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Ground hog

By 7;35 Monday 15 June I had looked out my bathroom window to see a pair of grackles mating in front of the bird feeder and stepped out on the porch to catch the first romps of a fawn. The Scrooge in me said, “damn, more of them!” but as a patroness of the meadow, I also had to admit to the privilege of such witnessing.

The fawn was adorable — all covered in speckles and testing its legs by racing around in wide circles. Its mother was trying to catch up with it to finish licking off the amniotic sac. Cute but not cute enough to want deer around.

Advice on eliminating or at least substantially reducing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is to cull the deer population by 90%. Erring on the conservative side, which would not be my preference, would cull this pack who appeared in April back to three. Even that would be a relief. In a restructured, post-covid world, I’d love to see resources spent on such a project. It would pay for itself I’m sure in the savings for the medical treatments and the reduced disabilities, which can be life-long, resulting from the disease. But here are photos of the other reason I could do with fewer deer: the chomping they do on plants. Images from before deer browse and after.

In the returning or emerging from hibernation category, I recently had my first good look (even if the photo isn’t) from that same bathroom window at the groundhog. My neighbors lent me their very large have-a-heart trap when I had evidence he was out of hibernation even if I hadn’t yet seen him. That was a couple of months ago. I pondered briefly what I would do once I had the groundhog in the trap, but decided those odds were so long that I could postpone giving that any thought. How right I was. Although last year this groundhog eat large helpings of kale from the veggie garden, he did not fall for kale as bait when in the trap. He is supposed to love cantaloupe as well. Not this one. My success with the trap was in causing the groundhog to move from under the folly back to his previous haunt under the kayaks. He’s still a free groundhog.

In the long interval of not catching him, he’s had time to break into the garden. So far he hasn’t. Scott finished re-enforcing the perimeter fence with 4-foot quarter-inch hardware cloth buried 2 feet. If this is the new deal: groundhog eats clover flowers in the grass but nothing in the veggie garden, I can return the trap to my neighbors and congratulate myself for not wasting time wondering what to do with a captured animal.

Other returners include the Baltimore orioles and the Ruby-throated hummingbirds who came back on schedule. And while I can’t count bees are returning, I unpacked a nuc of Carnolian bees into a hive on Monday. The nuc with its five busy frames of bees and a marked queen (blue dot) is henceforth the way I will replenish my bee yard. My previous method of renewing a hive by buying a package of bees is history.

Baltimore orioles at feeder

In the missing category — and this is serious — are the monarchs who have not returned. In past years, they have come back sometime in the first 2 weeks of June. Last year they were here on Flag Day. The milkweed is ready for them, and this year’s crop is a good one. I can’t imagine what a loss it will be if they don’t arrive. The privilege of monitoring this old field will be drastically diminished. More importantly, what does this foretell of the crisis facing the Monarch population? I’ll trade deer for the Monarchs.

This post was supposed to be upbeat detailing all the remarkable forms of help the vegetable garden has had this year making it the best ever. That view is apparently shared by an afternoon marauder.

Peas, beans, radishes

Cucumbers and Patty Pan squash in the front box back with extra fencing

Eggplants and tomatoes

Kale and chards

In preparation for writing, I took photos this afternoon. But first to show the garden in all its glory I removed the makeshift covers over a couple of areas where someone has been nibbling on the tender leaves — notably on the Patty Pan squash and four little lettuce plants (not in any of the afternoon photos).

This evening I went out to recover the plants. To my horror, the squash, those 4 lettuces and also the kale had been chomped to within a stem of their lives. In broad daylight! In the space of a few hours! You’ll be able to compare the landscape views of the garden with the close-ups of the decimated plants, if you have the stomach as it were.

Chomped kale

Decimated Patty Pan squash

All that’s left of the 4 little lettuces

Linda is coming on Tuesday and I had planned to harvest some of the kale (she complains but eats what she calls my sticks and twigs diet). Ah, if only I had done that after the photos! Ah if only I had covered the squash and the lettuce back up! It’s early in the season for such regrets. Maybe it’s also early enough for the plants to recover.

But back to the intended post. This year’s garden has brand new, made-to-order, cedar boxes for the raised beds. Those beds have some 3 cubic yards of new raised bed garden soil from Earth Care Farm — the gold standard around here. In between the beds we have new oak wood chips dropped off by Wallace Tree Service, my tree guys as it were. Then Emily has been planting both seedlings and seeds; she’s spent several years managing Casey Farm.

Finally, Scott has added additional fencing to those boxes most popular with the marauder. I sprayed the wood of the boxes with Deer Out but we had a lot of rain since then. I’ll do that again tomorrow, although maybe it doesn’t work for rabbits or groundhogs. I have had good luck with it with the deer.

Add all that help to the wet spring and I have the best vegetable garden ever — for me. Really for me and my marauder.

 

It’s a busy day today — the second full day of Passover, Easter and April Fool’s Day — to start the first full month of spring. Looking ahead, on the 4th, Martin Luther King will have been dead 50 years. On the 15th, Abe Lincoln will have been dead 153 years. And on the 11th, Edward Wightman will have been dead 406 years. Not one of them died of natural causes. Assassins bullets, I need not say, took the first two. The last burning at the stake in England for heresy took the last, my ancestor.

The cruelest month opened with a brief shower that finished before I could get through the Times. My Easter bonnet for my daily walk down the road was not a rain hood but a grey fleece ear warmer. It may be 50 degrees, however a wind was lowering the feels-like factor quite a bit. The general direction of the wind has shifted, as is appropriate for the season, to originate in the south(west) causing a pattern of cold out, warm home that is the reverse of winter walks — a harbinger of hot out, hot home.

But before leapfrogging to summer, here’s some record keeping of late winter. On 5 March, the Red-winged Blackbirds announced their return with their welcome but harsh gurgle. Two weeks later, migratory American Robins were doing their run-run-run-stop-cock the head-peck the ground routine all over the yard. About the same time I had my first conversation of the year with a White-throated Sparrow:”Oh Sam pee peebody peebody” we took turns saying to each other several times. Down the road at 800 in a stand of spruces with an understory of green briar bramble, an Eastern Towhee scolds me whenever I pass to “drink my tea, tea, tea.” I trust my Towhee will return soon.

The Eastern Phoebes should be back, but I haven’t heard or seen them yet. The male will arrive first. When his mate gets here, they’ll take up residence somewhere in the electricity-producing infrastructure, either between the rafters and the PV panels in the folly or between the meter-that-runs-backwards and the north wall of the guest house. I don’t remove the nest I can reach because they seem willing to reuse it. The House Sparrows are here again. Is that why the Eastern Bluebird has not taken up residence in a nest box? Bluebirds have been reported elsewhere nearby for several weeks so I fear they just don’t find Kennel House homey enough.

Last season I had five pairs of Northern Cardinals but a female died (was eaten maybe but was not burned at the stake) in the fall. I have seen four males together at the feeders but not five. I might be down a pair going into the mating season.

The spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are chirping from the pond as of Wednesday. (Is crucifer related to crucifixion?) The ground hog seems to have moved house from under the canoe to under the large brush compost pile. The entrance to the new house is easily accessible for a have-a-heart trap. But suppose I caught him, what then (the assassin’s bullet)?

Ground Hog hole

The crocuses and the daffodils in the lee of the house are in bloom. An Italian honey bee was taking pollen from the crocuses as I was trying to take a photo only to realize that my battery had just died. That’s likely a honey bee of mine from a generation that escaped my careless beekeeping. I popped the inner cover off one of my hives (no tool needed); the smell of honey wafted up. Clearly my hives didn’t starve, but no bees emerged to check on what I was doing. Maybe they could not rotate to the honey in the long cold.

For the record, I pruned the blueberry bushes — the cultivars — today before it SNOWS later this evening! Historical records say it can snow here until the 10th.

We abide by the laws of nature around here so come May Day, there will be other deaths, timely and otherwise, more first-of-year (FOY) bird sightings and early season plant awakenings to recount from this first full month of spring. There is the fate of the ground hog to consider as well. But if past years predict, I’ll be counting how many pups were in the litter and survived the first moth of spring.