Planting – Throwback Thursday/Granny, Groundhogs and Chipmunks

I’ve planted like a whirlwind this week. It’s been rainy, but I’ve mustered on, wearing a large-brimmed hat to keep the raindrops out of my eyes. I’m hoping my sprouts will develop strong roots before the heat gets too high.

You might wonder what the strange towers and sticks are in the back of my garden. These are my sunflower towers created with soda bottles. They worked well last year, and I was able to grow sunflowers in several gardens. I’m hoping they will protect my young sunflower plants from rodents large and small.

I used some of the shells I have on hand for labeling plants. The shells are doing double duty for me and work as rodent repellents. I added a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil inside the inner recesses of each shell. I’m hoping this strong fragrance will discourage four-legged varmints of all sizes.

I’ve already had to replant some seedlings chipmunks and squirrels unearthed in their constant quest for seeds. Last week, I saw my nemesis for the first time this season, that dastardly groundhog who mows down my beautiful plants like a John Deere tractor. He was wary though, I think he remembers his close encounter with the marbles I sent his way last year with my trusty slingshot. Or does he remember the time I chased him yelling like a crazy person and swinging a broom? When I saw him this time I yelled, “GROUNDHOG!” He heard me and ran before I could chase him down. I ended up laughing at myself, when did I start hollering like Granny of Beverly Hillbillies fame? I sounded just like her when she used to get aggravated with Jethro and yell his name.

Oh my! Granny once looked like an old, old woman to me. How did she grow so young, and how did I grow so old? Life…it goes so fast. Now, back to chasing that groundhog…that will keep me young!

Planting – Belling the Tomatoes


My tomatoes are beginning to set fruit and ripen. This is prime time for squirrels and other wildlife to begin taking a bite here and there, ruining countless tomatoes over the course of the summer. My neighbor, a terrific gardener, told me the squirrels do this to quench their thirst when the weather becomes dry. I have a bird bath in the center of my Square Foot Gardens this year. Hopefully, the squirrels will use this rather than nibble at my beautiful, red tomatoes.


In case this doesn’t satisfy them, I have “belled” the plants with large Christmas bells I set aside in December. I have red ones to mimic the red fruit, a few greens to resemble the unripe tomatoes. If biting into a hard piece of metal doesn’t deter the squirrels perhaps the “ting-a-ling-ling” will scare them away. If none of this works I will cut a few pieces of fresh garlic and push it inside the bell.

I’ve tried this same idea with plain Christmas balls in the past, and had a bit of success mixed with a few half-eaten casualties. I am hoping the addition of what I think might be a “scary” sound to a squirrel will work even better this year.

Phrustration – Tomato Decoys

My tomatoes are loaded with green fruit. They are just beginning to show deepening yellow, orange and red tones. Unfortunately, the squirrels have noticed too, and to my great “phrustration” I have realized I waited too long to thwart their voracious appetites for fresh tomatoes. I am annoyed with myself for I was prepared in advance for this problem. This past Christmas season I remembered the gardens of summer and bought what I had read was a preventative for hungry squirrels stealing tomatoes…cherry red Christmas Ornaments. I bought three packs at the Dollar Store and set them aside ready to be put to good use.

The trick: Before your tomatoes set fruit  place “Decoy” tomatoes on the branches. The squirrels supposedly will try to bite them and learn they are inedible. It’s a great idea, but I blew it…I waited to put the balls in place until the fruit was already showing red color and unfortunately had already been sampled several times.

I used up all my pungeant spices and baited the Christmas balls with a peanut butter glue coated with garlic, salt, onion powder and Adobo spice. For good measure I pounded a clove of garlic with a hammer and strew it in between all the tomato plants.

I hung my decoys near the lushest and best looking tomatoes. The variety above are Amish Paste. The next day to my dismay I found one of the decoys on the grass, torn off the plant and tossed around as if the squirrels had a late night soccer game.

Adding insult to injury, later in the day…

I spied this cheeky fellow on my lavender adirondack, eating one of my cherry tomatoes with another one waiting at his feet.

Perhaps my ploy might have worked if I had “followed the directions,” something I’ve always had a hard time doing, and placed the decoy tomatoes on the branches of the plants a few weeks earlier in the season.

Problem-Solving – This is War Part I

I hope the photograph shows the deep hole in my Square Foot Garden. My peas were just beginning to sprout when some type of marauding critter decided to make them a meal.

Something large and furry had to be the culprit, or could it have been something large and feathery? My first impulse was to blame the squirrels, but they have been in the yard with my Square Foot Garden for several weeks and have not ventured past the chicken wire enclosing it. The same day I saw the devastation in the garden, I spotted a large chipmunk running around the yard. I know they are cute, but chipmunks are tops on my problem wildlife list. They are voracious and destructive and actually can be dangerous. My neighbor broke her wrist a summer or two ago by catching her foot in a chipmunk burrow and falling. One summer our yard became so overrun the chipmunks scavenged relentlessly even when we were only a few feet away. Wild turkeys have visited my yard too, but thankfully, only once. Yesterday I saw the mallard ducks. They are back. Every spring they return to my yard. Why? To eat beneath the birdfeeder, and then for dessert feast on every fish they can scoop up in my pond. The ducks have become a pest too and are able to easily fly over the chicken wire and gobble up my sprouting peas and greens.

So the big question is what to do to fight them. I have had mixed results in past years. The bug spray I made a few days ago might repel the animals, but the ducks don’t have a sense of smell and will not be stopped by a repellent scent. I also must reapply every time it rains, and if I don’t get out there and re-spray within five minutes of rain stopping, the hungry pests might get there first.

My first weapon was applied immediately, chile powder straight out of the bottle. I have some dried chiles still on hand, and I will blend those and keep at the ready to spread around. So far this has repelled whatever it was that dug up the peas.

I am also a firm believer in scare tactics. Anyone who has lived beside me might know that when I see something near sprouting plants I might run outside roaring like a lion in attempts to scare them away. It works. It also sends my heart rate pounding. I don’t know how wise it is to sprint and roar like this, but hey, it works. I also came up with a few temporary and permanent solutions. Tomorrow I’ll post the permanent solution, but for today, the temporary solution is the focus.

Water balloons. They are at the ready in a basket, filled with water and bit of garlic powder for a little added punch. If I see one of the culprits in or near my garden, they are in for a surprise. Tee-hee! I just hope tomorrow’s newspaper headlines don’t read: “Grandmother falls out second story window lobbing water balloons at wildlife.”

IMPORTANT CAUTION: Balloons can be lethal to small children because they are a choking hazard. Make sure to remove all shreds of balloons out of your yard.

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Projects – Square Foot Gardening Update

Yesterday, after visiting Roork’s in Elmer, New Jersey, we began mixing the growing medium for our first square foot garden. Setting these gardens up is a bit pricey. For one 4 x 6 raised bed we spent about 75.00. The good news is that this expense is a one-time occurrence. In coming years we will only need to add a bit of our own compost to the bed. These raised beds need no fertilizer or additional amendments.

Mixing was easy in an old children’s swimming pool. We mixed half the product at a time. Joe did the mixing, I did the clump-busting with a metal garden rake.

We used four different types of humus, the book recommends five, but we decided four was enough, two types of manure, one mushroom soil, and bucketfuls of our own compost from the bin.

We used a whole bale of peat moss as the book, Square Foot Gardening, recommends.

A bale of vermiculite was next. This was the most expensive item. It does look much more natural than perlite though, so in the long run we know it will be more aesthetically appealing.

All we need now is a bit of fencing to keep the rascally rabbits, the curious cats, and the mischevious chipmunks and squirrels out of the bed. Today I might work on making some scary looking owl replicas out of old CD’s. Fun.