Burton on the Bay:
Where Hunger Rules
In Bill Burton's woods,
even DNR's lists may get eaten.
Where there's a will, there's a way.
Perhaps those words were fashioned from George Crabbe's Birth of Flattery a couple hundred years ago when he wrote: "Be there a will, and wisdom finds a way."
In any event, such words are appropriate these days as those who raise crops, shrubbery and other greenery try to concoct methods to keep wildlife big and small from making their gardens and lawns a banquet table.
Try what you might, the odds are stacked against you. Where there's a will, there's a way - and chances are the inherent wisdom of wild creatures will prevail. Or is it their hunger?
Whether it be a woodchuck, wild rabbit or deer - even black bear out in Western Maryland - it can get hungry enough to overlook repellent concoctions, find a way through a fence or even brave proximity to humans who sow and plant.
Not long ago, the staffs of the Department of Natural Resources and Cooperative Extension Services offered some advice to those whose flowers, crops and trees are targeted by deer. Choose plants that are not the favorites of whitetails, they suggested. Then they offered a long list of what they might be, which we'll get into in a moment.
A week ago my friend Calvert Bregel, of Baltimore County, called to forewarn me there would be an awful lot of cabbage heading to the Burton household this summer seeing that he purchased more plants than he intended.
Marauding Bunnies, Hungry Heron
I gave up vegetable gardening years ago when the assortment of trees I planted for birds and other wildlife grew tall enough to cast shadows over the three lots that comprise our homestead on the shore of Stoney Creek. So I was looking forward to fresh cabbage.
One raised on the farm is akin to one raised on the water. Neither is quite satisfied with vegetables, fruits or seafood that comes from market. Meals fresh from Bay or backyard garden have it all over those sold in stores; freshness is the difference, price is secondary.
But my anticipation of fresh slaw and boiled cabbage was dashed last night when Calvert called to gripe that in the previous night, wild rabbits had done in just about the whole cabbage patch. At best, he figured he might be able to save a dozen plants.
Mistakenly, he had figured the presence of his two Labradors, Kate and Bruno, housed overnights in an open kennel not far from the garden, would discourage visits from bunnies. But where there's a will, there's a way.
It's the same at his trout pond, in an area that is the playground for Kate and Bruno, both frisky, young and protective of Bregel property. Herons are shy, but they also like fish - especially the pen-reared exotic trout my friend stocks each spring.
Give either of the pair of heron that frequent the area just a few moments without human or canine presence, and they're "fishing." Every time Calvert sees one heading off with a big fish in its long bill, he knows another $10 to $20 is gone.
Nor is it infrequent that when we take our turn fishing that we see a scarred trout, evidence that it encountered a heron but somehow managed to escape.
Don't tell Calvert to stock a variety of fish that heron don't like; there probably aren't any. As for the lost cabbage plants, he's confidently replacing them with beets, the fresh young tender greens of which I like better than cabbage.
Aunt MiMi & the Woodchuck
Since I've given up gardening, I've also given up beet greens with the tiny beets still attached to them, which I gathered when thinning out the rows several weeks after planting. It's virtually impossible to buy palatable beet greens from a market; absolute freshness is essential.
But I'm not putting the butter and vinegar on the table for Calvert's beet greens until I see them. Rabbits will eat them when tender and young, too. And now that the rabbits have discovered his fresh garden, they will probably sample everything on the menu.
My aunt MiMi Brush of Arlington, Vt., shares the dilemma of friend Calvert. About to celebrate her 90th birthday on Memorial Day, she opted not to put an electric fence around the small vegetable patch she tends after neighbors told her they had, via a .22 rifle, removed the two woodchucks that frequented the homestead on the outskirts of the village.
Then what turns up but a young woodchuck presumably from a batch left behind by the deceased, and what beats MiMi's fresh peas for immature groundhogs to fatten up on? Nothing, that's what. Uncle Jack drove up from northern New Jersey to install the electric fence.
Fooling Darn Deer
All the rain hereabouts has delayed wife Lois's planting of flowers, and the wild rabbits of the woodland cliff overlooking Stoney Creek are becoming impatient. They wander about the lawn and garden munching on grass, clover and a few perennial carry-overs, but they want those fresh young flowers - and they're really not particular.
When I transplant in the yard yet another tiny sapling tree from the nearby woods, I expect a 50 percent mortality via hungry rabbits. Accepting that is easier than putting up a small fence, and, after all, rabbits have to eat. Lois isn't as generous with her flowers; several years ago she lost her whole spring planting.
I see by the DNR/CES advisory that flowering dogwood and holly is recommended because it isn't preferred by deer. Yet two winters ago, MiMi's young plants of both species were decimated by whitetails. Last fall, to field test TreeGuard, a new commercial repellent, I traveled to Vermont to spray them with the non-toxic formula.
I can't report on the effectiveness of TreeGuard because during the mild winter of El Niño, deer didn't have to forage in lawns on the outskirts of the village. Calvert is experimenting with mothballs to keep the rabbits away, and a neighbor in Riviera Beach is experimenting with pepper to thwart rabbits. No reports on success yet.
As for the recommended plants that might discourage deer until they get too hungry), on the DNR/CES list are:
With all due respect to those who compiled the lists, my advice is don't bet the farm on them. I've seen lilacs done in by marauding deer, also other wildlife taking a toll at one time or another on several other species.
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VolumeVI Number 20
May 21-27, 1998
New Bay Times
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