My First Woodchuck

I’m not sure of how I managed to find myself in this position after 15 years of working in gardens and on farms, but until now, I’ve somehow escaped having to bear witness to the wrath of the woodchuck.  For years, when customers asked for my advice about how to deal with the voracious vegetarians in their gardens, I’d stare at them blankly.  I swear, visions of some wild and cartoony monster (not unlike the Warner Brothers’ Tasmanian devil) tearing up a garden would float through my head.  When I have read farmers’ humorously epic accounts of increasingly desperate attempts to rid their farms of a woodchuck family, I’ve found myself feeling blessed to have worked on farms where I’d never encountered the endlessly hungry beasts. To be honest, until last year I’d never actually seen a woodchuck (besides in photos), and when I finally did, I had to laugh at the clumsy, large, wriggling thing that scampered across our office’s parking lot. How could that do so much damage?

Well, you can believe that I was humbled when I checked our really large planting of spring broccoli this week and found that 50% of the plants had been eaten down to what can only be described as broccoli nubbins.  I scanned the fence, a three layer wall of mesh and lightly electrified wire that for the past three years has been impenetrable to our other least favorite large pest, deer, and saw no breaks.  No deer prints around the plants either. My heart sank a little–we were dealing with something that we couldn’t stop with our magical deer fence. Or row cover. Or organic pesticide.

As it usually happens, feelings of pest-damage induced despair turned into an adrenaline rush within a minute or two.  On the advice of another farmer, I immediately purchased a Havahart trap at the hardware store and grabbed the stinkiest cantaloupe at the grocery store. The idea is that the sweet stench of the cantaloupe is irresistible bait for the woodchuck.

I then sat at the computer at lunchtime and did some more research.  According to the fourth listing that appeared in Google (when I searched for “how to trap a woodchuck with bait”) you shouldn’t use bait to trap woodchucks because they are too smart and will know something is up, and the best way to trap a woodchuck is this way. Oops. Their advice seems solid, and they are a pest management service. But then other sites suggest just shooting the thing with a gun (legal?) or throwing firecrackers or some kind of smoke bomb down in its den. And yet other sites suggest that I doing just the right thing. For me, firecrackers and guns are not options. Fireworks freak me out. And legal or not, who has time to sit with a gun and wait for a woodchuck? That said, these approaches might start to feel more like options if I don’t catch it soon…there are three more acres of delicious cabbage, kale, chard, fennel and more broccoli that are just waiting to be eaten!

Today, I am setting the trap and hoping that this will be the first and final attempt at catching the woodchuck.  If it doesn’t work out that way, at least I will have my own fun woodchuck story to tell.

Melanie Hardy

Farm Manager