The advent of March means it's time for another trio or quartet of the ol' moi spring-planting columns. I hope it's not immodest to note that this series has become famous, or anyhow much anticipated, at least among that bedrock segment or element that used to swear by Grit and make their own souse. I belong to that element myself and have to say that I warmly appreciate their adulation.
This year, before we get very deep into seed selection, soil prep and the like I thought we'd take a brief look at an aspect of the planting ritual often overlooked. That would be the sometimes maddening topic of how to keep pesky wildlife out of your garden. Rabbits, raccoons, deer, wombats, centaurs — given half a chance and 30 seconds of your back turned, they'll give the prettiest garden the look of a cyclone just having moved through it.
But before we take on wildlife, we should take a moment to consider the even more vexing problem of keeping pesky not-so-wildlife out of your garden. Homo imbecilus intruders, I'm talking about.
There was a time when these were mostly what we call homeless people and what we used to call tramps. What they were worst about in the old days insofar as running off with your homegrown vittles was snatching home-baked pies cooling on the kitchen window sill — pies lovingly made with apples or cherries from your garden or orchard and filling the whole house with a wonderful aroma as they cooled. And then the tramp's filthy paw would come whisking out of nowhere and that would be that.
Mother would say, “Well, they have to eat, too,” but I never considered that a valid excuse. I thought it just encouraged them. It screwed me out of pie, I know that.
Those happy days are gone — as are the swell ones when urchins got reform school for melon swiping — and today's unfeathered biped garden invader is much more likely to be one of your neighbors. Here's the thing about modern-day neighbors, especially the rootless kind that live in mobile homes: if you have a garden, they'll keep watch on your house, waiting for you to go to Wal-Mart or somewhere, then when they're sure you're gone, they'll scurry over to your garden and download a peck of your best tomatoes, one of every three of your radishes, carrots, cauliflowers, bell peppers, buckeyes, and madstones, a mess of peas, an apron of corn, etc., and about a quart of any hard cider you've got making.
In other words, they'll take just enough of your produce so that when you get back from Wal-Mart you'll look at the garden and know something is wrong, something is different from when you left, but it won't be quite enough to warrant an outright accusation of theft; and these characters are so good at covering their tracks — they use both besoms and dragged pin-oak limbs to do it — that you can't even put together a winnable case of trespass.
As the cartoon dog used to say, you don't know how theys done it but you know theys done it.
If you go over and ask them to 'fess up and make some kind of token restitution, they'll profess to being highly offended and invite you off their property. They might sic their dog on you — an old hateful yellow cur that's a recidivistic feigner of rabies. Either that or they'll make up some ridiculous story like, “Why, y'all hadn't no more got around the hairpin curve yonder on your way to Wal-Mart when this flock of pelicans flew in and filled their big old bills with so much of your garden truck that they couldn't hardly fly off. Some of them had to just walk off down the road. I'm surprised you didn't pass them on the way home. I don't know for sure how to tell when a pelican is entertaining the notion of trying to hitch-hike, but I'm pretty sure these was.”
You can't answer such as that, and you might as well not try. If you get the sheriff out there, he'll listen to the same story with a disgusted sigh and then tell you there's nothing he can do unless you took the precaution of setting up a surveillance camera, and even then there's nothing he can do if the intruder took the precaution of wearing a disguise.
About all I know to do short of floodlights and 24-7 armed guards is to get yourself a scarecrow. I don't mean one of these phony-looking tin-pan critters that wouldn't fool a jaybird, much less a crow, much less thieving-then-lying-about-it doublewide trash. I mean like the mannequins or homunculi you can sometimes find in department-store dumpsters. Put one of those in your garden in a realistic-looking pose, and then change its pose every few hours, and it will give your denser would-be garden raiders serious pause, though of course not the raccoons.
I might've already told you about the one I found one time that looked just like Noel Coward. Two years he scared off every varmint that even looked at my garden funny, but then one Halloween some ghoul bastard stole his head, and he couldn't scare much of anything or anybody after that.