Sunday, July 22, 2012

More critter wars


It was 100° F yesterday (pretty much an average day this summer), so of course I worked out in the hot sun for almost eight hours.

I started at 10 AM - early, for me - and finished at 6:30 PM, without even stopping for lunch (although I did take a beer and computer game break for almost an hour).

The problem was that my red grapes were starting to change color, and I knew what would happen then. Indeed, in just the few days since I noticed that - days when I was busy elsewhere, unfortunately - the robins had already eaten about a third of them.

Yes, I've already mentioned my war with the squirrels, but they're my biggest problem, not the only one.

In this case, I'd already netted my early grapes, but I can't completely block off the grapes without netting the entire row. There wasn't much of an opening there - I'd blocked it as best I could - but birds will find any opening at all.

Usually, they'll find a way inside, but no way to get out again. This time, though, the red grapes were near the end of the netting, so they didn't have that problem. And in just a few days, they'd wiped out cluster after cluster of grapes.

So yesterday I extended the netting - not quite to the end of the row, but at least to my gate (that leaves a much smaller opening that's a long way from the grapes that are starting to ripen). I also pruned and netted my little Pink Lady apple tree.

The apples, too, have been pecked to death by birds. And given how wormy they seem to be - for some reason, I just hate to spray, so don't get it done early enough or often enough - it was probably a waste of time, anyway.

But the tree is right next to my grapevines, so I just netted the whole thing. That might make it a little easier to pick grapes when the time comes, too.

But this story is mostly about rabbits. Rabbits don't usually cause me problems, because I've covered my chainlink fence with chickenwire (against the fence, it's pretty much invisible - most people don't even notice it).

I've got hardware cloth on the bottom of the gates, too, so rabbits can't normally get inside. But if they do get inside, they can be almost impossible to get out again. A couple of years ago, I actually chased a young rabbit around my yard until it died of heat stroke.

Well, it turned out yesterday that there was a rabbit nest right alongside the fence where I was working, very close to the gate.

As parched as my lawn is - we haven't had any rain in a long, long time - you wouldn't have thought rabbits could have been hiding anywhere, but it doesn't take much! And they stayed still for a long time, though I must have been stomping around right next to them.

Finally, a baby rabbit jumped out right from under my feet, then two more. Now, I'm always very careful to keep the gate closed, just for that reason. But these rabbits were very small - small enough to squeeze through the chickenwire, with difficulty, if they were highly motivated.

The first one ran to the south and got stuck trying to get through the chickenwire. As I say, it wasn't easy even for them. He started squealing (causing his mother to come running), but by the time I got there, he'd pulled loose and found a better place to get through my fence.

As I ran to get the first baby rabbit, I saw the second one scoot through the fence into my backyard, too. I don't know where the third one went. I just hope he didn't do the same thing.

At any rate, I was able to catch the first bunny and release him in the front yard. I hope his momma will find him there. But I couldn't find the others, not at first.

However, just before I went inside for the day, I thought I'd try something else. I took the hose and sprayed the area along the fence (from the inside), which cause the second bunny to move enough that I could spot him.

Note that this is the area under the grapevines which I had just netted off, so there was a temporary chickenwire fence on both sides. That temporary fence wasn't much of an obstacle for the baby rabbits (there were gaps all along the bottom), but it made things rather difficult for me.

When I tried to grab the bunny - or scare him back through the fence, which was more likely - he got stuck. He'd picked the absolute worst place to try to get through it, and he got so stuck I wasn't sure I'd ever get him out.

Of course, he just squealed and squealed as I worked to get him free, lying on my belly with one hand extended. (Again, his mother came running. I must say that I was impressed. What's a rabbit supposed to do, anyway, against, well,... anything eating her babies? But she got as close as she could.)

After working all day in the heat, I was just exhausted - and dripping with sweat. But eventually I got the bunny free, pushing him through the fence to join his mother.

As I say, I don't know what happened to the third one, but I sure hope he's not still in my yard somewhere. In another few days, they'll be too big to squeeze through the chickenwire, and my backyard is rabbit heaven. I'll never get him out, not until fall, at least.

Like the birds, rabbits will find any opening you leave them. The first few years taught me that! But I've got all the holes plugged up now, I'm sure. But that works both ways. If they can't get in, they can't get out.

Normally, baby rabbits won't leave the nest until they're too big to get through the chickenwire. They won't leave momma that early, certainly. And they'll stay in the nest unless you're right on top of them (or until the lawnmower is right on top of them, which is all too common).

It was just my bad luck - and theirs - that I'd needed to net those grapes then, and not a few days earlier or later. Oh, well, I hope they made it. I don't want to hurt them, I just don't want them inside my fence. There's plenty of room in the front yard for them.

Today, it's suppose to be 105°, and I need to finish netting the last of the grapes. Unfortunately, it's also supposed to be windy today, so that might not be possible. Well, I have plenty of work to do out there.

Any maybe I'll actually pick some grapes today. My earliest grapes are ripe, mostly. And let me tell you, they are worth the effort.


Chimeradave said...

My gosh how do farmers that have acres and acres do it?

Jim Harris said...

You really should be doing video blogging. This is fascinating. Bill, you must be in great shape. I couldn't survive 1 hour in that heat. I'd be dead. I have no stamina at all any more. We were just at the grocery store and I was thinking if this was olden times I'd be dead.

Of course, if I had lived to 60 without climate control I might be a much healthier person, and not as fat.

It sounds like your entire backyard should be screened in.

Jeff said...

Be vewy, vewy quiet...

WCG said...

There are big differences between commercial growers and backyard gardeners, John. I want a small amount of a big variety of fruit (not all of it perfectly suited to this environment), and I have to grow it all in a very restricted space.

Commercial growers tend to grow a lot of one variety of fruit, which helps in many different ways. And they tend to grow what works best for them, not bothering with the marginal stuff.

In this case, they don't have fruit ripening all summer and fall, as I do. When they do have ripe fruit, it's in massive abundance. But the rest of the year, there's nothing to attract fruit-eaters, so they can't raise an abundance of young to take advantage of a momentary windfall.

Many plants have evolved to do the same thing (to protect their seeds more than fruit, because fruit is supposed to attract animals). Whatever preys on you, you need to overwhelm it with bounty in a brief period of time, but let it struggle to survive the rest of the year. Otherwise, predators will increase in numbers over time.

WCG said...

I'm not in great shape, Jim, but I work outside all summer long, so I'm used to the heat.

It's tough in the spring, since I've been sitting on my butt all winter. But you get used to the heat when you're working in it every day.

And usually, I don't work that long. It was 105° yesterday, and I only worked about three hours total. I started late, I quit early, and I took a beer break in the middle. :)

WCG said...

Yup. It's too bad I don't live in the country, Jeff. I could eat those squirrels and rabbits, so I wouldn't mind them fattening up on my fruit.

I'd probably draw the line at eating robins, though. :)