Sam’s Spade: Farewell to groundhogs
So there you are, standing in your garden, admiring the healthy colors and the abundance of food this year's harvest will bring — then you spot it, a small hole in the earth next to your carrots. Reaching a hand into the hole, you find that there is a vast emptiness within, a large tunnel that runs right underneath your plants. It's at this moment you realize you've been hoodwinked by your local groundhog.
A groundhog, or woodchuck as some people call them, can be the end of your garden. I could tell you that the groundhog doesn't drink water (or Gatorade), that they have extremely capable incisors and claws to defend themselves with, and that they can remove hundreds of pounds of earth in order to construct a burrow... but who cares? The important thing is knowing how to get rid of these pesky creatures from the yard.
Just like the porcupine, red squirrel, and coyote, groundhogs have no closed season, meaning you can legally “hunt” them at any point during the year. Many farmers would agree that shooting them is the easiest and most effective way to get rid of them. A .22 will do just fine, just make sure it's a clean shot and you don't maim the animal. However, there are some of us who live inside city limits, don't own a firearm, or simply prefer not to shoot the critters — this article is for you.
I first witnessed the groundhog's presence in my yard while I weeded the garden. Right from the start he seemed like a chunky fellow and, judging by his girth, it seemed as though he had really been enjoying the fruits of my labor.
I felt like the character “Rabbit” from Winnie-the-Poo, as I witnessed my vegetables disappearing before my eyes. Since I didn't have my own Have-a-heart trap, I borrowed a friend's and worked on setting it up immediately. I went to the store and bought some broccoli, broke it up a tad just to get the smell a bit stronger, and baited the trap. I then placed the trap about five feet from one of the groundhog's entrances/exits that went right underneath the shed in my backyard, and camouflaged it with surrounding foliage. After a week of no success I tried a different, more fragrant, bait: apples. A few days later I noticed I finally caught something... a raccoon. I made more adjustments.
Instead of having the trap five feet away, with a log barrier that would “push” the groundhog in the trap's direction, I took one entrance of the trap and pushed it right up against the hole that came out from underneath the building, leaving only a couple inches of room so that the metal panel could swing freely down into place.
The next day I checked the trap and found the chubby woodchuck sitting calmly at one end of the cage: the apples had done the trick. The furry creature watched me as I approached, shifting its weight to get a better look at me, and when I got close, it began to ram the ends of the trap one after another in an attempt to get out. I let out a victory laugh. “Where you goin'? You ain't goin' nowhere.”
If you have a groundhog problem, do something about it immediately. Traps work, but make sure to remove the animal at least five miles away (as the crow flies), but further is even better. Also, remember that the groundhog you removed still has a mansion underneath your shed and gardens, a vacant spot that another groundhog or different critter could move right into. I heard once that if you soak cotton balls in ammonia and throw them down the hole then this will keep animals out, but that sounds like a pretty temporary solution to me. Though basically the same idea, I believe spraying coyote or fox urine would last longer and be more effective all-around.
In order to protect these vulnerable spots in your yard from these fantastic diggers, you can always try building a fence. Make sure to bury a good part of it in order to dissuade the animals from digging underneath, and make it tall enough to they can't easily climb over.
Whatever you do, do not sit back and think, “there's enough to feed us both,” because chances are, folks, there isn't. Happy gardening!