I match wits with a roly-poly garden Houdini

A few years ago my husband built a quaint board-and-batten outbuilding that was to serve as a garden shed. The local fauna have had other ideas. Squatters have included a family of blue racers that slithered out to sun themselves by my roses. Next arrived a mother skunk and babies who widened the hole beneath the garden shed and scampered among the beans during the dusky evening light. When the skunks wandered down to our blueberry bog, in moved a fatter occupant.

Rabbit or groundhog? I wondered as I eyed the mowed lettuce and broken broccoli. Too much wreckage for a bunny. The groundhog holes in the asparagus that I'd filled in earlier hadn't been disturbed, but dirt was piled up by the shed.

For the next two weeks, Mr. Groundhog and I played games. Cement blocks, bricks, boards - I wedged and blocked his hole. My shed gained a makeshift foundation as the groundhog moved its entrance slowly down the length of the building. I threw handfuls of cayenne pepper into the hole, only to find a decimated row of cabbage. This was no average groundhog that could be defeated by pepper or nightly visits by my corgi.

One evening I overheard my eldest son, Matthew, telling his father that he'd used his bee smoker on the groundhog hole in our hay field, and he hadn't seen that fat rascal in over a week. The next morning I employed my other beekeeping son.

Carlos lit his smoker. When he squeezed the smoker's bellows, smoke escaped from multiple unknown holes all around the outbuilding. I scrambled to block each exit until there was only the hole that opened out into my garden. As smoke filled the huge den beneath the garden shed, clouds of smoke billowed from cracks in the floor. Eyes smarting, I slammed the shed door. Carlos and I walked away from the battlefield, confident that we'd finally won. A week later, my lettuce and fall broccoli were untouched, and I assumed my garden was now safe.

One morning thereafter, a thunderstorm dumped 3-1/2 inches of rain in an hour. Mr. Groundhog lumbered back to his shed den, easily tossing bricks and boards aside. I moaned at the sight of fresh dirt and ravaged lettuce.

I don't know how many more weekly "smoking" sessions my beekeeper sons and I will hold. I've also taken to stuffing overripe zucchini down newly dug holes. Last week I hauled out my cold frames and sowed my fall and winter salad greens, knowing that, encased by glass and wood, they will grow unharmed from the garden menace, who should soon slumber somewhere else than under my garden shed.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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