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Garden Mysteries

Early summer gardens provide numerous opportunities for solving mysteries.  It’s often fun and rewarding to engage children in the careful observation, brainstorming, research, and problem solving required to keep your plants strong and healthy.  Who nibbled that lettuce?  Why didn’t those beans germinate in certain spots?

Row covers can help keep insects, rabbits, deer, and/or cats out of the garden if one specific row or crop is being targeted.
Row covers can help keep insects, rabbits, deer, and/or cats out of the garden if one specific row or crop is being targeted.

The range of possibilities – from little bugs to large mammals to disease – is often surprising.  In the past few weeks, we have had a lot of excitement as we attempt to identify a few destructive mysterious four-legged visitors to our gardens.  Continue reading to hear about this season’s garden detective work.   To learn more about controlling insect pests in your garden, check out this past post.

“Let Us Grow Lettuce!”  My attempts to grow lettuce in our school garden this spring were mysteriously challenged as the school year drew to a close.  The kid-transplanted seedlings had suffered a bit of a shock after being planted on a sunny afternoon, but they were finally looking more established with a new set of chartreuse leaves springing from the ground.

And then, one night, there was a garden visitor.  Leaves were nibbled and a swath of seedlings were completely gone in an area that looked like an hopping animal had run through.  Knowing about our local rabbit population, I spread some of the school’s domestic rabbits’ pellets around the garden hoping to discourage Nibbles, Harley, and Mother’s wild relatives from coming back.

eaten-eggs-and-holeThe next morning, I arrived to a scene of death and destruction.  A  hole had been dug in the center of the lettuce bed and dead seedlings lay unearthed on the ground.  Turtle eggshells, rolled up and dried out, were scattered among the dead plants.  With recent reports of skunk and snapping turtle sightings, I was able to more accurately identify the range of animals who had visited the garden and prevented my little lettuce babies from thriving.

eaten-eggs-and-lettuceThe night before a snapping turtle had visited our garden to lay her eggs.  After burying up her nest, she nibbled some tender young lettuce as she made her way back to the river.  The next night, a skunk had a feast.  Yummy fresh eggs were unearthed and slurped up.  Mr. Skunk even came back again the next night to make sure he had gotten all of the eggs, digging up the garden once again!  I’m hoping that our garden may now be left alone, giving new seeds a chance to sprout and thrive in our school’s vibrant backyard ecosystem.

nibbled-carrot-tops“Carrots Topped”  At my house, it turns out, rabbits were the culprits.  The tell-tale sign of nibbled carrot tops gave them away.  After discovering this clue, we realized that the rabbits may have been the reason behind our peas’ poor germination, the missing patches of beans in an otherwise perfectly germinated row, and the seemingly vast appetites of this year’s generation of cabbage loopers.

nibbled-beansKnowing what a great diet of organic greens these rabbits had been eating, my dad “harvested” two adults with his pistol!  Using YouTube videos as a resource, he gutted and skinned them.  We enjoyed a delicious rabbit stew for dinner (recipe here), thinking that our garden might finally be left alone that night.  This morning, we chased another healthy adult rabbit away.  It seems we may get a few more chances to test out that recipe!