Peter Chapman “Neighbors”

raised bed garden with mesh fence
Raised bed garden. Courtesy of Peter Chapman

This story appeared in the 2021 summer issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in response to the theme “Neighbors.”

I never really thought that much about groundhogs. I’d watched the Bill Murray movie, of course, seen one or two groundhogs ambling across our backyard, and passed a few of them on the road (in various states of well-being). But all that changed once we planted a vegetable garden.

We only have three or four small raised beds and a potato patch, and realized soon enough the importance of fencing around the beds. The first 1 or 2 years, we were remarkably fortunate in keeping away the critters, but then battle commenced.

The first signs we detected were some cautious nibbles on a couple of lettuce plants. A day or two later, the whole lettuce crop was gone, chewed to the ground. That was quite devastating … and a little mystifying as there were no signs of tunneling or other forced entry through the 3-foot-high chicken wire fence.

The mystery was solved the next day when I discovered two large groundhogs merrily enjoying a little kale appetizer. With shovel in one hand and pitchfork in the other, I approached the enemy … but didn’t have the heart to attack. I opened the gate and out they trotted.

Soon after that, I actually caught one of the hogs in the act of climbing the fence, which I must say surprised me. Since then, we’ve tried all sorts of preventive measures, from garlic and coyote urine to cayenne paper and castor oil. We grew a bed of clover, which they liked but not as much as the lettuce. (One thing they won’t touch, thankfully, is arugula, and we grow that in its own bed without any fencing!)

Remi, our former neighbor, also had a vegetable garden which always seemed to do much better than ours. I asked him what he did about the groundhogs and other critters. He was much more philosophical about it than I, answering that if he lost part of his crop, “I just go to LaBonne’s” (the local supermarket).

This year, I’ve vowed to be a lot more like Remi. I’ll listen to the various suggestions (trap the groundhogs with a Havahart, smoke them out of their home, etc., etc.), but I think it’s time for a little peaceful coexistence. Who knows, maybe we’ll start getting along just fine.

Without the groundhogs to worry about, I can finally turn my attention to the chipmunks who have the annoying habit of just taking a few bites out of our ripening tomatoes. Either that, or I’ll just go to LaBonne’s.

Peter Chapman

Woodbury, Connecticut

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