Saturday, June 1, 2013


It's not a surprise that we have Raccoons out here in the country. For years though their presence was limited to paw prints around the place and an empty bird feeder. While there never seemed to be much going on with them out in the garden, they were probably the culprit in the Case of the Missing Watermelon, a few years back. We had a nice developing fruit that one night ended up detached and under my bike shop. I always thought "squirrel," but I was never sure.

Last year though one of those masked bandits terrorized our house sitter. He showed up one evening, sitting by our back door and calming unscrewing the lid to a plastic jar full of dog biscuits. She chased him off and food-proofed the outside shelves, but clearly we had a now permanent outdoor pet. My suspicion is that given the ongoing drought and the lack of permanent water in the closest irrigation ditch, we're going to see more of this and if the increasing amount of paw prints in the dust out by the little horse's water buckets is any indication, we're going to be seeing a lot more of it.

As we began working the garden this year, the amount of digging going on in the beds remained about constant. Each night there would be a dozen or so little holes dug in the beds and around the base of the frames. Again, I've always attributed this activity to squirrels because we do see Sunflowers popping up in the most unusual places should water happen to fall there. Last year I had a 10' Sunflower growing in the compost pile and this year I have a couple of giants coming up in a pot. The local squirrel steals from the feeder in the front yard and stashes seeds all over the place.

However, on the first morning following the installation of the rabbit fence, I came out to find it crushed on both sides of two of our beds, as though a big animal had climbed in one side and out the other. Not the work of a 2 pound squirrel. The same little holes were dug here and there, although now freshly planted Marigolds were lying in heaps and the rows of our wildflower seeds were destroyed. I fixed the fences and sat in front of the computer, searching for "Raccoon control."

As it always is with internet advice, it takes a lot of wading to get through the swamp of stupid replies. I remember one time searching for a way to keep bananas from going brown too quickly. The most common answer was "Bananas don't go brown in my house because the kids eat them real fast! LOL!" In other words, and I know this will come as a shock to most of you, but the internet is filled with bored and lonely morons.

I did however find some useful information. The little holes that get dug are due to a Raccoon's sweet tooth for worms and grubs, something that you're not going to change. The Mennonites in Pennsylvania play Jimi Hendrix at night in their corn fields to keep them away. Peeing in circles around your beds doesn't work, but shooting Raccoons does. Getting them trapped is the best way of dealing with them if you're a respecter of animal life like I am. In short, the best answer is probably to find a way to scare them off.

And that's when I decided a motion detector might be the easiest first step. I installed a little solar powered unit out by the back pens a couple of years ago to light up the hay pile for night feedings. Relatively inexpensive at $49, it was so sensitive that I had to block half the sensor to prevent the horses from triggering in all night long. And being solar powered, it didn't need AC to be run out there. We decided to start there and see what happened.

I installed it down low on one of the posts that support my bike shop porch and tested it once the sun set - it worked like a charm. We sat back and waited, checking the fences each morning. It worked for about 10 days, until one morning, the bed furthest from the light showed that telltale pattern of crushed wire on two sides.

Not much digging and damage  - it appeared  he came in at the farthest point, stumbled around, tripped the light and made a hasty retreat. So, perhaps solutions come in incremental steps. Back to Home Depot for a second light, this one with two LED heads and enough brightness to make our garden look like a nighttime action movie location shoot. 

Since then, no more visits. Which leaves only the Raccoon Latrine he's set up on the edge of our back patio as a work in progress. For that we'll be resorting to a repellent composed of four or five known nasty pepper derivatives. We're waiting only on a non-windy day to do that application, because the prospect of getting Pepper-based Raccoon Repellent in our eyes is understandably unattractive.

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