Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Embattled

Our garden started out pretty well. I've been keeping up on the watering, not doing too shabby on the weeding, and even harvested two little jalapeƱos for my dad when he was here.

But the carrots have not germinated well. I thought the cucumbers weren't, either, then realized that they were germinating – and then disappearing. Then my one watermelon plant shriveled and died overnight. Little tiny bugs are eating my kale, and my green beans look like they've been beset by a swarm of locusts – only I haven't seen a single grasshopper.
Something we ARE seeing at Boulderneigh for the first time are California ground squirrels, or gray digger squirrels as they are known around here. My first sightings were on our deck, and I thought, "Awww; cute little things." Not the flamboyant beauties that the Western Gray Squirrels are, but still pretty to look at. WELL. Pretty is as pretty does, and these rodents are not doing pretty things! They have taken over our woodpile, destroying the tarp covering it in the process, digging burrows all over the yard, and maybe even eating my garden plants! According to University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources:

Ground squirrels damage many food-bearing and ornamental plants. Particularly vulnerable are grains as well as nut and fruit trees such as almond, apple, apricot, orange, peach, pistachio, prune, and walnut. Ground squirrels will enter gardens and devour vegetables in the seedling stage. They can damage young shrubs, vines, and trees by gnawing bark, girdling trunks (the process of completely removing a strip of bark from a tree's outer circumference), eating twigs and leaves, and burrowing around roots.

Ground squirrels will gnaw on plastic sprinkler heads and irrigation lines. They also eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds and can limit attempts to attract quail to the yard. Burrowing can be quite destructive. Burrows and mounds make it difficult to mow, and they present hazards to machinery, pedestrians, and livestock. Burrows around trees and shrubs can damage and desiccate, or dry out, roots; it sometimes can topple trees. Burrowing beneath buildings and other structures sometimes produces damage that necessitates costly repair.

Ground squirrels can harbor diseases harmful to humans, particularly when squirrel populations are numerous. A major concern is bubonic plague transmitted to humans by fleas that the squirrels carry. Ground squirrels are susceptible to plague, which has wiped out entire colonies. If you find unusual numbers of squirrels or other rodents dead for no apparent reason, notify public health officials. Do not handle dead squirrels under these circumstances.

Oh dear. Death and suffering are anathema to me, but even I can see we may not have a choice here. Rick has given Brian carte blanche to hunt them with the BB gun. I'd probably have better luck with our .22, but just can't pull the trigger on one yet. Maybe if they start killing our fruit trees....

From the reluctant warrior at . . .

9 comments:

Laura said...

My sister calls them the "(very bad word) squirrels." She's lost her entire potato crop, zucchini and others to them. She uses a non-pass through bait to kill them. You have to get it down in their holes so other animals and birds won't eat it. Along with smoking them out, she's been marginally successful. The 22 works better...

Susan said...

I can totally relate to your tender heart. I thought the chipmunks were cute, until they ate every last strawberry and started on the currants. This year I took more drastic measures and actually got a strawberry harvest. But it is never an easy choice. (My first comment disappeared! If it reappears, please feel free to delete!!)

Michelle said...

Laura, I've found more damage (holes under shrubs) since writing this post yesterday. I'm getting closer to picking up the .22, but I might wait until next week when Brian is gone. He really doesn't need his adolescent blood-lust encouraged, IMHO.

Susan, I saw a chipmunk on the edge of the garden yesterday, too; another first for Boulderneigh. It appears the "meadow rats" have been replaced by real rodents around here. :-(

Theresa said...

Michelle,

We had a lot of them and then between the cats and the resident hawks, foxes and coyotes I saw one this year and none last year. They are very destructive though and I am
happy to be rid of them. Of course the cute chip pies and red and black tree squirrels have disappeared too. :(

Tombstone Livestock said...

The lack of rain the last two years has been a boon to the ground squirrel population here, they ate all but maybe 5 leaves off one of the fruitless mulberry trees I planted for the sheep for shade. Thinking about putting some grain in the bottom of a large garbage can and trapping them. They are prolific little bloggers. Good luck, send Brian and his BB gun and I will pay a bounty.

Fiona said...

Our neighbor killed the Black snake that lived in the brush behind the homes here. I am not a real snake person but this snake ate the mice and rodents out back. We have seen a dramatic increase in mice in our shed and now have to take some sort of action. SIGH!

Michelle said...

It's true, Theresa and Fiona; if we let it alone, nature usually balances out (kinda like long-term investments; ha!). But I'm not sure our garden and orchard can wait for the predators to catch up.

Fiona said...

Thats the scary part...regaining balance. If chipmunks weren't so darned cute!

fiberjoy said...

I'd be wanting to sit on my back porch with a 22 on my lap if it were my garden! Just today a friend who had been a ranger at Yosemite told me how the rangers in the Park would shoot any ground squirrel they could, for pest control and because of the Bubonic Plague. We happened to see a chipmunk at the creek this afternoon, a first for us in this area. Makes one wonder about nature; all the cougar sightings in the greater Portland area, chipmunks west of the mountains, ground squirrels invading.