Friday, May 18, 2012

Strawberries: The Freakin' Chipmunks are Winning

Today I ate three beautiful, deep red, sugary, juicy homegrown strawberries. Mara des Bois. The ultimate gourmet berry. Picked about ten more, and tossed at least another dozen over the fence that were eaten nearly down to the hull, still attached to the plant.

Probably damaged from ants, not chipmunks,
 as THEY leave nothing behind but the hull. 
The varmints are winning again this year.  I did get a few early strawberries so far. But they're still winning. This place looks like what Chuck calls "Bambi Land" in the Spring. Idyllic green with  deer, squirrels, rabbits, foxes, chipmunks, voles, raccoons, groundhogs and even a weasel or two. Lots of birds, geese, a few mallards, field mice and even the once-a-year garter snake. Pretty. So I garden inside an 8' deer fence. Not so pretty, but does the job defending the vegetable garden from becoming a deer salad bar. It keeps everything out but unwanted bugs, squirrels that can and do climb, and those pesky chipmunks. You'd think that the foxes, snakes and weasels would keep the smaller critters in check. Um, no.

They really are adorable, tiny little furry creatures, but they are such thieves that I'm starting to consider them absolutely evil. Their tiny bodies fit through the chicken wire mesh that surrounds the bottom of the garden fence to keep out the rabbits. Last year they ate ALL the ground cherries that my friend Bobbie assured me I'd love. I have NO idea what ground cherries taste like as I didn't even get one ripe one to try. Not one. This year they've already eaten a bunch of the first, nicest, ripest strawberries.

These are mine, MINE!
These berries are my babies. A French variety called Mara des Bois. They have the flavor and scent of little wild Alpine strawberries, and you never see them in markets. You may get them in a pricy restaurant, if you're lucky. So sweet, with a heady strawberry perfume. So on Saturday, I built an elaborate double plastic mesh dome over the berry plants which  the chippies already apparently chewed through in one spot. I did get a few good berries today, and there are plenty of unripe ones still there. We'll see how it goes over the next few days. A guy at the hardware store in Paoli told me I needed to make my strawberry cover out of something called "hardware cloth". Which is really a small mesh wire fabric--like chicken wire but with 1/4" openings. When I think about working with that, I picture myself with 300 bandaids.

As a dedicated organic gardener, and a lover of small things, I refuse to consider poison. Matt, over at the Kitchen Kapers store in Wayne, who really knows his stuff, (he's got chickens!) suggested a Havahart® trap, but you know, there are so many of the little varmints, I'd be running a chipmunk taxi service every day driving them further out into the sticks. Unless he wants me to drop them off at HIS place.

Still, it totally ticks me off that I spend hours weeding, feeding, seeding, hoeing and planting and those little bastards eat the harvest. I want an Elmer Fudd hat and a pop gun. I need to deal with this now, since in a few short weeks it'll probably be me vs. the squash borers or the Japanese beetles since I won't spray. Guess tomorrow it's going to be me and 16 feet of hardware cloth and a lot of scratches and swearing. It's likely the only way I have a prayer of writing a blog post with a homegrown strawberry recipe in it anytime soon.

All these organic backyard farmers aren't telling you the truth. They make it sound so easy. After 30+ years of organic gardening, it isn't easy. Not if you have chipmunks.

4 comments:

  1. Those marks could come from birds, Judy. If you think it's ant's, have you tried planting the strawberries in hanging baskets? You may want to invest in some bird netting for the berries.

    You will NOT stop the animals. I know.

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  2. Please eliminate the errant apostrophe in my comment. I've yet to have a sip of Joe and I truly should NOT be typing.... LOL

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  3. Unfortunately, they ARE under bird netting. Not birds. Bugs. Gah! And sadly, I can't edit comments posted. No one will notice.

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  4. We have tried several tricks to deter critters. We painted some berry-sized rocks red - put them out before the fruit gets red and hope that critters learn that red things in this garden are not good. We gave up on bird netting after a snake and a bird got caught and died - plus I kept tripping over it. We bought one-inch plastic fencing, cut it into 24 inch pieces to curve over the beds. We also hung metalic ribbons and pie plates. We have had fewer birds. I think the chipmunks have not discovered that garden yet. We also used Sluggo, which is considered an organic deterrent. No snails or slugs in the garden. Some of my berries can be seen at: muddleaged.blogspot.com

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