The Attack of Phil

The Attack of Phil

Growing up in England you become accustomed to the local wildlife. Squirrels dig holes in the lawn, rabbits are found in the countryside, and ferrets turn up in people’s pants. Generally, people live so close together that aside from mice running through the kitchen, they don’t bother the vegetable patches. Moving to the US has opened my eyes to wildlife. Suddenly, you have to defend your plot of land. There are animals out there who will consume your annual crop in a night. In some parts of the country, they’ll skip your lettuce and consume you instead. My nemesis in Massachusetts was a groundhog. OK, it was less to do with the fluffy rodent and more to do with my ignorance of what those bastards were capable of. I thought that they were like rabbits, and generally kept themselves away from people. Was I wrong… so wrong.

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In my second year, I decided that some expansion was in order. With such success I campaigned to increase my yields by adding more vegetable patch, another 50 ft². Further, my temporary fencing needed upgrading. I needed the type of fencing that would show my neighbors that I was in this for the long run. Instead of surrounding each bed, it would encompass my micro farm. What I needed was welded wire fencing with 3” holes. This was the Cadillac of fences. This would keep horses out. My plan was set, a whole weekend was spent erecting wooden posts and stapling this fencing to it. A gate was built with a latch. At the end it was elegant and modern, it combine the country with the town. It was perfect.

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A few weeks after the fence was built, my spinach was gone. Down to the roots… nothing was left. Upon inspection, a gap in my defenses was identified. The groundhogs were apparently smarter than I gave them credit. A patch job was quickly erected. Nothing would stop me now from winning. The next day the lettuce was gone. No obvious source of entry was found. Did these animals fly? Learn the enemy was one of Sun Tzu’s main teachings. My victory would come from watching them penetrate my defenses. I set up station in the living room, waited and watched…

One evening, I spotted at the fence-line the groundhog. Not at the weak point I had previously identified, but slap bang in the middle. I anticipated the spectacle of the rodent’s impending frustration. Unfortunately, his never materialized.  Mine however did. Instead of being defeated by modern wire meshing, this animal just put its head up to the fence and walked right through it. For a second it looked like something David Copperfield would do, transporting himself through a solid wall. This pest, with a brain the size of a walnut, defeated my iron shield by walking through it. A quick scan of the internet provided me with my first lesson in rodents… they are mainly fur. As a result, the fence provided little (if any resistance) as the animal itself was smaller than the holes in the fence.

Phase 2 was an easy fix… if the animal was able to move through the holes in the fence, then I would make the holes smaller. The brain power of Homo Sapiens would defeat that of Marmota Monax, I was a tool maker, I had a digital watch! In single day, my vegetable garden was converted into Fort Knox. Chicken wire was added. All possible points of entry were blocked. My fence was impenetrable. Nothing would get though it. My vegetables were finally safe. It was the Maginot Line of Massachusetts!

It worked, for about a week. Then plants started to disappear. The lettuce, I had replanted, was gone. Peas, just a memory. Beans, all but destroyed. However, the fence itself was perfect and without any signs of damage. Perhaps they did fly after all.

Fortunately, at this time the mulberry bush in my yard came into fruit and all answers were solved. Not only are groundhogs good diggers, but they also are good climbers (which by the way was totally omitted by the pest control websites). There in my garden was my nemesis, 8 ft up the tree happily eating fruit. It quickly dawned on me that my 3ft high fence was just a small workout for the little blighter. Rather than create a barrier, instead my defenses were more like a good workout to help build up an appetite. I had underestimated my foe and paid the price. Nature is persistent, and plays by its own rules.

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Phase 3 was more elaborate. At the top of the fence, I now create an overhang of about a foot. To scale this the groundhog would need to be able to hang upside down. To help the defense, this section was built so that it would flex and feel unstable.

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Week after week my plants continued to grow. For the rest of the season they remained untouched. The season was a bust in comparison to the previous one, but man had finally overcome nature. The tool maker had dominion over his little patch of the world. I was ruler of my kingdom! And it all went to my head.

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