” plants have even been grown outside the fence with no munching, including garlic, onions, turnips, and various herbs. Going forward, more of these will be planted outside the fencing and efforts will be redoubled (more fencing!) to keep these little guys out of the good stuff.
Groundhogs have never munched on:
Herbs (lemon balm, thyme, sage, basil, rosemary)
What groundhogs really love (in order):
Corn (pulled down the stalks to eat the cobs!)
Pumpkins (the outside of the fruit)
The Snarky Gardener’s love/hate relationship with groundhogs
Last year, the Snarky Gardener was telling his co-workers about how groundhogs kept getting into his garden, even with a fence. The consensus answer was that it wasn’t a problem a small caliber gun couldn’t solve. Then I had to explain how the Snarky Girlfriend just loves groundhogs. She thinks they are the cutest things ever – even making this high pitched “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” sound whenever she sees one. The response was, “Oh, you’re screwed”. Yep, pretty much.
I ended up hiring Critter Control to come trap them, but it wasn’t cheap. The hard part was convincing the SGF that they were being released at a groundhog sanctuary upstate. I don’t think she believed me, but it did solve the problem, except one did elude capture. I’m just hoping he doesn’t come back to enjoy the garden buffet this year.
Spend some time to observe your chosen spot. You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred. If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens. Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.
2. Start small
Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out. Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort. Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.
3. Grow what you like to eat
Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes). If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.
4. Grow easy stuff
Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin. Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area. For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble. Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.
5. Mulch a bunch
Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants. Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch. You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will. Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)
6. Visit often
Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else. Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food. Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do. I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all. Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).
7. Learn about food seasons
Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather. It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started). Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times. They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped. Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.
8. Watch out for critters
If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal. A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space. There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some. Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea. Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.
9. Think outside the box
There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”. Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc). If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching. And don’t be limited to your backyard. Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).
Good luck and happy gardening!
Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.
It’s been an eventful 2013 spring for the Snarky Gardener. He has learned humility and patience, especially since it’s taking forever for everyone to know how wonderful he truly is. Mother nature has given many lessons this year, and it’s possible the Snarky Gardener won’t make the same mistakes next year. Here’s the summary of highlights and lowlights (is that really a word?) for this spring.
Starting my own plants
This year started with much (probably too much) enthusiasm as January can make a gardener in Ohio a little nuts. Overall it went well, with lots of tomatoes, and basil plants to plant and trade. I do need to improve on starting dates, labeling, and hardening off. All of these issues come down to one thing – patience. I tend to want to start seeds earlier than they should be, forget to label and/or record properly, and to rush plants outside too soon.
Spinach was a little hard to get germinated (maybe one in two seeds actually sprouted). I used the AeroGarden starter kit, so maybe spinach just doesn’t do very well with that system. I’ve done some research on soil cubes and could go that direction for spinach and others next year.
Frosts and freezes
Last year we in Northeast Ohio got spoiled with an early spring with warm weather in March and April. This year we had freezes and frosts into late May and I lost quite a few tomatoes and peppers. I’ll make a concerted effort not put out the majority of my frost intolerant plant until late May next year.
This is the second year I’ve had issues with groundhogs in my garden. Last year in July, a little guy (named him Woody) terrorized my garden for a week or two until I finally caught him in the act of trespassing and theft. He took out half my early corn and green beans before I was able to finally capture him. Let’s just say that he’s in a better place now.
This year the fun started earlier in late May as a momma and her little one moved into Woody’s old house, which is a burrow under a stacked pile of pine trees 5 feet behind my garden. It began with a few carrot tops missing and culminated with the loss of spinach, peas, kale, broccoli, and even Jerusalem artichokes. I called in the experts this time as my own trapping efforts were getting me nowhere. First morning we had a raccoon, who had been stealing my trap bait of corn and apples. My trap is obviously cheap and worthless. Since the raccoon, we caught two more raccoons, Mama and another baby groundhog. On July 4th, I added some 3 foot chicken fencing to the north side with 1 1/2 feet on the ground and 1 1/2 feet attached to the current fence. This will keep future groundhogs (there will be more) from digging under (crossing my fingers).
My long-term plan is to remove the wood either by having the landlord move it or by acquiring a chain saw. The cleared area will make a good place to expand my composting efforts.
Overwintering and collecting seeds
I overwintered several different plants this year, mostly because I wanted early spring produce. Carrots, kale, onions, mache, and turnips all made it back for 2013. I let the kale, mache, and turnips go to seed with a concerted effort to collect the Seven Top turnip green seeds. I ended up with a giant bag of turnip green seeds on 7/14 (more than I’ll ever use), so if you want some, just let me know and I’ll figure out a way to get them to you. I’m still planning to collect tomato and bean seeds for sure, with a possibility of collecting peppers and eggplants this year too.
Note – “plantmanity” is like humanity but with plants.
May and June have been tough on my gardening nerves. May gave us several frosty low temperature nights (including a hard freeze on 5/24/2013). The pots and leaf mulch came out to cover tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. Unfortunately, the coverings weren’t enough for some and those plants didn’t make it (cue the violin music). I lost 5 or 6 tomato plants plus 3 eggplants. A few of my potatoes also got frozen but they have grown back since. Fortunately, I hadn’t planted my peppers yet, since they seem to do better when planted after the weather has warmed up (think June). Also, the Snarky Gardener has been overzealous this season with plant starts, so replacements have readily available. All in all, not a complete disaster but I will consider this next spring when starting and planting my tender little friends.
On May 31st, my dog River and I discovered some furry friends in the garden. I had this issue last year, but it took me a week or two before figuring out that I had a groundhog. Half my corn crop, not to mention my spinach, my carrots, my cucumber vines, and various other tasty treats were lost before trapping the little basta . . . . critter (aka Woody). This year, I noticed some of my carrots had been nibbled down (both inside and outside my fence), but I really knew I had a problem when I saw the tiniest little guy scurrying from the garden into the stacked up logs behind the garden. Bucky (yes, I named him Bucky) was so small he could run straight through my 2″ X 4″ fencing without skipping a beat. A few days later, we noticed a second, much bigger groundhog (I named her Mamma), who had dug under the fence to get in for the free buffet. I currently have a trap set up inside the fence near that opening with delicious apples and corn as bait. So far I’ve lost a little spinach, all my broccoli, all my Tuscan kale, some carrot tops, and lots of peas plants. On 6/4/2013, I picked all the spinach just to be safe. It was starting to bolt anyways, so I’d rather eat it then have fuzzy little creatures make a salad with it.