Monday, October 25, 2010

Urban Garden Pests

I expected the cats.  My neighborhood, which is adjacent to the overgrown, northern section of the Boggy Creek Greenbelt, supports a large wild cat population.  So it was no surprise when, just as I started digging up the lawn, creating many square feet of soft, recently-turned soil, the neighborhood cats began using the yard as their litter box.  Stepping carefully around piles of cat shit, I actually found the situation entertaining because I could envision the particular kind of joy that is experienced by a cat who has just discovered a wonderfully soft place to dig.  I began referring to the yard as "The Best Cat Box Ever."

Once I planted seeds and began watering the garden every day, sometimes twice a day, to keep the soil uniformly moist, the cats stopped using it.  Cats don't like to get their feet wet and, probably with some disappointment, went back to digging up the mulch around the side of the house.

Then came the dogs.  Or the dog?  The dogs like the cedar mulch that I spread on the paths between the garden beds.  Or, to be more clear, the dogs like to shit in the cedar mulch that is supposed to be providing me with dry, flat pathways through my garden.  Instead, the mulched pathways grow lumps overnight, and stepping over a lump seems to guarantee stepping into a fresh pile of dog shit, because dogs, unlike cats, don't bury their shit.  Dogs dig for pleasure then take a dump somewhere in the vicinity.  Twice already I have stepped in fresh piles, and one of those times I was carrying a shovelful of another pile.  Realizing what I had done, I sidestepped quickly, taking weight off the poorly-placed foot while still balancing the shovel and trying to avoid stepping on newly-sprouted lettuces, only to place the other foot, the one upon which I was now resting about 90% of my weight, squarely onto another fresh turd that I had kicked out of its original place in the process.

Where my garden shoes now live

And, though the process of gardening is, in theory, calming, there is no way to calm a woman who is carrying dog shit in the treads of both of her shoes while holding another shovelful of dog shit.  Dog shit from somebody else's dog.  Somebody else whose dog is running free around the neighborhood at night, or, worse, somebody who allowed her/his dog to shit in my yard as s/he watched.  I wanted to march up the street and empty my shovel, and clean my treads, onto the porch of the neighbors whose dog is often out and has chased sixteen-year-old Benji up a tree.  But Lee suggested that, perhaps, starting a neighborhood feud wasn't the best idea.  And I have to admit that, lately, it's been another neighbor's dog that's been keeping everyone on the street awake as it runs up and down the street chasing cats and barking that incessant, yapping bark.  So, much as I want to be mad at somebody, I don't even know who that somebody is.

Dogs on the loose.  A clowder of wild cats.  Those are only the "domestic" mammalian pests of the front-yard garden.  Something else - I'm guessing a raccoon or skunk - has also been digging in the garden beds, probably looking for fat Japanese beetle grubs.  So far only one row, the Tatsoi, has been damaged by the digging, which usually occurs around the edges of the beds, but it is a daily annoyance to find my once-neat beds spilling onto the pavement.  Each morning, in addition to searching for and removing dog shit from the paths, I rake or sweep loose soil from the sidewalk or driveway back into the garden before watering, hoping that, soon, the grubs will burrow too deep in the soil to be of interest to the raccoons or skunks.

The blank slate of the gardener is a freshly-turned rectangle of soil.  To me, freshly-turned soil is the perfect place for planting rows of seeds.  But freshly-turned soil is also a blank slate for cats and dogs, who see an opportunity for digging and finding smells and marking their territory.  And it is a feeding opportunity for birds, and raccoons, and skunks, who are able to find seeds and insects from deep in the soil that have been moved to the top layer.  By turning the soil, I didn't just make a garden space for myself.  I also, inadvertently, invited all the mammals in the neighborhood into my yard, and I created the perfect opportunity for all the seeds that were once buried beneath my lawn to germinate.  Here I was thinking that in my yard I wouldn't have any competition.

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