Porcupines are cute, if not cuddly, animals. I just wish one had not targeted my garden.
It announced its arrival in early summer by ravaging our raspberry patch. I didn’t know then who was the malefactor. Not only were the berries stripped from the bushes, the canes themselves were chewed through near the base, flattened and crushed. My wife Suzanne duly pruned the bushes back to healthy growth, but we lost not only this year’s crop but next year’s as well. Incidentally, this should have been a clue: such treatment of raspberries is classic porcupine damage.
The invaders left no further sign of their presence until early August. That’s when, here in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, we normally start harvesting tomatoes. I typically grow around 18 tomato plants; last year I picked enough ripe fruit to make and can 20 quarts of sauce. This summer, though, as the fruits ripened they were pulled off the vine and left half eaten. Worse yet, the vines were often snipped off close to the ground. I applied a commercial animal repellant, but it had no effect.
That’s when I decided that the time for hand-wringing was over. I set a large “Havahart” trap out in the garden baited with a slice of melon. Something stole the bait that night without tripping the trap. To tell the truth, I was somewhat relieved because I didn’t know what I would do with the thief if I caught it.
Massachusetts law forbids the translocation of wild animals. For good reasons: those groundhogs you’ve been trapping and releasing in some meadow miles away from your house? According to wildlife experts they probably starved or were picked off by predators when dumped into unfamiliar territory: either the habitat wasn’t suitable for them, or if it was, it was probably already inhabited by groundhogs and other wildlife that wouldn’t look kindly on the alien. Besides, the moving of wildlife has been implicated in the spread of rabies.
The following evening the sound of rhythmic calls alerted us to the presence of some animal in the garden. My wife Suzanne took a flashlight outdoors and found a porcupine crouched among the tomatoes: porcupines are expert climbers as well as able diggers so our garden fence had proven no obstacle.
I confess that I shot the porcupine, which has ended the damage to the tomatoes and hopefully will prevent renewed attacks on the raspberries next year. I am left with a dilemma, though.
I garden largely because this activity helps to connect me to nature. I love to see the birds eating the seed heads in our flower garden, and I willingly share my plants with most caterpillars and other insects – although I draw the line at invasive Japanese beetles, which have no effective predators in New England to keep them in check. I have sprayed the asparagus with spinosad during years when the population of Japanese beetles is exploding. Otherwise, though, it is mostly live and let live in our garden; we accept the small losses as a cost of a healthy ecosystem.
What does a gardener do, though, when a pest is as omnivorous and destructive as a porcupine? Apparently, they will eat almost everything in a kitchen garden. I’m hoping that a new porcupine won’t move in, but if it does, I face a decision: do I just give up growing my own food, or do I accept periodic mayhem as part of the cost of filling the pantry? I don’t like either alternative.Posted by Thomas Christopher on September 5, 2016 at 9:57 am, in the category Real Gardens.