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Gophers in the Garden

My grandfather was the sweetest, gentlest soul you could ever meet. But don’t talk to him about gophers! This pacifist spirit would sit up all night with a shotgun just to protect his corn.

Growing up in the Bay Area suburbs, I hadn’t lived with gophers in my garden. The yard I have now was created by pushing back the oaks and brushy undergrowth 20′-30′ from the house. First I fenced it. Then I raked it. Then I planted it. Then I watched the gophers eat it.

Plan B: POTS! Broken buckets, or anything else that will hold dirt. Large plastic tubs with cracks are reborn as tomato planters. Light blue kiddie pools become excellent homes for squash, peppers, eggplant, or herbs. I put a hole on the SIDE at the bottom, accessible for cleaning. A couple of PVC fittings, one inside and one outside, "finish" the hole and keep it from ripping. My "cover crop" of alyssum is doing well. And my Thai garlic has emerged. Large nursery pots line my back fence. Some hold fruit and landscape trees I started from seed (always experimenting). Others are my summer garden space.

Now I have added Plan C, digging out a bed lined with aviary wire. The physical toll was far greater than the financial expense. I dug a trench across the narrow end of the bed about 12" deep, laid down one end of the wire, then used the next row of dirt to fill in the first row. Like turning a bed, adding the step of laying wire, unrolling it as you go.

It was worth it! I knew the gophers couldn’t chew through from underneath, at least not right away. I did wonder if they might go over ground at night to graze. They didn’t. Strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, basil, all kinds of things found safety there.

Another idea I might use to gopher-proof the pathways is laying down old carpet. When I first saw this technique…let’s just say I was not impressed. Tacky. But I did just twist my ankle in a gopher hole the size of a basketball. Old carpet is free, soft on the feet, and covers gopher holes, maybe even deters them. Get an earth tone and it blends into the ground. Instead of raking the leaves, just sweep. It helps prevent erosion problems.

Before people developed agriculture, gophers were turning the soil. Now that we’re here, I just wish they’d give it a rest!

Celia Kea graduated from the Master Gardener training program in April, 2009. She has a degree in botany.