Today’s post was pre-written. I am on a short internet-free weekend retreat but will be available June 25.
So far our resident groundhog has only snacked selectively. The apocalypse I feared has not yet arrived. Barring severe drought or a plague of locusts, the vegetable garden will yield a harvest this summer. In fact, it already has: look at these luscious vegies that went into an omelette this week. Here are a few tips from present and past experience that might help gardeners bothered by any of these shy, baleful rodents, also known as woodchucks.
The best strategy is not to encourage them. In my experience, groundhogs are especially fond of anything in the cabbage family. That means no broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes or mustards. Too bad they are so tasty and healthy. However, with a past garden I discovered omitting them from the plan meant groundhogs would not bother crossing a large open area for otherwise tasty vegetables like carrots (which we will get to).
If you can, build a fence. It will spare unquestionable annoyance, labour, waste and heartache. An effective fence must be angled outward, reaching 90 cm (3 ft.) high and 30 cm (1 ft.) underground, otherwise groundhogs will easily dig under it. Electric fence will also serve the purpose. This is the only solution that is anywhere near foolproof. Unfortunately a fence did not fit my budget this spring, plus I was unwilling to make the investment in a garden we might use for only one season.
Various substances sprinkled on or around the garden are supposed to deter groundhogs: blood meal, epsom salts, hot pepper and household ammonia to name a few. The only one I tried was ammonia-soaked rags forming a smelly barrier around the entire garden. It did not work. The problem is, all these cures are temporary. They break down, wash away, evaporate or lose their stench. You are supposed to continually renew them. What happens when you go away for a weekend (which happens invariably every summer) and it rains on Saturday morning? Whoops! The groundhog has free run of the garden for 48 hours. That is all it takes. I cannot afford the expense or vigilance.
Someone suggested marigolds may deter groundhogs, so I planted Tagetes all around the garden. This seems to help. Oddly enough, one or two marigolds have themselves been munched. I hypothesize the effective factor is smell. Marigolds have a peppery stink I find obnoxious. Presumably it has a more profound effect on groundhogs with their keener nostrils. It does not discourage them from wandering into the garden and munching randomly, however it seems to give the invaders a hard time finding their preferred foods. This is the only explanation why any mild greens like lettuce and spinach have survived so far. I never dreamed of recommending smelly marigolds, but this deterrent is the least labour-intensive. Besides, they are drought-resistant.
Food They Won’t Eat
Presumably the nightshade family is as toxic to groundhogs as to humans, and they know it. You can safely grow potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Rodents also avoid Mediterranean herbs in the mint family such as rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, basil and lemon balm. The onion family is usually safe, except for leeks. The vermin have not touched my two vigorous borage plants. Likewise, I have never known them to consume squashes, cucumbers or melons. I have successfully grown sweet corn in hog-infested ground.
Expect to Share the Rest
While other vegetables may not be attractive as the cabbage family, uninvited guests will eat practically everything else: lettuce and spinach, for example. The pests are fond of carrot tops. I have seen entire rows of beans disappear overnight. Most of the fennel I transplanted recently has already been consumed, so I expect closely-related dill would be as vulnerable (my dill seedlings did not survive the May drought). Parsley doesn’t stand a chance. Neither do peas, and if you have ever nibbled a young pea plant you will understand why. I can only admire groundhogs for having good taste.
Do you have any wisdom to share about inexpensive deterrents and wise crop choices?