It’s Groundhog Day and this year, yet again Punxsatawney Phil has seen his shadow, thus predicting 6 more weeks of winter. As I type, I’m watching big snowflakes whirl around outside my window and my 7 year old is begging me for another snack. Snow Day. I’m not at all surprised by Phil’s prediction.
I spent a large chunk of my growing season battling groundhogs in my gardens & beneath our shed and barn last year. I referred to these creatures as my arch nemeses, but they have earned my respect. Here are a few things I’ve discovered about these not-so-little varmints.
We had a family of 5 groundhogs that popped up from beneath our barn last Spring. After I had tried every natural deterrent recipe known to man — hot chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, onions, even used kitty litter — we decided to gently escort them off our property with Hav-a-Hart traps. Our town’s animal control dept. supplied the traps and came to relocate the critters once they’d been safely captured.
Groundhog Moms Mean Business
We watched this little groundhog family grow. In the springtime, the babies were small and stayed close to Mom. They ventured out further once they were a bit bigger. But, that groundhog mama would perch up on her hind legs, vigilantly keeping watch for her babies as though she were the secret service, surveying the land for assassins.
Their main burrow entrance was behind our barn. And one day I was walking back there and startled them. (They startled me, too!) In an instant, the young ones dove into the burrow hole and the Mom just snarled and barked at me until I was gone. No doubt that this Mom would not let any harm come to her precious young.
Later in the summer, all of the critters apeared to be about the same adult size. — They enjoyed A LOT of food from my garden. Ugh! — But, I wondered why they had not left their mother and moved on to their own burrows. After a bit of research, I realized it was common for the females to remain with the mother for quite a while.
Soon, we discovered that the only male of the litter took up residence under our shed, not far from his Mom and sisters. I called him Einstein….
Groundhogs Are Smarter Than You Think
Einstein earned his name when I was trying to trap him. To lure the groundhogs into the hav-a-hart trap, we would place veggies near the back of the cage. If you’ve used one, you’ll know that they need to trip the trigger near the back for the trap to safely close.
This guy, Einstein, managed to figure out how to sneak into the trap and escape with all of the food! This feat required skills and brains on his part, especially because he was the largest of all of them. The first few times it happened we thought that perhaps the trap was faulty. Then one day we actually watched him leap from the cage just before it snapped shut on him, and off he scurried into his burrow.
I might add, he also had the most bold personality! He would dig up his hole right in the center of my raised vegetabe garden beds and munch on kale leaves right in front of me. I have a nice view of my raised beds from my kitchen window. He would watch me through the window and wait for me to come ranting and raving and running through the back door until he’d recede underground.
I eventually captured him by securely tying carrots by their top leaves to the top of the cage. He was he last of the litter to be captured and I was most happy to say Farewell to him!
They Are Very Picky Eaters
Groundhougs are quite wise to gorge themselves in the summers so they can survive the long Northeast winters. But, after involuntarily sharing my garden with them, I quickly noticed that they are quite particular.
I love to grow kale, and last year I tried my hand at growing brussel sprouts and bok choi, also. Well, wouldn’t you know it! Groundhogs LOVE the veggies of the Brassica family. Every green in every corner of my garden was devoured by them! They navigated through my veggie garden like a maze, only eating what they liked.
Then when it came time to lure them into the traps for relocation, not just any food would do! The animal control officer suggested canteloupe chunks and whole carrots, which worked like a charm. But on days when we ran out of those — particularly when trying to capture Einstein for days and days — we would put tomatoes or apples or greens as bait. They wouldn’t have any part of it!
Groundhogs have proven to be just as picky as my 7 year old who lives on peanut butter sandwiches.
These have simply been my personal observations about these interesting rodents. You can learn more scientific stuff about them HERE.
Happy Groundhog Day!