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Gack!!! A groundhog in the garden! May 1, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As if this hadn’t already been the weirdest spring on record! We’ve had temps in the 80s in March, frost on our neighbor’s back lawn this morning, on the cusp of May, along with nighttime lows in the 30s all week, and then temps back in the 80s predicted for later this week. The lowest rainfall on record for March, and not much better for April. Yet our raised beds are doing better than ever, or, I should say, were doing better than ever.

Our perennial veggie bed is bursting with rhubarb, horseradish, asparagus, comfrey, motherwort, and catnip (for our three huge Maine coon cats). We’ve planted Jerusalem artichokes in it and some potatoes, too, which we find are perennial for us, and are eagerly awaiting their appearance. Our allium/herb bed is resplendent with “walking” onions, garlic, garlic chives, chives, onions, leeks, sage, oregano, thyme, and cilantro. And our long bed, which is shaded by a pair of dwarf apple trees and thus is best suited to greens, strawberries, and potatoes, is—or I should say, was—having its best year ever.

The formerly mild April weather had encouraged us to plant all sorts of greens, mustard-family plants, and cole crops in the long bed. We planted three kinds of kale, four kinds of mustard greens, five varieties of radishes, and innumerable types of lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens, along with some new strawberry plants. Everything was looking great, until this past week’s dip into the 30s, which burned and blackened the newly emerging potato shoots. (We think the plants will recover.)

Then came Sunday. It was perfect gardening weather—temps in the low 60s, a clear, sunny sky—and our friend Ben and I were out taking advantage of it, as, I was pleased to see, were both our neighbors. (“Silence! What’s this huge spider? Is it poisonous?” “Ben! Look how well my bamboo’s coming back!”) Naturally, I managed to get a horrendous sunburn, which OFB, who’d been gardening in a fleece jacket, long pants and baseball cap, as opposed to my bare head and tee-shirt, had little sympathy for. “Beach bunny.” Grrrrr!!!! But I digress.

Point being, at some point during my weeding and greenhouse-tending, I took a break to look over the beds. And then I saw that the kale and Swiss chard plants had been decimated. “BEN!!! Something’s eaten our plants!!!” OFB thought it must have been a deer, but I pointed out that a large, hungry deer wouldn’t have settled for munching down a few chard and kale plants, especially with apple trees invitingly nearby. I thought it must have been a rabbit or a groundhog.

Fellow gardeners may find it strange that we haven’t had problems like this before, but for whatever reason, we haven’t. Our previous problems have all been caused by birds, who regularly beat us to our strawberrries, blueberries and raspberries, and to bugs who attack our peaches and apples. Veggies have been pretty much exempt.

Thinking quickly, I suggested to OFB that we get out the bird netting we usually drape over the trellis protecting our blueberries and drape it over our bed of greens. It’s not exactly heavy-duty protection, but it would provide some protection, allow us to water through it, and be lightweight enough for the greens to grow up beneath it. So we did that, weighting the ends with stones.

Then this morning, OFB and our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, went off to feed the chickens, one of our favorite morning rituals. For whatever reason, I was looking out the back deck door after them; I guess I just enjoy seeing how much fun they have while they’re doing the chicken run. And because I was watching, I saw a groundhog race from the greens bed into—talk about adding insult to injury!—our wood- and straw-shed at the back of our greenhouse.

“BEEEENNNNN!!! There’s a groundhog! It’s a groundhog that’s been eating our crops! It just went into our greenhouse shed!”

OFB, for once quick on the uptake, grabbed Shiloh and raced to the shed. Yelling “Boogah! Boogah Woogah Woogah!” at the top of his lungs, he began kicking everything in the shed with remarkable vigor, while Shiloh did her part by barking at deafening decibels. I don’t know what effect this had on the groundhog, but I suspect the neighbors will be talking about it for years. (After all, it was 7 a.m.)

As it happened, we have a couple of rolls of 3-foot-high chickenwire fencing in our toolshed. So this evening, we headed to our local hardware store and got six posts for it. As I write, I can hear the banging as OFB hammers them into the ground. Will this be enough to keep the wretched grundsau (as it’s known locally) at bay? 

I haven’t got a clue. I guess I’m just grateful it wasn’t a deer, also plentiful in these parts. But I hope the groundhog decides to join its famous relative Phil in Punxsutawney and abandons our backyard. I don’t know about you, but I’m not especially eager to eat greens or anything else after they’ve been munched on by somebody else.

                 ‘Til next time,



Papers going to the dogs (and ‘hogs). May 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I start our mornings with two newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call. Today, both had front-page stories related to animals.

The Wall Street Journal decided to feature an obscure and disquieting dog-related phenomenon that stubbornly refuses to die: knitting with dog hair. I’ve been aware of this activity, which sounds like a sick joke but is perfectly serious, since being sent a review copy of the seminal book on the subject, Knitting with Dog Hair, back in 1994. According to the WSJ, seventeen years later, there’s still an enthusiastic band of spinners and knitters trying to take dog-fur yarn mainstream. But now they’re calling it “chiengora” (chien being the French word for dog).

Okay, so I screamed at OFB (“Eeeewwww!!! Knitting with dog hair!!!”) when I saw the article, but then I read it. And it appears that many chiengora enthusiasts are saving fur from grooming sessions with their own beloved pets and sending it off to be spun into yarn so they can knit or crochet a wearable memento of a cherished companion, sort of a proactive memento mori. There’s certainly a precedent for this in the Victorian passion for making brooches and rings from the beloved deceased’s braided hair, though in their case, it was humans, not dogs, who were being commemorated.

OFB and I were just brushing our own beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, yesterday, and it’s true, there couldn’t be a more lustrous black coat on the face of the earth. (That’s the reason black shepherds are called “lacquer blacks” in their native Germany.) A glossy black Shiloh sweater, tank top, or skirt would make any fashionista proud.  But frankly, even with as much fur as we brush off Shiloh, I can’t imagine collecting enough for a scarf, much less a piece of clothing. And, according to the WSJ, dog-fur yarn is very pricey for that exact reason (not to mention that it has to be hand-spun).

Now, I’m an enthusiastic knitter who loves knitting scarves form beautiful yarns as mindless relaxation and for gifts. And when I saw a reference in the article to a golden retriever scarf, I’ll confess, my attitude towards knitting with dog fur abruptly shifted. As noted, I still wouldn’t collect fur from my own dogs to send to a spinner. But were someone to present me with some skeins of lustrous black German shepherd fur or golden retriever fur (which brings to mind our beloved goldens Molly and Annie) or mahogany-and-white Springer spaniel fur (recalling my childhood Springers), it’s true, I would not only knit them into scarves but wear those scarves with pride and pleasure.

Call me a chiengora convert. (And head over to www.WSJ.com to read the article, “In This Yarn With [sic] a Tail, Our Heroes Thirst for Hair of the Dog” by Stephanie Simon, May 23, 2011.)

Meanwhile, our local paper also featured a creature on its front page. But this wild thing wouldn’t make anybody’s heart sing. It was a groundhog that managed to sneak into somebody’s car, chew its way through the passenger seat, and then become stuck underneath the seat.

If you ask me, this doesn’t speak well for the IQ of Pennsylvania’s own Punxsutawney Phil and his prognostications about the duration of winter or arrival of an early spring. But, like the famous Phil, this groundhog became an instant celebrity, attracting the neighbors, the local police, a Deputy Wildlife Control Officer, and the local mayor, not to mention the screaming owners of the vehicle in question.

The article, “New Tripoli driver doesn’t dig his hitchhiking critter,” by Kevin Amerman, is hysterical, and shows photos of the groundhog in flagrante delicto, stuck under the passenger seat, as well as in a live trap on his way to being released back to the wild. Check it out at www.themorningcall.com.

Fortunately, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a groundhog here at Hawk’s Haven, so I’m hoping our veggie gardens are safe for another season. But I wonder what those dog-fur knitting enthusiasts would make of groundhog fur?!

               ‘Til next time,


An older married wombat. January 20, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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Like our friend Ben, you may have seen yesterday’s headlines about the imminent extinction of the Tasmanian devil. For once, the extermination of one of our fellow species is not due to human encroachment on or polluting of their habitat, but to a fast-growing, contagious oral cancer that the devils spread by biting rivals for food or mates in ritualistic displays. Since it’s impossible to train the devils not to engage in this behavior, and the cancer has already wiped out over 90% of the wild population, the fate of the Tasmanian devil looks all but sealed. Poor Taz! We’ll miss you.

Heading over to my good friend Google to read up on Tasmanian devils, I discovered several of their relatives with which I was completely unfamiliar, including the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, which preceded the devil in extinction in 1936, and the various species of delightfully-named quolls. But what brought me to write this post was a reference in the Wikipedia article to wombats, one of the devils’ favorite foods.

Now, our friend Ben has been a friend to wombats from childhood, thanks to the New Yorker. My parents were devout New Yorker subscribers, and were doubtless chagrined to note that the only parts of that august publication that held any interest for the youthful Ben were the grammatical bloopers recorded in tiny type at the bottom of various pages, always accompanied by hysterical sarcastic comments from the New Yorker editors. Our friend Ben has no idea if these sterling examples of bad grammar (or bad thinking) are still featured in the magazine, but I adored them, and always managed to sequester myself with each new issue until I had found and enjoyed every one.

Alas, brainfade being what it is, I can now recall only one of these classic gems, but it managed to make an indelible impression on such brains as I actually possess. Excerpting a review of a recent performance of Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, the alert editors found that the reviewer helpfully explained to his audience that the plot revolved around “a young man who had an affair with an older married wombat.” (And to think, this was before SpellCheck totally screwed up the English language!) The editors astutely remarked, “Who’d want him to come home?”

Shameful as it is to reveal this, our friend Ben loved the quote but failed to look up wombats and find out what they looked like or anything about them. I just assumed they were some sort of marsupial bat, presumably with an adorable, cuddly koala-like face.

However, brought face to face with a link to the Wikipedia wombat article, even our friend Ben had no excuse to continue acting like a sloth. Clicking the link, I saw my first wombat, not at all batlike, in fact, OMG, it looked just like a groundhog (aka woodchuck)! There was, however, a notable difference: The wombat can weigh up to 77 pounds and has been known to attack humans and bowl them over! (I’m sure Punxsutawney Phil would love that.)

Sadly, there is no mention in the article that Australians and Tasmanians gather on February 2 to see if the wombat sees its shadow, predicting six more weeks of summer. Maybe they’d prefer to avoid a broken leg or, say, a possible entanglement with an older married wombat.

Peanut butter 1, groundhog 0 April 11, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben couldn’t resist sharing this story with you. Our local paper, the Allentown PA Morning Call, published a report by Don Fisher yesterday that began as follows: “A hungry groundhog couldn’t see its shadow—or much of anything else—after it got its head stuck in a peanut butter jar in Allentown on Thursday afternoon.”

The story goes on to reveal a happy ending, when a volunteer wearing protective gloves moved the groundhog to a nearby garden, freed it from the peanut butter jar, and watched, with cheering bystanders, as it scampered to safety. Our friend Ben of course wonders if the garden’s owner was equally thrilled by the denouement.

Whatever the case, the photos are priceless. Being a Luddite, our friend Ben has no clue how to link to them from here, much less import them. But if you Google www.mcall.com, then, once the site comes up, search for “hungry groundhog,” you’ll get them. (It appears to be a jar of Skippy, in case you’re wondering what brand groundhogs, aka woodchucks, prefer.) A good reason for cleaning your jars before recycling them!

And of course, our friend Ben loves the final sentence of the article: “No one, or the animal, was hurt.” But I’ll bet it was really thirsty.