Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Critter Wars--Solstice Episode

This berry season, we would finally outsmart Chip. 

That was the idea anyway. In the Foothills, the summer solstice means the strawberries are ripening and ready to start picking! Robins have always been the main perps when it comes to strawberry-stealing. But after a few years of berry-growing, we've discovered birds are the least of our problems. The biggest, most pernicious thieves have turned out to be chipmunks. They can get through 1-inch poultry fencing, wriggle under nets, even slide under nets weighed down with rocks! Trapping them has proved futile—somehow they’ve figured out how to eat the bait without tripping the trap.

So when it came time to net the strawberry beds recently, I decided to create a high-security berry-protection system that even Tricky Chip couldn’t crack. John helped me pound metal stakes into the ground and surround our beds with about $75.00 worth of hardware cloth, which has ½ inch wire mesh. Over the top went the nets. The whole operation took us about three hours. “We’re finally going to foil that little bugger,” I told John.

Wrong. I went out the next day to see if we had any ripe berries. We did… Smashed, half-eaten berries, more whole unripe ones scattered about. Chip had gotten to them first.

Okay. He’d obviously snuck under the hardware cloth. I dragged more of our bird netting out of the shop, and rolled it lengthwise to create a sort of thick rope. After stuffing it all around the bottom of the hardware cloth, I weighed it down with rocks. Two hours of bending over, my back ached, but I surveyed the creation with satisfaction. Perfecto! Let Chip just try to get through this!

Well, he did. He even had the cheekiness to eat his loot on our back steps, in full view! “Look at this!” I told John indignantly when I got outside and saw more damaged berries. “He’s ruined the biggest, reddest ones.”

High-security fence--that failed
John takes a very philosophical view of these things. “You’ve got to expect a few losses,” he said. “He’s just being a chipmunk."

Second round of fencing with one bed unprotected
I narrowed my eyes. No. It was the principle of the thing. I had to prove I was smarter than a chipmunk, if only to myself. I took more rocks, packed them all around the nets. And the next day, found more destroyed berries. Chip had won this round. So feeling stupid—having indubitable proof that Chip was indeed smarter than I was—I dismantled the hardware cloth and dragged it back to the shop. Then I did what we’ve done every other year: drape a net over the beds all the way down to the ground, and weigh that down with rocks. I left one bed of marginal berries unprotected, to hopefully slow down the stealing.

It took me another day to realize Chip had gotten inside again. My vow: if it took every stinkin’ rock in the yard, I was going to keep him out. So I packed more rocks around the beds. And I think it worked!

Of course, it’s probably helped that I’ve taken the attitude, “If you can’t beat, ‘em, join ‘em.” I have strategically left strawberries topped with peanut butter around the woodsheds, Chip’s favorite lair. Hopefully he’s been so stuffed with nut-buttered berries he’ll be much less motivated to try to get 
past the nets. I realize this could be a really bad move—all his aunts, uncles and cousins will be drawn into the yard to steal our berries.

All the rich food may have given Chip a bellyache too—I saw him eating greens (buttercup) out in the yard after he’d eaten the 8 peanut butter treats I'd set out. Well, too bad...whatever happens, I’m going to dial down chipmunk snacking or die trying!

Our other strawberry patch--and yep, every rock in the yard!