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Why I Despise Gophers–Fear and Loathing in Gopherville, Part 1


 What I didn’t get the first year I tried to grow tulips.

I learned to loathe gophers early in life. My gardening life, that is.

Years ago, my boyfriend and I, still freshly enthusiastic about the back-to-the-land life, built a raised bed for my tulips. I had ordered fifty bulbs for something like $4 from the Michigan Bulb company-this was back before I cared what kind or what grade of tulips I got. I was just happy to get whatever tulips they’d send me at that price, since I was on a tight budget.

We hauled sand from the creekbed in the big truck. We gathered horse manure from the pasture. He built the frame for the raised bed, and I planted the tulips, looking forward to a beautiful spring.

When it came, I had one–count it, one–tulip. When we investigated, we found the rest of the bed was riddled with gopher holes. Gophers love tulips, yum yum. They also got most of our potatoes that year.

That was the year I stopped thinking that I could get along in sweet harmony with all the animals in the forest, just like Snow White. That was the year I began to despise and fear gophers.

Planting in containers has solved virtually all my gopher problems. But I have done some planting in the ground, and for a while I used a commercial preparation of castor oil to soak my soil and keep away gophers. (I found it in a handy hose sprayer bottle in the Gardener’s Supply catalogue. It’s also available at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply ).

(Note: no, I didn’t get paid to make the above links. I really think these are good companies. If in future I do get paid for links, I will link only to places I think are worth your time. And mine. (I don’t get paid for extraordinary use of parens, either.))

The theory is that the gophers don’t like the smell or texture of soil when it’s saturated with castor oil, and avoid it. I had good luck in keeping gophers away, just as advertised.

But the soil I sprayed it on was soil I didn’t water in summer (in my climate, it rarely rains in summer, so the soil is dry except where you irrigate, or where there’s a bog.). It was, in fact, to protect my tulips, which I was daring to grow once again.

By this time I had learned that tulips don’t like summer water, which was good, since the well I was on went to a tiny trickle in summer. I was glad I could grow tulips, and determined that this time the gophers wouldn’t get them.

The problem with this test is that it was only partly conclusive: the gophers didn’t get my tulips this time, but they generally are more attracted to soil that’s watered in summer. When I stopped using the castor oil, they still didn’t get the tulips in that bed.

Next post: new adventures with castor oil. Nothing kinky.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Nancy Bond June 18, 2008, 1:20 pm

    Can’t wait to read the next installment. :) Gophers are brats!

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