Coastal Voices: Homeowner, gardener, killer

By Maggie Snowden August 30, 2011 05:00 am

I frequently remember my sister’s response to my saying, “Right now, I am mainly gardening.”

“Killer!” she would reply, accusingly.

She is so right!

For me, gardening consists of two main things: The Pleasure and The War. The pleasure comes from crumbling the clods of earth in my hands, watching the miracle of plants growing from seed, seeing the marvelous beauty of how plants are designed, smelling the extravagant scents of my roses, being delighted when I meet my allies such as garden snakes, earthworms and ladybugs, and having the satisfaction of harboring hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, and of course, just being outdoors.

 These little pleasures are what sustain me for the tiresome task of The War. This is when I am a killer. I will tell you about killing and wishing to kill.

Lately I have been chasing white butterflies around the yard with a fishnet. If I see one and I don’t have a net, I quickly strip off my shirt and flail at them with that. Heaven help me if I don’t have something decent on under my shirt! These lovely butterflies have been laying eggs every day on my baby brassica seedlings. These eggs turn into green cabbage worms. I check all the plants all the time and squish these eggs and flea beetles and aphids, making “aphid marmalade,” as says Ciscoe Morris (“Gardening with Ciscoe”).

For the slugs, I sliced 560 this spring in about 10 damp days! I started using iron phosphate, a snail bait that is safe for wildlife and pets. But when the slugs mowed down my little sunflower plants and had the “Sluggo” for dessert, I got out the “big guns,” Deadline. I also started using it again to protect my seedlings. When I start from seed, slugs are an even larger threat.

So when my baby broccoli and chard plants were getting munched, with no sign of snail trails, I did what my other sister suggested: check it out with a flashlight well after dark. My husband Joe helped, and the other night we removed five cleverly camouflaged cutworms, some as thick as a pencil, large enough to do major damage.

All of this damage is probably small compared to gopher damage. They are back. I need to set traps. I need to put galvanized hardware cloth under my garden beds. I can no longer use the best remedy for gophers ever since my dog dug it up and rolled in it. A couple years back, I got several fish carcasses that the sport fishermen threw in the waste bin at the harbor. Cut up just enough to bury about 18 inches deep, they are the sure gopher repellant.

But the raccoons dug them up when they were good and stinky, real nasty, and my dog perfumed herself with them. Sure human repellant! Ugh!

I can’t walk around the yard without looking for dandelion flowers. “Grab the Weed-Be-Gone!” And the blackberries sprouting in the lawn at an exponential rate. “Get the Roundup!” My trigger fingers are ready on both hands! I’ve already put in my time hand-digging dandelions and blackberries.

Last October I spent two days cutting and placing wire fencing under the cedar fence to keep the feral cats out. It’s bad enough having my own darling cats using my freshly turned soil as cat boxes. Because the neighbors feed the feral cats, it attracted the crows. Last year the crows got into the apple trees. I wouldn’t mind sharing a little, but they take a few pecks out of many of the apples, leaving them susceptible to rot and not good for storing. To deter the crows from eating the cat food on the street, we made three cat feeding stations so the crows can’t see the cat food as they fly by. The neighbors thought we were being nice to their cats.

First thing to look for when walking into the back yard: Are there robins in the blueberry compounds? Mend and secure the nets! Walking into the garden shed: Is there still rat poison out? Otherwise the rats gnaw on anything plastic, like my kayak, ice chests, and the jar lids to the fertilizer mixes.

Joe puts Tanglefoot around all the fruit trees to keep the ants from tending and milking the cow aphids. In the rainy seasons, in the house, I feed my “pet” ants Terro. Whitefly sticky paper hangs in the greenhouse. I can’t go in our house without checking the outside wall for resting flies. I keep a flyswatter handy on the screen doorknob.

We have raccoons and possums. They don’t seem to do any damage except rifle the compost pile and wash their hands in the pet’s water. But who has been getting in the peach tree and scratching up the fruit?

It’s been several years now since we’ve had bears in the yard. They left their big piles of scat as evidence of having eaten our apples. Knowing the bears were there scared us out of our tent into the house when the kids and I camped in the backyard and heard thrashing in the bushes. And to this day, we still have the evidence of rotting wood sockets where large limbs once were. I never wanted to kill a bear, and so far, our good fencing has kept them out.

Our new fencing has kept the deer out. Hopefully it will keep the elk out too! When the elk were in the yard last year, they rubbed their felted antlers on our apple trees and broke many of the branches, eating the leaves even before they came for the apples. We lost a third to half of our crop. They also leave huge 8-inch-deep divots wherever they step, sure ankle turners. I wished I could have killed one, but now they are seven. And even if it is illegal, even one wouldn’t fit in my freezer. At least my neighbor said he would help if I ever… My own son only said he’d come to visit me in jail.

At least we don’t have squirrels or rabbits, yet, fingers crossed!

I tell you, “It’s a war out there.” Yes, I am a homeowner, gardener and killer.

Maggie Snowden is a Crescent City resident.