Groundhogs (aka woodchucks)
Here's our story of failed attempts, and (what seems to be) our solution.
Our wily foe
Groundhog, woodchuck—whatever you call it—it's impossible to have a garden and also host a groundhog. What the cabbage worms didn't eat, the woodchuck did in Summer 2011.
In spring 2012, we spotted a groundhog in the back yard from time to time.
The burrow under the rain barrel
It had apparently been living under our rain barrels because when I finally got around to leveling the slightly tilted rain barrel I discovered a huge hole underneath it. The red rake inserted into the hole shows how far under the rain barrel it dug. The cinder blocks are the foundation of the rain barrels.
I filled the hole in, but a couple of days later it was there again.
25 feet long?
If we thought the burrow under the rain barrel was large, we were naive. When we measured the depth of the abandoned burrow that had been created under our kayak that was stored at the back of the yard, we ran the 25-foot tape measure into the hole.
When the end of the 25-foot tape measure hadn't yet struck the end of the tunnel, John pushed the tape measure even farther, but we never did reach the end. Who knows how far it went? We'll never since we filled in the end with some dirt. (And we never did figure out where all the excavated dirt went to …)
Releasing the skunk
I called the trapper and he set a trap on either side of the hole. No success. I filled in the hole again and put wire fencing on the ground over the area.
The groundhogs in our area seem to have become quite wary of traps and we haven't trapped a groundhog in three years, although we've trapped a number of raccoons and at least one skunk (we trapped that one at least six times before figuring out to close the trap at sunset). The raccoons and skunks don't seem to damage our crops so we released them so that they can visit again (and again).
Other things that didn't work
Things had been growing nicely
Having learned previously what groundhogs like, I planted our greens (collards, kale and some Asian greens) along with parsley, peas and pole beans inside an area surrounded by three-foot rabbit fencing.
We still saw the groundhog outside the fence, but I naively believed my greens and other vegetables were relatively safe. Although I knew that groundhogs could dig under fences, our rabbit fencing extended only a few inches below soil level.
Reinforcing the wood fence
Since our whole back yard is enclosed by a wooden slat fence, we decided we could just attach wire fencing to the bottom of the existing wood slats at each post.
I haven't studied groundhog psychology but it seems to me that it didn't attack my garden until I ticked it off by adding wire fencing around the bottom of one side of the wooden fencing that runs around our back yard.
Dinosaur kale damage
As soon as I did this, the groundhog (or groundhogs as the case seems to be) went under or over my fence and laid waste to the kale, collards, and parsley and started on the beans and peas. The dinosaur kale was wiped out because not only the leaves but the growing centers were eaten.
White Russian kale
This was not true of the white Russian kale either because they didn't find that so tasty or were interrupted before they could clean it out. Not only were some of the leaves left but the plants have their growing points intact. The parsley was also chewed down but looked like it too would grow back.
The hardware cloth screen pushed aside
I had two trellises of pole beans, and I put a circle of fencing (all I had at the time) around one of the trellises. Next morning, the unprotected beans had been eaten.
Inside our rabbit-fenced area, I had a wooden frame with screen covers, which were intended to protect the Asian greens from flea beetles. One of the two screens had been pushed aside and a few of the greens eaten.
Another loss in the fenced-in garden was some of the soybeans. They had recently been planted and were just emerging under the protection of the rectangle of hardware cloth that is seen in this photo. The covering was not nailed down and the groundhog just pushed under the edge of it and ate about half of the seedlings.
The groundhog(s) apparently entered the fenced area from the path to the right (see photo below) as there were three or four places where the soil had been moved and there were also bits of fur on the path, perhaps from a hasty retreat when I saw them and came screaming into the back yard. I wanted more than just fur!
Overcoming the devastation
Garden (and gardener) devastation
It is hard to describe how demoralizing it was to find plants that were growing nicely and producing daily meals of greens devastated in one day. I just felt helpless.
There was a fence around the yard. There was a fenced-in garden area inside that fence. I was working on making the wooden fence more secure. And I was outwitted by a fat little (at 10 pounds probably not so little) rodent.
Our four-year-old grandson, who was visiting at the time, talked about how we should share the plants with the groundhog. I tried to explain that they don't share.
It took me several days to settle down and accept that the groundhogs were not being vindictive. They just had found some really good stuff. But I was growing it for us, not for them and now I had to figure out how to do that.
Experience confirmed that they easily can and will dig under a fence and I learned that they can climb fences: As I was watching one groundhog pulling collard leaves off a plant I could see another one sitting on top of the five foot wooden fence that surrounds our backyard. (I've seen YouTube videos of groundhogs climbing to the top of even twelve-foot fences.)
After a few days of "groundhog induced depression" I began planning how to reconstruct the garden to effectively keep out groundhogs. Here's our solution.