Saturday, September 26, 2009

Of Rodents and Roots

Just as some leaves are beginning to turn, and wildflowers are getting leggy and shedding their petals, sunchoke flowers are just opening. They are bright and shiny, face south to get sun on their faces, and cheer me up as the days get short.

They seem extra special this year because of the takeover.

I've never minded groundhogs and deer sharing in my crops. They seem to prefer mostly weeds to eat, with some green bean and squash vines thrown in, and there always been enough for them to get their fill, and me to get mine. This year, a small groundhog took up residence under the garage, and chewed on my elderberries and sunchoke plants with particular focus and rigor. I'd see her in the compost bin sometimes, enjoying scraps of melon and rotten tomatoes, but more often, I'd see her on her hind legs, bending tall plants down to where she could reach them, and ridding them of leaves up to their ten foot high tops. The leafless plants would have been no more concern than usual, except that these are perennials, and I plan to have producing plants for years to come. A wipeout of this crop would mean a wipeout for years.

A lot of farmers and homeowners go to battle with groundhogs, deer, rabbits and other animals. I refuse. They were here first after all, they don't have anyplace better to go, and everybody's got to eat. Instead, I pile tree trimmings in stacks for burrowing and chewing, respect the holes that lead to their burrows, and leave them alone when they're eating out of my garden.

I get flack for this from neighbors and friends, who think I'm a bit nutty. This year, for the first time, I had a moment of wondering if they're right.

But the sunchoke leaves always grew back, and now there's a mess of flowers to prove that sharing is a fine and sane way to garden. The groundhog, now grown up and rotund, will be going into hibernation soon. I realized that even if there had been a complete wipeout, I still wouldn't displace the groundhog—I'd just replant in another spot.

What these sunchokes blooms mean to me is that when it comes to "our" garden (the groundhog and I), it can get eaten, and we can have it, too. There will be chokes for us both again next year.

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