The Q&A Archives: Rodents Raid the Garden

Question: I am having a very tough time with my garden over the last 2 years. It is enclosed in a 4' solid fence and every year after the seedlings emerge, within the first couple of weeks all of my zucchini, cucumbers, melons, beans, kohlrabi, and peas are eaten to the ground or almost to it. Whatever survives may last a few more weeks before it too is eaten. Its frustrating as spend so much on seeds and they get destroyed. The reason I feel it may be a woodchuck is just outside the fence is a hole about 5" in diameter and I saw an animal during the day that resembles "woody woodchuck" with a whole slew of young. There are no holes that tunnel under the fence that I could see. The garden also is infested with chipmunks and I've seen them holding my nice Tristar strawberries while they eat them, and worst of all they only eat a small portion of it and leave the rest of it to rot in the sun! Any suggestions on how to combat these two "enemies" other than a couple of big tomcats from the nearby animal shelter? Or is it something or someone else that I'm missing?

Answer: Oh, how infuriating! The only other thing I can think of that would wreak such havoc is cutworms, but they usually only cut the seedlings off at the soil surface, and leave the plant there like a toppled tree.

It sounds like a couple of tomcats would have their paws full with that rodent circus! How about covering your crops with fabric row covers? It's worked for other gardeners I know. You eventually have to take to covers off to allow bees to pollinate, but by that time, plants are past their succulent, juvenlie stage and less attractive to woodchucks and chipmunks. I suggest that you place fabric over hoops and anchor it to the ground with planks or 2x4s. As for the strawberry plants, try a fine-mesh bird netting over hoops, anchored the same way. It should allow entry for the bees, but exclude the chipmunks. And as an added security measure, make sure there are no gaps under the fence. It's astonishing how small a hole a hefty woodchuck can squeeze through! Both rodents also climb, and you can foil them by attaching a piece of chicken around the top edge of the solid fence so that it flops outward. If the critters climb the fence, their weight will pull the loose fencing backwards and drop them to the ground. I hope you get to enjoy some of that produce next year - or even this fall!

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