I am an avid gardener from a long line of avid gardeners. I married a chef who began his culinary career as a young boy working on the farms in his rural Maine hometown. Planting seeds, watering and weeding, nurturing all those fruits and veggies fills at least three seasons of our year. Looking forward to the harvest when we get busy freezing blueberries, drying herbs, canning tomatoes, making batches of pickles and hot pepper jelly are some of the greatest pleasures of my life.
This year, all signs were pointing to one of the best harvests in memory. For the first time since the gypsy moth infestation that nearly killed off my apple tree almost a decade ago, I was looking forward to a serious haul of apples. The blueberry bushes were lush with berries. The cukes and the pumpkins ran right out of the bed, through the fence and across our lawn. EVERY SINGLE TOMATO PLANT–40 of them, heaven help us–survived and were just loaded with San Marzanos.
Then we had the perfect storm of harvest-busting events. First, our cocker spaniel, Jerry Garcia, died. Without him standing on the deck barking like a fool (and leaving his scent all over the yard) the local fauna became bolder. Then the drought in New England reached critical levels, drawing out critters who were seeking the water in our small pond, and, according to Pete, our local garden shop expert, our veggies. Then a wind storm blew a gap into our blueberry netting, giving a wide open doorway for birds.
One particular squirrel, Moriarty, my nemesis, has been particularly brazen. First he chewed holes in the screens on our sunporch. There he tore into a 20 pound bag of birdseed. A couple of days later, in the early morning while I’m fixing my morning coffee, I glance out the window to see him pulling a packet of suet through the hole leaving a smeary, gooey trail of lard and peanut butter all over my deck. I opened the window and yelled at him until he scampered off. Nonplussed, he went across the yard, climbed the apple tree, and ran off with an apple. Over the next week, he absconded with EVERY SINGLE APPLE. There was easily a hundred apples on that tree. Now there are zero.
Moriarty has not been our only vandal, though. A few weeks back, as I pulled into the driveway after work, I see a mama raccoon drinking from our pond. When she had her fill, she moved to the bird feeder on the shepherd’s hook nearby. I kid you not, she LIFTED THE FEEDER OFF THE HOOK and was preparing to drag it off to her babies when I got out of the truck. She dropped the feeder and just waddled off into the woods abutting my yard.
Later that night, our cat was losing his mind, running from window to window. Turns out there was a rat–a RAT– running across our deck to snack on birdseed and lettuce.
Then, it happened. A woodchuck found a way into the fenced in raised beds, taking bites out of each cucumber and tomato.
At that point, my husband declared war on the local rodent population. He and my sons started referring to our yard as “the Killing Fields” as they set bait and traps around the garden and deck. A BB gun that had been languishing in the shed for at least a decade found it’s way to the porch. On Pete the Garden Center Expert’s advice, they strung little containers of coyote urine along the garden fence.
“Killing Fields” is a gross overstatement. Nobody has hit anything with the BB gun. Last weekend we finally, FINALLY, got rain. The Have-a-Heart trap we borrowed has caught the woodchuck, and Moriarty. Twice. (My nemesis is truly persistent.) They were suitably penitent and have not bothered the garden in over a week now.
There are no blueberries in my freezer, but I did get a couple batches of muffins and one absolutely beautiful cobbler baked before the birds gorged on the rest of the fruit. We had a decent run of cucumbers, and a seemingly endless supply of Chinese long beans (that are delicious!). We have managed to salvage a crate of green tomatoes that the woodchuck missed. We’ll ripen them on our windowsills and get some sauce after all. None of the critters messed with our herbs, so we’ve got that going for us. And the hot peppers are just turning red now. I’ll get some jelly made in a few weeks.
Despite losing a mess of produce, I am still delighted by this harvest season. I’ll feast off of the retelling of our animal tale, and how I finally bested Moriarty.