June 22, 2021

That Really Bunches My Panties…by Brendon Marks

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Anyone who has ever attempted to wrest a cucumber from the clutches of Mother Nature knows the magnitude of the task. Of course the location of the garden in question makes a significant difference. In Arizona, the job is truly monumental.

In the first place, the soil is so alkaline that you can use it to make soap, so adding lime is virtually unheard of. Instead you have to add sulfur to push the pH level down to neutral, and you can forget about growing anything that needs acid soil.

If you do get anything to grow, there are more varmints than you can imagine whose sole aim in life is to separate you from your crop. Whole lettuce plants disappear, leaving only a hole in the ground because gophers pull them down from below. My gophers were so fat from eating my garden that they dug tunnels as big as storm sewers.

The Internet as a communication medium is paltry in comparison to the network that spreads the word of a ripening peach in your yard.

One fall a few years ago I planted some apple trees. The next spring they seemed healthy enough, but weren’t growing any leaves. I finally realized that ants were stripping the tender young leaves before they even showed. I girdled each tree with a gooey, sticky substance that the ants wouldn’t cross, and that seemed to solve the problem.

With the usual care and a lot of water, they thrived. Then one morning I awoke to see three white-tailed deer in my orchard. They were lingering because it had taken them all night to eat every leaf off every apple tree. They had also eaten every blossom from every rose bush and were in the process of stripping the peach trees as well.

So I built a wire cage for each tree. The bottom four feet was made from a sturdy wire mesh (hog fence) and I attached two feet of poultry netting (chicken wire) to the top. Surely a six-foot cage would be adequate to protect my trees. (The rose bushes had to fend for themselves.) For a while everything seemed to be OK. The cages were a nuisance, but seemed to be doing the job.

Approximately a month later I discovered a V-shaped dent in each of my cages. A big bull elk had just laid his neck on the chicken wire and pushed it down. He could then reach down and strip the leaves off the trees. When he was done, he moved on to the next tree, leaving the V in the chicken wire. So I replaced the chicken wire with three feet of the heavy mesh. Now a seven-foot wire cage protects each tree.

Finally several years later I had the first apples on three of my thirty-six trees. Two trees had one apple each, and the Lodi had nine. Just as they were showing signs of getting ripe, I noticed each apple had several holes in it where birds were starting to eat them. I hung a rubber snake in each tree and that seems to have worked, but yesterday I saw a bird flying toward my orchard carrying a rubber mongoose.

Mother Nature is a tough lady.

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