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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sharing the Gardens with Wild Critters

Little Adri, picking dandelion heads.
When I was a little girl, walking the few, quiet, tree-lined blocks to school, I used to pretend I was a benevolent queen for the critters and plants along the way. When I saw a plant who's stem had broken, I'd lean it on its neighbors and instruct them to take care of their wounded comrade till strength and vigor returned. A pair of doves lived in the neighborhood and I enjoyed their crooning as if they were calling out to me personally as I passed. I imagined that when I was "grown up" I'd like to have a house that was so full of plants and critters inside that you couldn't quite tell when you left outside.

Sometimes it seems I got my wish (though I'm not sure I ever did grow up)!  I have to admit, now that it's up to me and Chris to do the housekeeping (thanks, Mom for all those years that it was mainly your job!) that I've had to reconsider just how much of the house I want to share with the 'creepy-crawlies' and the 'skitterers'.

House-plants on the porch, in summer...

...become part of winter's interior decor.
We don't really enjoy clouds of fruit-flies. House-flies can be awfully annoying as they buzz about or land on my nose when I'm trying to catch a little afternoon nap. Enter: Homer. Homer is the name we give to all the spiders that have colonized the many window-corners in our house. The bedroom window is home to multiple generations of ambush-hunters.  They don't build webs but lurk out of site and rush in to gobble up the gnats and fruit-flies that are drawn to window-light.

Some big, brown spiders are the masters of the web. In the Fall, when the flies get lazy and repeatedly bap their heads against the windows trying to get out, inevitably a few of them stray into web-land only to be wrapped in silk and saved for later times when food is scarce and Mama Spider needs extra sustenance to lay her clutch of eggs thus beginning the cycle anew.

This isn't the kind of spiders we have in our house but, you've got to admit he's cute!
Though we meant to seal all the nooks and crannies that a Mouse might enter, in a 141 year-old house, it's nearly impossible to find every one! During the summer months the pickin's are always better outside so we don't see much evidence of the little squeekers. But as nights get cold and the gardens are put to bed, the farmhouse gains in appeal. We have a few live-traps that we bait with peanut butter and cereal. A dish of water and some bedding adds to the appeal. Each morning, part of our winter routine is to see if anyone has checked into the Deluxe Mouse-Shuttle.

At first, before the winter rains started in earnest, the Mice received a one-way ticket to the compost bins. This gave them a ready food source while they established winter living quarters. But as winter wore on, we began to feel concern that, without shelter nearby, the mice would likely perish slowly from the cold/wet conditions so we began releasing them into one of the greenhouses. This worked fine...for awhile. Everyone was happy and the stream of House-Mice dwindled.

But then came pea-planting time. We like to start peas in the greenhouses so we have an earlier harvest.

Sara picking greenhouse peas.
Guess who has a taste for baby pea shoots...ah, yes, the Greenhouse-Mouse-Family. So, what to do? Have you ever put too much cayenne powder on something you were cooking? Did its heat bite your tongue? Did it make you sneeze? Well, it turns out it has the same effect on Mice! A few applications of the hot-powder sprinkled on the seedlings cured the Mice of their culinary habits! Problem solved.

Now that it's warm again, the compost piles are back to being the home of choice. Plenty of food to go around there!

Summer-time, and there's lots to eat, outside!
We have a family of ground squirrels living in our walls. We began noticing the mama squirrel a year ago, sunning herself atop our wood-pile and making furtive visits to our bird-feeders to fill her cheeks with sunflower seeds and millet. We'd heard her scrabbling in our walls and were amazed at her capacity for digging by burrowing under a 6-foot wide cement pad to have her exit hole from the house be as close as possible to this free and easy food source. We didn't realize she was "with-child" though until one day she appeared at our dining-room window to let us know that, "The bird-feeder is empty and I'm hungry!".

As she sat on the window-sill, we could see that she'd been nursing her babies. Once she knew she had our attention she hopped down to the porch and put her paws on the container of bird-seed, looking over her shoulder at us. She then hopped back up on the sill and peered through the glass as if to underline her point..."Where's my supper?!". Needless to say, we fed her right away and kept it up till we knew she'd weaned the babes and so could forage wider-afield.

Mama Squirrel and Chris eyeing each other.

Adri cleaning the bird-bath
Chris and I feel  happy knowing that our home and gardens provide shelter and food for so much wildlife. Each year we add a few more birdhouses, plant more bird and butterfly-food among the peppers and squash, peas and beans. The brush-pile has become a small hill full of nooks and crannies -- home to many critters. The clusters of un-mowed berry-bushes and grass-lands grow in size. Bunnies, snakes and birds increasingly call our home, their home.

It is a "sharing" garden, after all!

Update: Lest you think we're living in some sort of Utopia, in perfect balance with the wild critters around us...Just hours after I first published this post, I went walking in the gardens and discovered a big ol' bunny happily making its way down a row of cabbage and lettuce and helping himself to every third or fourth plant. Arrrgh! Guess who's going to be surprised when he comes back tonight and finds a dusting of cayenne has been added to the buffet!?