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Dear Friends and Groundhog Moms

Every creature has a mom – even groundhogs – but despite Sunday's holiday I'm not inclined to celebrate with them once our garden is planted and growing.

A good portion of my summer last year was devoted to keeping Mother Groundhog out of my garden, and already this season Junior Groundhog has been spotted casing the perimeter of the fence. My faithful Have-a-Heart trap, which captures small garden critters without harming them, is ready and waiting.

“It's time to reset the trap,” my spouse announced one morning last week.

“Did I catch the groundhog?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “But you got the biggest possum I've ever seen.”

Both possums and ground hogs, in my opinion, are in the same category – creatures only a mother could love. Unfortunately, plenty of moms of both species seem partial to our garden. We've been fighting the Veggie Wars since we tilled our first row over 30 years ago.

“Your deer friends are back,” my husband announced early one morning that first year on the farm.

The sun was barely peeping over the tree line as our early morning callers came up the hill. Like a scene in a Disney movie, the herd moved silently and gracefully from tree to tree.

That's because they hadn't discovered the garden yet.

These deer friends, unlike dear friends worth their weight in gold, weigh in at about ten carrots – roughly what we'll harvest after the herd passes through one 75-foot row.

Needless to say, it wasn't long before these doe-eyed creatures became unwelcome guests. Garden hit men, they pilfered the rows, leaping tall fences in a single bound – and it didn't take a Superman or Lois Lane to figure out where all the vegetables went.

Despite all our tilling and toiling those first years at Elam, vegetables were as scarce as hen's teeth.

Hens don't have teeth, you say?

Of course they don't, but even our little flock of egg layers took a bite out of our garden produce at every opportunity. So did groundhogs and rabbits and raccoons. To all creatures great and small, our garden was the Old Country Buffet – and we were last in line.

The problem was obvious – we were “de-fenceless.”

So we built one – sturdy fence posts, hefty cross braces at every corner.

Oddly enough, it didn't seem to help. If anything the vegetable consumption (other than ours) increased.

One evening about sunset I discovered the reason. A plump raccoon, sides bulging from a supper of fresh corn, was advancing to a corner post (from inside the garden, of course). I watched as he mounted the cross brace, walked up the beam and vaulted over the fence.

It's a shame animals can't compete in the Olympics. A team of Elam raccoons would walk away with all the balance beam medals – not to mention half a bushel of corn.

We tried modifying the fence, but if anything appetites increased. All that vigorous aerobic exercise apparently worked on the appetites of all our little garden interlopers.

The deer merely loped – over the fence.

We have dogs, three to be exact, but deer are smarter.

“How many goats do we have?” my spouse inquired as we enjoyed a stroll on a recent evening.

“Five,” I said.

“Count again,” he pointed toward the pasture.

At least half a dozen deer were mingling nonchalantly with the goats. When we turned the corner at the barn, the deer left their goat personas behind. As we watched at least half a dozen deer behinds hopped over the fence.

“I think,” I told my spouse. “We need a taller fence around the garden.”

My husband came up with the idea of adding another layer of fencing above the first – something like a double-decker bus.

“I believe it's working,” I told my spouse as we enjoyed our first crop of un-nibbled peas several seasons ago.

No more deer friends in the garden!

But, unfortunately, “dear friends” come in all sizes.

I was feeling fairly confident as I went to the garden for some salad ingredients one evening last week. Since I put the Have-a-Heart out, we hadn't seen hide or hair of the groundhog.

The hare, I'm afraid, didn't get the message.

The curly kale was doing more than curling – it was swaying back and forth with a rhythmic chewing beat. I parted the plants, and a tiny baby rabbit with a mouth full of kale returned my startled gaze.

The little rabbit looked at me and blinked. With a flip of his tail he hopped to the fence and wiggled through a tiny hole.

Looking back through the fence at me the little rabbit blinked again. His message, in regard to our vegetables, was clear, “Hare today, gone tomorrow!”

If there is a moral to this story it is this: When you plant a garden in an animal's back yard, you had better be prepared to share.

But then, what are dear friends for?