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    Posted August 21, 2012 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    From garden to table

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    Herbs and Veggies and ... Groundhogs? Oh My! (The Final Chapter)

    One of life’s homespun philosophies decrees when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The prospect of reporting on the progression of a vegetable garden through the growing season appealed to my casual gardening hobby. I entered this assignment with some trepidation, however, based upon the previous year’s experience with toiling the soil. Regardless, gardening can be a soothing pastime when left alone with one’s thoughts, the sounds of the birds, sunshine on one’s face and a gentle breeze whispering by. The temptation was too great, and so I set out to plant vegetables in three raised beds and herbs all along the deck outside the kitchen door.

    The temptation was also too great for someone else, however. Life did not give me vegetables. I must now turn the proverbial lemons into lemonade as I salvage a final installment to this assignment. This will not be about award winning zucchini the size of baseball bats or bragging rights to growing the world’s most gargantuan watermelon. No, this final chapter will be centered on the culprit of my garden’s unfortunate demise. Exhibit A photographed above: meet Yogi. Yaphank Yogi. This could pass for a mug shot if he were led away in handcuffs. He’s cute, he’s furry, he’s mischievous, he’s sneaky and he is guilty; guilty, I say! This groundhog has been the bane of my gardening endeavors for several years.

    If his appetite is any indication of how brutal this coming winter shall be, begin stockpiling on fire wood, food and thermal underwear and tune up your snow blowers, because this sneaky snacker went for complete garden annihilation this year. His past dining habits left some vegetables for the humans; we had an unspoken understanding. This season, however, he completely deviated from his usual consumption pattern. Soon after the plants were in the ground, evidence of leafless stems began to appear. There was no warning, there never is. One morning I opened the blinds, peered out the window and was immediately stunned by the devastation.

    My first encounter with Yogi’s crimes transpired in the herb section years ago. Note that I have since learned to keep my herbs high on the deck; there is good reason for that and it is not solely for ease of retrieval from the kitchen during culinary projects. I strolled outside one morning, scissors in hand, to fetch a bunch of parsley. As I approached the bed, I noticed that where there had been lush, bushy parsley two hours before, there were now merely stems poking up from the dirt. I halted in my tracks and stared for what seemed like a frozen moment of time. I slowly stepped closer in complete horror, scrutinizing the now barren patch and feeling utterly violated. As I looked more intently, there he was, crouched in the middle of the crime scene, not moving a muscle. Either he was petrified that he had been caught, or he had one whopper of a bellyache and was thinking to himself ‘Hey, got Alka Seltzer?’ I made an exaggerated gasp for effect, much as I do when I catch my cat misbehaving, and he took off like a rocket, diving into a nearby hole under the fence.

    A trip to the garden center ensued, with pleas for a product that would deter Yogi from the garden. Understand one thing: I am a devout animal lover. I have always had pets, I pitch in weekly at a cat shelter, I am vehemently against hunting as well as all forms of animal cruelty and testing and would never hurt a hair on any critter. The salesman proceeded to advise me of reprehensible acts such as bombing the groundhog’s hole and other harsh methods. “Look,” I explained firmly, “I don’t want to kill it, I just want to keep it away from the garden.” He reluctantly informed me of a product to sprinkle around the plants. As I sought out the product, a younger salesman and silent participant in the conversation followed and steered me in the right direction, all the while commending me and declaring that he wouldn’t want to kill it either.

    That summer, I used the sprinkle-on product and added a bag of apples to my weekly shopping list. I hoped that if I filled him up, then perhaps some of the vegetables might be spared. Each day, I deposited an apple at the entrance to his home. An apple a day did not keep him away, but it did diminish some of his bad manners. Actually, he appeared every day, and my husband and I became enamored with watching him. During the latter part of the morning, he could be viewed sitting up, half out of his home, taking in the breeze. Eventually he would take his apple and retreat. Hours later, he would creep toward the garden bed. We often witnessed his approaches from the dining room window. We would get up from the table and watch him through the window. If he got too close to braving a nibble, the window received a pounding, which only sometimes sent him scampering.

    One day I saw Yogi sitting up happily on the corner of the wooden garden frame, munching on a green tomato that he clutched in both hands. I beckoned for my husband to join in viewing the spectacle. When he had devoured the entire tomato, he glanced down at his empty palms and a look of dejection came over his face. He put his hands down, stole a furtive look back where he had plucked it from and made the very wrong decision to return and help himself to another. A rapping at the windowpane sent him rapidly scurrying back to his hole while my husband broke into laughter at his antics. Despite the ongoing thievery, we still enjoyed tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and other herbs from the garden. We had learned to coexist. I actually became attached to this creature and looked forward to seeing him each day.

    There are no regular visits this year. The entire garden was devoured within the first month of planting. I have caught only a few glimpses of Yogi. When I went outside to water what was left of the garden one day, I turned from the faucet and from the corner of my eye spied the groundhog making a hasty beeline for his secondary hole under the shed. He must have just committed one of his many transgressions and was awaiting an opportunity to scuttle away unseen. I have outsmarted him when it comes to my herbs. Chives, rosemary and basil are all safe in the garden; parsley, sage, oregano, mint and thyme thrive on the deck. I no longer attempt to infuse such ornamental foliage as sweet potato vine or blooms of black-eyed Susan into the landscape. This year, I have learned once and for all that planting a vegetable garden is futile.

    The setback has not deterred us from savoring the bounty of fresh, locally grown produce, however. I conclude this project with a mention and word of thanks to all of our nation’s independent farmers who make buying local consumables possible. I would like to thank especially Pat and Don and the rest of the crew over at Pumpkin Patch farm stand in Yaphank, where my passion for gourmet cooking is well supplied with twice-weekly grocery shopping expeditions. I am truly fortunate to be able to drive for three minutes and pull into their friendly little market that offers far more locally grown vegetables and fruits than even Yogi could ever consume, as well as other locally produced products including cheeses, jams, honey and baked goods. While the entire eastern north fork is peppered with such bountiful stands, there are similar venues across the nation. For those who have not had the luck of the green thumb this summer, you can still serve fresh produce from a local farm to your table. Find a local grower, or a weekly farmers market where such growers gather to sell their wares. The rewards will be the healthy inclusion of vegetables and fruits at your family’s dinner table, and the good feeling that radiates when supporting your local growers. Of course, we still must frequent the supermarket for other epicurean ingredients, Fancy Feast for the cat, and that sack of apples for our pesty, cute-but-bad, garden resident.
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