Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ozark Wisdom

"Ally! Moles are in my bulb bed!" she yelled into my phone one day last week at work.
In the course of several years, my mother and I have built this really great flower bed in her front yard comprised of bulbs and perennials. She has almost 50 stargazer lilies (those big, bright, smelly ones), hundreds of daffodils (several varieties), crocuses, amaryllis, and the list goes on. She overplants with perennials like Lobelia cardinalis and a variety of penstemons. She lives in the Tertiary Uplands of Louisiana, an area characterized by pretty loamy clay based soils developed much later than the Ozark Highlands. Based on her description of the holes and tunnels, she didn't have moles in her yard, but the infinitely cuter pocket gophers, the primary food source for the federally listed Louisiana pine snake.

She doesn't want to kill them, she argues, but they "just CAN'T destroy the bulbs!" I've put in a lot of effort to convert my mother's yard from one dominated by annuals to a perennial/bulb-dominated landscape. Less stress on her ridiculously fragile back, more time for her to spend with her husband who is deep in the throes of Alzheimer's. So, I suggested live traps. Sherman traps. I don't know...it's what I've used to trap small mammals for surveys. But she had a good question: "so, what do I do when I catch one?" Uh... Relocation is a bad idea for any form of wildlife. I don't know. I'd look into it, I told her. In the meantime, I suggested, go to your local garden center, the nice one, and see what they do.

Leave it to the wisdom of the Ozarks. My mother called me tonight, ecstatic. Her problems have been solved! Apparently, she asked someone who was from the Ozarks what to do about pocket gophers. She was advised to do something I've never read in any wildlife management guides. Farmers in the Ozarks do this to get rid of gophers, moles or other undesirable root diggers:

Dig a hole next to the burrow site and pack Juicy Fruit gum sticks and crushed garlic in it.

Seriously, I thought my mother was telling me that someone had told this to her as a joke. No, not my mother...In any effort to save her bulb bed (her daughter with the live trap idea simply failed, giving her no place to relocate the critters), she asked my older sister to dig holes around her bulb bed and fill them with Juicy Fruit gum and garlic.

"Ally! They've moved! They're in the neutral ground now!" (In the Deep South, we have this ambiguous patch of ground between yard and street whose ownership is pretty unclear. The city kind of owns it, but the citizen takes care of it? Evidently, "neutral grounds" are strictly a Deep South thing...). Pleased with the result, allowing the pocket gophers to have the run of the neutral ground, she reminded me that she learned her best gardening lessons from people living in Missouri. It was meant as a compliment, but ironically, I learned everything I know from her.

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