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Critters frustrate gardener

In search of our little piece of paradise, my wife and I bought a beautiful property near the Little Juniata River and built a new house on it the year we got married.

After tending a large garden near my home in town, I was excited to start one on the old farm land behind our new house. Little did I know, country gardening would turn out to be much more difficult than its urban counterpart.

The first summer we were there, we had frosts on

June 3 and Aug. 30. I had never experienced frost in either month in town — thanks to urban heating — but had it in both months in 1986. Fortunately, it was the first and only time that would happen.

My greater rural challenges came from the wildlife. In addition to the rabbits that would bother a few things from time to time in my urban garden, my new property was overrun by deer and groundhogs. They all munched on the greens I grew, especially lettuce, and they loved the tender new bean plants. I could not grow either most years without covering them in spun polypropylene or dousing them in some sort of animal repellant — dried blood being a favorite of organic growers.

The greatest animal aggravation, however, came when mature crops were picked-off by these unsympathetic critters. Having found a honeydew melon well-suited to Pennsylvania’s shorter growing season, I planted a raft of the plants one of the first years we lived in our new house. I watched over them diligently, being careful to prevent the striped cucumber beetle from chomping away on the plants.

In late August, I found myself with several dozen beautiful nearly-mature melons. Both cantaloupes and honeydews are awful if you pick them too soon, which is often their plight at the supermarket. So, I was careful not to make that mistake. After inspecting them one pleasant late summer evening, we decided we’d pick them the next day.

The next morning, I awoke to find every single melon eaten by the deer or groundhogs — I never did figure out which. It appeared that every member of the guilty species within walking distance showed up for the feast. I could have cried.

Though I had successfully foiled the culprits a number of years in one way or another, the frustrations of the last few summers moved me to finally construct a fence this year. Using some odd stuff laying around the garage, my family poked fun at the appearance of my jury-rigged conglomeration.

Being the eternal optimist, I had faith it would work, that is, until I found a baby groundhog, inside the fence, chewing on my lettuce the day after finishing the fence. That night, my dear wife, sensing my despair, ordered me a garden fence — with smaller spacing to foil the baby groundhogs and rabbits.

Only part of this story, though, has a happy ending. My lettuce is growing and should be ready for picking in a few weeks. The end of strawberry season did not go as well. After ignoring the early berries, the birds discovered the last of the crop, exasperating the country gardener yet one more time.

John Frederick can be reached at www.johnjfrederick.com.

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