In the far corner of the field, between the neat rows of tomato vines supported by posts and string, hoof prints give evidence of visits by deer. Further evidence can be seen on some of the vines themselves; they have been eaten down to within a foot or so of the ground.
Out west, in Pittsburgh’s North Hills, a tiered raised-bed garden, lovingly planted and tended by our daughter-in-law, has been browsed by the local herd. These are tough deer; the hot pepper plants went first. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a juvenile groundhog found a home for itself under our shed with the help of an adult groundhog. So far there is little in the way of damage to the plants: some lettuce and kale have been nibbled, and a couple of potted salvia provided a snack. The local rabbit has actually done more damage. But groundhogs, like deer, can mow a garden down to stubble in no time.
Deer especially are part of the created world that many, myself included, find enchanting. Think Bambi’s forest without the hunters. But like weeds, when they are some place where they are not wanted, doing things that we don’t appreciate, they become pests. They test our tolerance for inconvenience and unpleasantness.
We might be able to eliminate that inconvenience and unpleasantness if we we make certain compromises. My compromise was to buy a Havahart trap. Only two days after placing the trap I watched as the young groundhog walked onto the trigger plate. An hour later he was running for his life in his new home far from our backyard. I’m not sure it was entirely legal to transport him there and so I have that doubt on my conscience. My conscience thus seared, however, it will be easier for me to make that compromise should I find that the adult is still around.
For a hobbyist gardener this is an easy solution, aside from the ethical questions. Solutions don’t come as easily to real farmers. On our most recent visit to our favorite pick-your-own apple orchard, we found that they had installed a deer-proof fence around the entire perimeter, no doubt at great expense. The farm with the neat rows of tomatoes, operated by City Green, has a fence around some beds but not all. Even with this fence in place rabbits and groundhogs still insist on taking a share of the produce.
How do we balance the desire to see wildlife flourishing in our neighborhoods with our desire to grow some of our own food and to surround ourselves with attractive foliage? It gets a bit more complicated when we think about choosing to grow plants that attract wildlife and arranging our surroundings so that animals, birds, and beneficial insects will want to live there. Did Adam and Eve chase away the groundhogs as they were tending the Garden of Eden? (Groundhogs aren’t mentioned in Scripture, although both the Psalms [104:18] and Proverbs [30:26] mention a member of the marmot family in a neutral context.) Will groundhogs be a part of a restored creation?
Turning back to more immediate concerns, how do farmers, and especially organic farmers, keep local wildlife from consuming and otherwise spoiling the produce that the farmers need to sell to stay in business?
These encounters with lettuce-munching rabbits and groundhogs and with tomato-eating deer have strengthened my belief that growing the produce that we need to feed our communities is a difficult occupation. I don’t fully appreciate what farmers have to do to get fresh food to local markets. My hat is off to them.
Thanks as always for stopping by.