Yes, I’m a pacifist, and like to think of myself as — if not an animal activist — at least a gentle and humanitarian inhabitant of the planet who is happy to share space with creatures large and small. As you could tell from the tone here, there’s a huge “but” at the end of that sentence. And it’s, “But, don’t mess with my garden.”

And for years, no one did. I had a small patch of brown earth and a busy life that didn’t allow great agricultural expectations, but each year saw a few beans and tomato plants, a pepper or two, some snap peas, and of course the raspberries. And for years, other than insects and blights, no one bothered my produce on the vine. Until a few years ago when the rabbits that had made their home in the “swamp” on the other side of our circle got adventuresome and came to see if the grass were, indeed, greener. Along with the rabbits, and certainly more aggressive and destructive was Phil, the groundhog, the woodchuck, the ##@$!%. Whatever you want to call him, he was able to turn this peaceful and peace-loving gardener into a raging, militant warrior defending her territory.

It was bad enough that Phil would help himself to the vegetables, but he used no discretion, restraint, or even a sense of fairness. The beans would break ground and just start to put out leaves, and he would snip off all the tender shoots. They would struggle to come back, reach the proper size, and zap! Gone. It seemed that nothing, except possibly tomatoes, was distasteful to him — even the tomatoes he would try, take a large bite out of it, probably spit all over it, and then toss the defiled vegetable on the ground.

Each week I tried a new prevention: nontoxic sprays, fox pee, sprinklers, banging tin pans, Have-a-heart style traps. I knew that I had crossed over to the dark side when Bob put out the trap and said, “If I catch Phil, where do you want to take him?” My response was immediate and vicious, “Take him? Take him? The only thing I want you to do is to dig a very deep hole and bury him alive!” This coming from a person who takes household spiders outside rather than smashing them. But when Bob did catch Phil in the trap, I didn’t follow thorough on the execution. Bob drove him about five miles away to a wooded spot near (but not in) the Connecticut river. Tick the check mark, job done. Maybe.

They say, those sage “they” folks, that groundhogs can find their way homes from a distance of up to eight miles. We learned that after we let Chuck go. Then we waited…and waited…and yes, either Chuck or one of his sibs or cousins returned and continued the carnage. I cried a lot.

Over the winter that year, I did more research. If you want to fence in a garden, you must bury the wire something like two feet deep to prevent groundhogs from burrowing under it, and who knows how high to keep them from climbing over it. My research was practically a second career, but any of the solutions that seemed to have any promise of working would require two full-time careers to fund. The time horizon for payback was in decades, not years. Just as I was losing heart, I found a product that seemed incredibly easy, inexpensive, and impossible to believe that it could work.

Fence and electrical connection

The manufacturer is Mr. McGregor’s Fence — the name alone should either instill confidence or elicit chuckles. It’s very simple, though implausible.  A low wire fence (about 18 inches high) surrounded by second fence composed of two thin electrified wires. It won’t keep out deer, but that’s okay. The bunnies can’t jump over it, and if the groundhog tries to either crawl over or dig under, he gets a harmless, but stern reprimand. So will anything else that touches it–the operative word here is “harmless.” We installed this fence around our garden (about 25′ x 25′) last year and there were no — NO  — violations of our plants from creatures. We lost all of our tomatoes and many of the squash to blight, but nothing larger than a fungus or a fly trespassed.  I was a very happy person.

It’s got an on/off switch, so I can turn it off when I want, like when my grandchildren are around, or when I’m weeding near the fence. At the end of the season, we disconnected the power.

Someone's digging up the pea seeds!

Short, discreet, but effective!

Fast forward to this March. On the day after St. Patrick’s day, I planted my peas. They weren’t due to emerge for at least a week to ten days, so I saw no reason to reactivate the fence. Until I came out one day and saw paw marks in the pea bed. Don’t know who it was, but someone was munching on the pea seeds. Within an hour, we had reactivated the electricity and the peas have been untouched! Thank you Beatrix Potter, thank you Mr. McGregor, sorry (but not really) Peter Rabbit and Phil.