Natural Perspectives: When critters attack my gardens

I set a goal for myself this year of growing 500 pounds of produce from my home and community gardens. Vic doesn't think I'm going to make it. I'm worried he may be right.

Last year, I grew about 200 pounds of produce from my home garden. Much of that weight was thanks to fruit from our trees, and the rest was due to a bumper crop of tomatoes. I managed to achieve that lofty poundage even though my squash crop failed.

With the addition of my new 14-by-20-foot community garden plot this year, I was sure that I'd be able to reach 500 pounds by the end of December. I've heard that a plot that size can provide 300 pounds of produce. But now I have my doubts that I'll be able to reap such a bounty. I'm being invaded by critters of various sorts at both gardens.

The invasion started in March at the home garden. I had grown the most beautiful heads of red cabbage ever. I was so proud of them. They didn't even have slug damage.

But a couple of days before I was ready to harvest the largest head, the night critters found it. When I checked the garden on my daily morning survey, I found only a conical stub where a large and perfect cabbage head had been the day before.

I stupidly let the next largest head continue to grow instead of harvesting it. By the next day, it too was gone. So was the one next to it. I can't imagine a single raccoon eating all that cabbage in one night, so I suspect it was a mama and her litter of hungry youngsters.

Cabbage heads weigh a couple of pounds, so that was a major loss in reaching my poundage goal. But I still had my stone fruit crop. Or did I?

Critters got about half of the peaches on my Florida prince peach tree, but we managed to enjoy a few flavorful, juicy peaches this spring. They come early in the season, so they're a real treat. My Babcock improved peach tree had fruit this year for the first time. I was looking forward to tasting them. Sadly, it was not to be.

Last week, we went to our granddaughter Shannon's high school graduation in Seattle. When we returned, there wasn't a peach, plum or apricot left in the backyard.

The plum tree only produced three plums this year, but the apricot tree had been loaded. The critters got every last piece of fruit on the trees and even ate a lot of the leaves off the apricot tree.

I have a snow queen nectarine tree and an August pride peach tree in front that have two fruits each. They're still young trees, so they're not producing much yet. The critters seem to ignore my front yard trees. I hope to get a tiny bit of produce there.

But who knows? The fruit in front isn't ripe yet. There is still time for the raccoons and opossums to strip those two trees of their paltry produce.

My hope of a bountiful harvest is now pinned on my community garden plot, which I have dubbed the Garden of Weedin'. Even though most of the soil in the plot came out of compost and steer manure bags, the plot produces an unbelievable number of weeds. I attack the tiny things as soon as they sprout, but three times a week I pull up new weeds.

After two months of constant weeding, watering and nurturing, my crops there are nearing harvest. But a baby bunny has taken up residence in my plot. Mama rabbit and two babies chewed their way through the plastic fence that we put up when the folks at Southern California Edison said we couldn't have our vinyl-coated wire fence under their power lines.

Judi Smith and I have adjoining plots. We managed to dismantle our wonderful rabbit-proof wire fence ourselves, pull up the metal stakes and install a fence of plastic chicken netting held up with wooden stakes. It was only a matter of time until the rabbits noticed our bountiful crops.

Chuck Nichols reported to me that he saw a mama rabbit with two babies in our gardens last week. He and Bob Egan chased the rabbits, managing to scare away the adult rabbit. But the babies stayed inside the garden. One baby bunny managed to find its way out before Judi and her granddaughter Ruby Tuesday mended the hole in the fence.

But the other baby bunny has taken up residence in my plot. It lives under my bush wax beans, happily eating the bottoms off my beans. It has eaten Judi's new eggplant down to the ground, cropped off her sprouting okra and devoured the tops of her green bean plants.

I have chased this little fellow around and around inside our plots, leaving the gate open. But it shows no inclination to go out the open gate. Why should it? It lives in rabbit paradise. I always tire out before the rabbit does. It's a lot younger than I am.

The baby bunny has been in my garden for a week now, greedily eating whatever it can. The cute little thing provides a great source of amusement for those gardeners lucky enough to not have a rabbit living in their plots. I suspect that they're also entertained by the sight of a grown (and aged) woman chasing a tiny rabbit that would fit into the palm of anyone's hand. As for me, I'm not amused.

I'm now pinning my hope of a 500-pound harvest on my squash, tomatoes and pumpkins. Rabbits don't eat those. I planted Amish pie pumpkins for the first time this year, three of them. They are reputed to reach sizes of 90 pounds. I don't expect anything that large, but even 50-pound pumpkins would go a long way toward reaching my produce goal. A couple of fruit have set, but there is still plenty of time for disaster to befall those small green globes.

It will be a race to the wire to see if I reach my poundage goal by the end of December. The night critters and the vagaries of nature may defeat me, but I'm not going down without a fight.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

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