Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Battle of the Whistle-pig

The challenges of food production never cease to amaze me.  There is always something new to learn, an obstacle to overcome, and sometimes it becomes an epic battle just to put food on the table.

We have been battling something in hoophouse #2 for the better part of the summer. We've plugged holes and set traps.  The Boss even has electrified the alley fence. Things seemed to come to a climax back at the end of August when some creature ate nearly the entire lettuce crop in a single night.  That caused the Boss to fortify the hoophouse, hoping to thwart future attacks.
trap on outside covering tunnel to inside
We duly replanted, weeded and watered…only to get the feeling that something had been in the house yet again.  But how? The hoophouse looked like a fortress.  Surely, nothing could make it inside. The damage wasn’t as horrific, but still…I just knew that something was eating my newly planted kale…and it was NOT insects.

While I couldn’t prove it…I was certain that there was evidence of a groundhog. It looked as if there was a fresh trail to the groundhog "condo" in the neighbor’s field.  A trap was baited, but the appetizing apple was never touched. I saw marks of digging, but plugged the hole. There was no further action.  Still…there was that nagging thought…

The brilliant, gorgeous days of autumn, while cool and pleasant, don’t allow for any miscalculations in the hoophouses.  The bright sunshine causes the temperatures to soar, so irrigation is crucial. Often, the sides need to be raised for added ventilation.  To that end, I generally do a walk-though in the early morning and again after lunch.  Sometimes, I check again at afternoon chores.

On my rounds, I generally check for growth and plan for weeding maintenance and new plantings.  The walk-through gives me a chance to plan my harvest schedule and note any pest damage as well.

My stroll through number one was uneventful.  Most everything was looking good.  Some weeds…some spent crops…otherwise, no real issues.

As I looked into #2, I had that same sinking feeling that something had been eating the crops.

 The chard looked like this….

                When it should have looked like THIS!

As I was processing this thought, I was startled by a sound.


My gaze sought the source.  I found myself face to face with the biggest groundhog I had ever seen.  He was sitting in the middle of the lettuce…MY lettuce… having a lovely lunch. Groundhogs earned the nickname WHISTLE-PIG due to the fact that they indeed whistle when alarmed. WEET!

ARGH!  Oh.....You blasted creature!  You Are SO gonna die!   (I do get a little overly dramatic on occasion)

He looked at me again and bolted for the far end of the house. Groundhogs are incredibly quick and agile, despite their roly-poly furball appearance. I have seen them climb trees and run like the wind.  Once, we watched one scurry up a metal clothesline pole. When this one got to the end of the hoophouse, he jumped up in the air and tried to go out through the plastic side.  Boink!  He bounced backward.  He tried again.  Boink!  He was completely missing the opened door. Hmm, maybe I could capture him inside.

Thankfully, he missed the opened door
when trying to escape
I slammed the doors shut on the lower end of the house.  I ran to the upper end where the groundhog was still boinking into the plastic.  I slammed that door, watching him scuttle to the far end again.  He went up over the sill board. ACK!  I thought he would escape.  But, he was so fat that he got stuck between the door and the board.  I then ran around and scared him up to other end.  Realizing that all this running around after the groundhog was getting pointless, I reached for my phone to call the house and rouse the cavalry.  No phone. *sigh* 

The only solution was to run up the hill to the house, get the Boss (and his rifle) and hope that we got back before the giant groundhog escaped.

Running has never been my strong point.  Add to that fact I was wearing workboots…and the path to the house is all uphill…I am sure it was not a pretty sight.

I ripped the backdoor open and shouted breathlessly,

                       “I NEED A GUN…..and I NEED A GUN RIGHT NOW!”


The Boss came flying out of the office. He and our younger daughter, who was visiting for the day (more on that later) were both saying…”WHAT?  what kind of gun?  What is going on?”

I could barely get the words out fast enough.  Groundhog….Hoophouse….hurry!

The Boss was heading out the back door before I knew it.  He eased the hoophouse door opened again.
Yes…the gigantic groundhog was still there.

BAM!  One shot…problem solved.  The groundhog issue is finally laid to rest.

We were all astonished at how large this groundhog was.  For curiosity’s sake, the Boss weighed it.
      9.8 pounds!

The Boss is fairly certain that it was the largest groundhog he’d ever shot.  I guess so…look at all the good stuff he’d been eating!

Lest anyone think we are horribly cruel folks who go around shooting animals that just want to have a good meal, let me explain a few things about groundhogs.

The Boss saved the day!
...and the lettuce
Groundhogs are a nuisance at best to farmers everywhere.  Not only will they decimate a crop overnight, cows and horses can break their legs by stepping in a groundhog hole.  In hayfields, the holes do nothing for tractor tires and haywagon wheels, let alone farmers' legs and ankles.  Their burrowing causes issues around the neighborhood.  We have lost telephone service numerous time due to groundhogs.

They can harbor disease as well, although perhaps not as often as skunks, opossums and foxes.

Breeding prolifically, the great population attracts predators.  Hawks and other raptors prey on the young.  Foxes, coyotes and the odd and random dog find groundhog an appetizing meal. When the groundhog population dwindles due to the predator pressure, the predators begin to look around for other sources of food.  All too often, the farm animal population ends up being the next in line.

With all these things in mind, we don’t encourage the whistle-pig population at all.  When they start to eat our paycheck on a regular basis, it is time to get serious about ridding the farm of their presence and taking preventative measures to protect our assets.

The giant groundhog was able to scramble
over this wall.

I have wanted screen doors on the hoophouses for some time.  The crops need ventilation, but they also need protection.  We have gone ‘round and ‘round about the hassle factor of doors.  The Boss had put tremendous effort into fortifying the hoophouse, only to find that the groundhog’s immense size rendered the Boss'  end walls useless. While there are probably no other groundhogs quite that big in the neighborhood, there is a colony on the other side of the fence under an apple tree in the neighbor’s field. So…yep…time for screen doors!

Looks like a trip to Lowe’s is in order, because despite the Boss' victory yesterday, the battle of the whistle-pig is never truly won.

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