More Mantis and Marmot Magic

After last week’s unusual animal sightings and interactions, the bizarre fun continues. The praying mantis who “reported for duty” last week is the friendliest insect I’ve come across. He (and it does seem to be a he, judging by size) landed on David’s arm on Sunday, and yesterday, I felt someone looking at me, only to discover it was my little mantis friend, hanging out on the cosmos! He said hi and then continued on his way. Today, he landed on my arm while I was planting strawberries and thyme. We both startled each other when I jumped, but after I apologized for flailing my arm, he turned his head and nodded at me.

David took down the dog run wire that had created a no-fly zone for hawks and eagles, and I didn’t see any groundhogs for a few days. This was compared to 3 or 4 sightings per day. The shed showed evidence of some kind of major tussle, but I don’t know who did what to whom. On the day I received 1.5 tons of soil, right before it arrived, I saw the old woodchuck out back. This is the more polite, grizzled one who just eats clover. He looked right at me through the window, kind of like a fat, old man saying, “Listen lady, I heard about you. Don’t mess with me.” When he got a little too close to the house for comfort, I opened and closed the window, which sent him lumbering away to the spruces.

Because David had recently trimmed the very bottoms of low hanging trees in order to make it easier for him to mow the lawn, I could see the groundhog, aka, “whistle pig,” aka Marmota monax, pop up in the far back, right corner of brush and trees. He just hung out there for awhile, and I went out front to await my soil drop off. Right before it arrived — and I mean immediately — who goes zipping from our neighbor’s backyard in a beeline across our driveway to the area across the street where I kept feeling a woodchuck? The very same one.

One scream later, I realized several things:

  1. I don’t have to worry about the one I’d seen across the street suddenly finding our yard. This was a well traveled path.
  2. The only reason he hadn’t seen my front yard garden was that it’s super stealth, hugging the treeline and he was moving fast.
  3. The most likely predator of this particular groundhog might be a car. One barely missed him.
  4. I don’t think it’s the same groundhog that ate my pepper plants, but it might be. For sure, I have seen this one on a regular basis, because he has very distinctive markings — almost distinguished with the white “beard.”
  5. Once again, that uncanny groundhog timing was causing me to rethink an ambitious garden plan.

After the soil arrived on Monday morning, I started moving it to various beds, bags and in ground areas. Synchronously, my second 100 gallon original Big Bag Bed has still not yet arrived, and it was supposed to rain last night. It didn’t, but I used last night as my deadline to move all the soil off the driveway. I did fill another 50 gallon Big Bag Bed Jr. and a bunch of Smart Pots and Vivosun fabric pots. I’m experimenting to see which ones I like best, but they all mix and match sizes in a consistent black color that blends well with the edges of weeping trees:

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Prior to seeing the groundhog jet across our driveway, I had planned to put the 100 gallon Big Bag Bed to the right of that second 10-gallon pot above and just to the left of the pots you see below, which are closer to the driveway:

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The silver artemesia (wormwood) and lavender are both deer and groundhog resistant, possibly even repellent. I’m still ever so slightly considering the garden as planned with the 100-gallon circle just to the left of the leftmost artemesia; however, I have concerns that putting a larger bed out in the open, jutting forward into full sun from the treeline, will scream, “Hey, all you devouring critters, I’m gardening here! Free buffet.”

By getting greedy with the sunlight for more plants, I might jeopardize the entire front yard garden. If, on the other hand, I just continue hugging the treeline with the grow bags interspersed with mints, salvia, lavender and other highly fragrant and flowering herbs and deer/groundhog resistant butterfly plants, then maybe my front yard garden will remain stealth from not only groundhogs, but deer and humans, as well.

As I filled 20-gallon beds near the mailbox and readied the planter area for a bunch of butterfly friendly, deer repellent and drought tolerant plants, the woodchuck started going wild in the copse across the street. He was whistling so loud it sounded like a song. (I took this photo last evening, which is why it’s in the shade. Normally this area gets about 12 hours of direct sun per day, so these pots will house monarda (scarlet bee balm), catmint, and likely some daffodils. The pots unify the mailbox area with the birch tree guild closer to our house.)

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Anyway, during the two days of soil moving, every time I thought about putting the 100-gallon bed up front, the groundhog would go crazy with excitement, whistling, singing and making bizarre woodchuck noises I’ve heard on youtube. Whenever I’d think of not doing that, he quieted down. Coincidence? Maybe, but since living here, I’ve noticed that groundhogs really do have impeccable timing. I’ve been eating from and enjoying this kitchen garden every day. I’d really prefer it remain off the radar. I’d also not like total devastation to be the first impression of our house if he or some of his friends finds the front yard garden. With plants hugging the treeline, damage is far less obvious.

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Here’s where things get even more synchronous and magical. Part of this soil moving adventure involved filling eight 20-gallon Vivosun pots along our existing backyard hedge. Doing so meant moving the soil twice — once into a garden cart, hauling it around the side, through the gate, across the yard and then shoveling it a second time into each pot. They are too big to fit in the cart when full, so I would fill them up front just enough to hold shape, cart them back and then shovel the soil into them from the cart. It has been in the upper 80’s, sunny, and very, very humid. Let’s just say I got the full steam room treatment and a mini cleanse both days!

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This hedge in front of the existing hedge will grow aronia berries, blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb and gooseberry, at least that’s the plan. After all that work hauling dirt, I now have some concerns that it may get sloshy and overflow during a hard rain. Once roots lock into the soil and give it structure, that will be less the case; however, we’re supposed to have four days of rain starting tonigh. Today, I realized I needed mulch, but I don’t want another delivery before all that rain. What to do, what to do … and I was still also wondering about that 100-gallon bed. Maybe I should put it out back, but if so, where? And plant it with what?

…And where could I get some wild ginger for the shady area up front? I checked around local nurseries and no one seems to have wild ginger, or at least not right now. It’s deer resistant, edible, and solves a ground cover situation up front. But where was it?! I looked all over online and finally found a bare root vendor on Amazon, but it’s very pricey for what ought to be free or close to it, since wild ginger grows like a weed in many places.

Anyway, dilemmas, dilemmas. Because of this groundhog situation in both front and back yards, I started wondering what would happen if I just put the Big Bag Bed to the west of the shed (on the side with the 20-gallon pots) and plant it with perennial onions, sea kale and whatever backups for the front yard crops I want. I could put my pot of nettles behind that bed and fill in the area behind the bed with more catmint and butterfly plants.

If that bed were to get devastated, I wouldn’t even be able to see it from most of the backyard. If it thrives, great! Sea kale might even wake up in spring before groundhogs do. Plus, I’ve been wanting an out of the way spot for garlic, Egyptian Walking Onions and a “magical” garden — some of whose plants can look a little weedy in an otherwise cultivated yard.

Today, I checked on that space multiple times to compare and contrast with the up front option. I think it gets ever so slightly less light than that full sun spot up front will, but it for sure will not scream, “Hey, I’m a garden!” because it will be tucked away and surrounded by and planted with repellent plants. I’d put it in an otherwise totally unused area, which is nowhere near our house foundation and close enough to the shed that no new tunnels would need to be dug.

While exploring that area again this afternoon and still pondering my mulch dilemma — too heavy to carry from the store while David’s in Goshen, don’t want a bulk delivery before the rain, really need something to moderate the soil moisture/overflow situation of my new fruit shrubs — the previous dumping ground for years of grass clippings suddenly caught my eye. This neglected, unseen area offered beautifully matted, dried grass clippings, perfect for mulching the 20-gallon bags! As I lifted literal pads of mulched grass clippings, I glanced in the shadiest back corner and saw several thriving wild ginger plants I can use for cuttings or transplant to the shady spot up front!

I also realized I could use the grass clippings to protect my new delphinium from having a landslide since I just threw in a 1 foot by 3 foot area of soil along the back trellis:

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I planted some thyme as a groundcover/erosion control back there, but it will take awhile to establish. I don’t know that the grass clippings will totally solve the issue, but if they at least slow down the landslide until the roots get more established, then mission accomplished. That delphinium is groundhog repellent and should grow to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, filling in the center between the two established clematis.

I really can’t say that the groundhog is my official garden planner, but it’s quite eerie when every time I ponder a plan, a groundhog brings to light a wiser course of action. Perhaps it’s just permaculture in action: the problem is the solution. Maybe it’s the faeries.

In any case, I hauled 1.5 tons of soil in two days, some of it twice. A testament to just how hard I’ve been working since beginning to move out of the blue house/office on May 1, followed by our full relocation: even though I’ve been busy with sessions and literally working my butt off, this week still feels like a vacation. It feels good to have new plant friends, animal allies, and yes, nearly 2 tons of additional soil since moving here, with more on the way next week to fill that Big Bag Bed and more grow pots, wherever I decide they need to go.

It feels good to observe and learn our land, and it feels dangerously good to have an outdoor garden store, indoor hydroponics store and our favorite health food store all within a very short walk. I’ve had more synchronous encounters than I have time to blog or document. Sessions continue going well. All I can say is that I must really be tired of packing and unpacking, if hauling that much soil in 80+ degrees and high humidity feels like a vacation! But it does …

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Wishing you and yours some garden magic — preferably without the marmot, but the mantis are fun! Blessed Be … and be the blessing!

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kieron on July 19, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Fun to read, but I would be wiped out doing half of what it sounds like you accomplished. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] More Mantis and Marmot Magic — Laura Bruno’s Blog üzerinden […]

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  3. Thanks, Kieron. Yes, I needed a day off and a lighter load (metaphorically and otherwise) at the end of this week. I took today to get a haircut and explore the bus system. Fun times! It’s good to rejuvenate. 🙂

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