The beasties’ share

There’s a legend about why whisky disappears, in modest little sips, out of the casks it’s stored in. Year after year, benign supernatural beings take their price as the liquid matures, and this is called the angel’s share.

As a budding and, so far, in no way successful urban food gardener, I can only conclude that I and my city-dwelling kin must accept a similar toll on our hyper-local produce: the beasties’ share. The critters running around harvesting and replanting according to their own mysterious designs exact rather more than the approximately 2% per year the angels demand from whisky aficionados, however.

Of the three peppers that once dared to dream of reaching adulthood on my pepper plant, my husband and I ate one, while the squirrels consumed at least 1/5 of one and the third is MIA. You see, having absconded with two, they brought one back about a week later; it showed signs of having been experimentally nibbled upon and then rejected. I understood this half-digested message to contain more reproval than threat; I imagine the rodents impatiently considered how most effectively to demand that I learn to grow a better class of nightshade and settled on this method. The plant, of course, hasn’t flowered once since this attack, and so I can’t begin to comply.

Peppers, we hardly knew ye

Peppers, we hardly knew ye

They also ate almost all the kale seeds I planted, and did so every time I replanted them; eventually, I simply ran out of both seeds and morale. Now, one whole section in one of my modest little cedar planters is a sad, bald expanse of nothing—except, of course, for the random weeds the beasties planted there themselves. And they continue to root through this empty space, and everything else, every night in spite of the fact that the dirt is running bloody with the cayenne we continually blanket it with.

I have also failed to make good on the universal promise of zucchini plants being both easy to grow and abundant of fruit: they are dead, dead! And have been so for almost as long as they’ve been under my care. I keep their corpses there as a reminder of my sins but the fact is, they were looking kind of okay until the squirrels picked and picked at them, repeatedly exposing their roots, and now all hope of recovery is lost.

There's been a murder

There’s been a murder

The squirrels often steal tomatoes off the vine as well; on top of this, whether I over- or under- or perfectly water them, the leaves continue to turn a tired, poorly yellow. There will soon be nothing left of our tomato plants except their sadly beating hearts and memories of better days in a greenhouse somewhere far, far from here.

It’s not the sharing that bothers me; it’s the wanton destruction, including of things that could provide those skittery little wretches with even more to eat if only they’d let my plants live long enough to feed—anyone.

But I knew squirrels gloried in chaos, so I’m not sure why any of this surprises me. Last year, I witnessed a tableau of senseless destruction that should have told me just what ungovernable fury I was up against: I was riding my bicycle to work very early in the morning, just after the sun had risen; on one well-groomed, upper middle class side street, I approached and then passed one of these varmints systematically beheading a perfect row of tulips in someone’s front yard. That little animal went from one flower to the next, cleanly tearing off one bulb, flinging it over his right shoulder, pausing thoughtfully, moving on to the next one, and repeating same. He disregarded my imprecations and threatening fist.

Imagining for a moment that Darwin’s theory of evolution is fully correct and manifests in every aspect of every being’s life, one can’t help but ask: Where, precisely, is the advantage of destroying everything in sight, including one’s own food supply (so helpfully managed by the ridiculous giants whose roof you’re no longer allowed to live in)? There must be some advantage. I conclude, I must, that squirrels are smarter, more strategic, more able to plan for the long term than I am; and so I bow to their superior wisdom, charmingly bushy tales, and nocturnal habits.

Further: They destroy everything and yet their numbers do not decline. Perhaps their real food is the rage and relative impotence of human beings to do anything with their own property without these beasties’ express consent. They take their share, and our sanity, and so thrive. They are formidable and frightening; I am simply no match for them and neither are my tomato plants.

Happier days in the garden

Happier days in the garden

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6 thoughts on “The beasties’ share

  1. My mom, who has laboriously fostered her own community of squirrels, says you have to distract the squirrels with nuts and other squirrel food ( I don’t know what), and then they will leave your plants alone.

    They’re the mafia, basically.

  2. Squirrels are my enemy! I have never ever gotten a single hazelnut off my tree because the squirrels eat them all just before they are actually ripe. One day, tree covered in nuts, the next day, stripped bare. Supplying with diversion food does not work, it only makes them hungrier for more. For seeds, I have managed to outwit them with floating row cover fabric. For your tomatoes, consider netting (worked great on my raspberries this year) or some kind of cage like boocat has. Also for you yellow tomato leaves, it might be lack of nitrogen in the soil or it could be you aren’t watering the plants enough. They like water and they like a deep watering all the way down. Don’t give up! Don’t let the squirrels win!

    • Doing my best. Some of my tomato plants are looking quite robust; just one, really, has the yellowing leaves. It’s looking quite desperate and bare these days, but keeps producing tomatoes anyway…? I’ll try adding nitrogen. I water it like crazy!

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