Tuesday September 10, 2013
At the farm, pest management is a daily part of life or rather a daily part of anger, madness and frustration that we use as an excuse to have that extra glass of wine at the end of the day! While we battle creepy earwigs in certain parts of the year, gross snails and slugs year round, pesky ground squirrels constantly, the cute but destructive bunnies, the biggest pain in our butts is the gopher. Sweet, ugly, destructive rodents that serve no purpose but to hopefully to feed the hawks and owls in the area. I have to tell you, we have some lazy predators here at the farm because these critters are everywhere.
Gophers are tricky because you rarely see them above ground but too often see the destruction they cause. It took me a full year on the farm to finally meet these suckers in person. They pull down crops constantly, dig elaborate ankle twisting tunnels that turn the pastures into Swiss cheese, chew the occasional pipe, build mounds of dirt above ground and have even know to take the afternoon swim in the pool. Basically I hate them.
I know as a new generation type of farmer I’m supposed to live in harmony with all creatures and share the earth with them but I’ve learned that they are not the sharing type and I want them all dead. So how to deal with them. The toxic approach is to poison them with bait, smoke bomb them with harmful gas or even (and I have only heard about this) fill the holes with propane and fire away (again, I may have had a dream about this where I woke up smiling but I have never attempted this.) The non- toxic way is setting traps, building cages under your plants (lots of work), spreading the latest gopher repellant (does not work) or spending the day with a lawn chair, beer in hand and a pistol hoping you have great aim. (Entertaining but very time consuming when there are chores to be done and your aim gets worse after the that beer.) And then there is the new “environmental safe” way that Mary Ann devised and that is where Ali’i the gopher hunter comes into play.
Oh Ali’i, she is our sweet Australian Shepherd that only requires dinner and as much love and attention that you can spare. First thing in the morning is the time to play our gopher hunt game with Ali’i. Gophers are supposed to be early risers and the most active during this time. Turn your back and they have dug a new hole or pulled down another prized tomato plant. Mary Ann’s technique requires a hose and a dog. She floods the newest holes with water while Ali’i sniffs and hunts the area. The gopher eventually pops up, Ali’i grabs it and shakes and said gopher is off to that great pasture in the sky where there are unlimited plants and no gopher hunters. Ali’i even digs a hole and buries the dead gopher. Amazing. I told Mary Ann she should teach her to do that with her doggie business and then never worry about buying another plastic bag!
Ali’i seems to enjoy this game too. She earns her keep on the farm, is a good warm heater on cold nights and smiles fully when successful. She is a working dog so not only does this provide crop protection for us but keeps her sharp, focused and never bored. We are not always successful but sometime the gopher drowns in the tunnels on its own or the next day we see the dirt is backfilled and we know that we need to give it another try. This method is safest for the farm. The plants get watered and no poison is used. Who am I kidding? It’s fun and exciting, kind of like fishing. I know I might get some slack for not living in total harmony with these pests but until you live on a farm and see your hard work destroyed, you will never understand the need to give a few of these guys a chance to take a dip in their own swimming pools. Ali’i; loyal friend and who knew, environmental champion!