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Archive for Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Raccoon cravings take toll on spent gardens

August 15, 2007

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The intense August heat has just about finished off many area vegetable gardens. If you're a rural water customer like me, you're reluctant to roll out the hose at the tail end of the growing season. Generally, I become fatalistic after July 20 or so. Whatever precipitation finds its way to my garden at this point in the summer falls from the sky.

The other detriment to my garden lately has been the local raccoon population. When water is hard to come by, critters will compensate by eating garden crops that have high water content. In July they began feasting on our melons and more recently turned their attention to the tomatoes.

My electric fence has not been working consistently, and predator urine works as a deterrent for only about 24 hours before it must be reapplied. This has presented the raccoons with some opportunities for snacking. Last week before I left on a trip, the raccoons had stripped every ripe red tomato off my plants. Oddly, they do not eat yellow tomatoes, such as the Golden Husky and Yellow Pear varieties.

We know the culprits are raccoons because they are more agile and have greater manual dexterity than their fellow creatures. They can climb tomato cages and move things around. We've found melons in places where only a creature working with two hands could have put them.

Raccoons also have long claws, which they can use to slice open sweet, juicy cantaloupe. Imagine Rocky Raccoon doing a Ginsu knife demonstration on the Home Shopping Network. In this particular case, Mr. Raccoon uses his toenails to test the ripeness of multiple melons before he finds the one he'll eat.

When I become frustrated with the creatures that turn my garden into their own personal smorgasbord, I remember Nancy Smith, who wrote this column for several years before I took it over in 1995.

One day someone came into the newsroom complaining to Nancy about tomato horn worms and insisting that the solution lay in finding the right poison. She looked up from her computer, shot the visitor a look and asked, "What's the matter? Didn't you plant enough to share?"

***

If it's August, then my inbox is full of e-mails from Allen Fowler, a Leavenworth County gardener whose tomatoes are, year in and year out, big, juicy and plentiful. Every year Allen and his wife, Rosie, can dozens and dozens of Mason jars full of tomato juice, and Allen e-mails me the photographic evidence.

As of the middle of last week, Allen had squirreled away 95 quarts of tomato juice for the winter.

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Many area gardeners had poor bean crops this summer, largely because of cool, damp weather in May and an overly active rabbit and deer population. Roger White, who gardens near Baldwin, was no exception.

However, what Roper's garden lacked in beans it made up for in turnips. Roger found himself with a surplus of turnips, so he left much of his bumper crop in the ground and has continued to harvest turnips on an as-needed basis through the summer. It's not unusual to do this with carrots, but I had not realized that turnips also could be "stored" in the ground.

- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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