Saturday, February 2, 2013
I have the fire in the wood stove crackling' as the rest of the house sleeps on. Even Karl the Wonder Dog is deep in dreams of chasing red squirrels and not bugging me about a first morning walk. That's a change. It's still dark outside but I know the sun is rising as the temperature drops, first to 3°, then zero, now -2.1°. At least for a change there is no wind outside and the quiet after three days of howling is probably why others sleep while I keyboard along. Quiet is nice.
Today is Groundhog Day and there's no hope that a woodchuck will even stir in Vermont. They may be dreaming about a vegetarian breakfast but clearly their hibernation of sorts will not be interrupted by temperatures this cold. Woodchucks are interesting animals that I have long had love-hate relationships with. As my gardening endeavors have grown, even the sight of a woodchuck causes bad feelings.There is nothing cute about a woodchuck in a garden.
As a young boy finally permitted to hunt by myself, I pleased the next door farmer by hunting his fields and eliminating hole diggers who created bad situations for the cows and horses. I learned later on that relatives in Connecticut enjoyed an annual barbeque and woodchuck hunt in which prizes were awarded for the most chucks shot and then the chucks were cleaned and barbequed for a very big feast. I ate woodchucks that I shot later on and I taught my son Adam not to shoot anything if he didn't intend to eat it. I think the first time he hunted alone he brought back a woodchuck and I taught him how to clean it. Life goes on.
But woodchucks are a nuisance and the aren't my friends. Last summer I spotted a female and I thought she had to go. Then I saw her with four kids and I thought they had to go. Then my entire field of perennial phlox--30 varieties strong-- was eaten to the ground and I knew they had to go. I was still in repair mode from prior year floods so the chucks took a lower priority and one day (odd that I saw this) the chucks took up moving across our fields and gardens, across Route 2 and up into my neighbor Gerry's fields. I had seen some coyote scat and didn't think anything of it but perhaps the coyotes hassled the chucks enough to get them moving. Kinda like the days when a friend would appear every Saturday morning with his Jack Russell who would hunt himself silly and keep the chucks moving to other places.
Woodchucks will eat your whole garden up and will dig holes under trees and sheds and rocks. They will surprise you with their whistles or with their offspring but they will distress you with missing plants. Relocation is important to maintain sanity and live trapping is a possibility. Tractor Supply, Agway, or any of the farm stores sell humane live traps and woodchucks are not difficult to catch. The Internet has plenty of how-to information on this and probably the only caution is that there is a good chance that your woodchuck might turn out to be black and white when you go to check your trap. That's just another woodchuck insult as skunks garden along side woodchucks, especially if your lawns or gardens have Japanese beetle infestations. But that's another animal story.
Good luck with your gardens and your animals. Today in Vermont, good gardening books, the Internet and winter farmers markets are the best we can do for entertainment as it will not warm much. At the very least we can be left by the fire contemplating "how much wood does a woodchuck chuck".
Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where my coffee cup is empty and the Hearthstone needs another log. Stay warm! Picture above is a woodchuck hole along the Winooski River right next to my now missing in action phlox.
The Vermont Gardener
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