Saturday, May 19, 2018

Chipmunks in the Garden

Over the last six years that we have been helping people with their gardens, one of the most repeated complaints is about small critters like chipmunks. Dealing with these crafty creatures can be difficult but not possible. Our new home in New Hampshire has rock walls in the front and back walls on the side raised beds against foundation. Pretty, but it's a chipmunk paradise playground. Chipmunks are everywhere around here. Normally I wouldn’t be concerned however chipmunks can cause tremendous damage to your foundation as well as the staircases and rock wall retaining walls that we have around the property, not to mention our garden. Last year Mark's hot pepper plants never stood a chance to fruit before the chippies ate the starts.

Chipmunks indigenous to North America with one exception of Siberian chipmunk. Otherwise there 24 types of chipmunks running around the woodlands, forests, deserts and suburbia as well as urban parks from Canada all the way down to Mexico. These cute little creatures seem to be everywhere, particularly in our gardens. Perhaps between learned more about chipmunks, we would understand them better and possibly be able to keep them from our garden.

Only weighing in around one ounce to 5 ounces tops, these little critters are a nimble bunch. They need to be since they could be eaten anytime by any larger carnivore that maybe around. Our property is filled with Chipmunks but it is also filled with all the its predators including owls, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, dogs, snakes and red squirrels. Chipmunks belong in this world family but that doesn’t keep red squirrels from making them a tasty lunch if the opportunity presents itself. All these predators are one reason chipmunks don’t travel very far, generally only roaming about a third of a mile preferring to stick closer to their main burrow. Chipmunks burrows are about 2 to 3 feet underground, but their tunnels can be as long as 20 to 30 feet. Their tunnels are quite intricate, they actually utilize two systems. Shallow burrows are used for refuge while they are foraging during that period they have deeper channels which they use for nesting in food storage although they have separate chambers for each of these areas. Their tunnels are quite neat, no dirties around the entrances since they carried away in the cheeks.
Disney's Chip & Dale
Chipmunks move soil and store food in their cheeks which can hold three times the size of their head making them look cartoon-like. This is probably why Walt Disney created Chip and Dale backing 1943. Walt Disney artists would go out into the woods and study woodland creatures they were tasked to draw for their movies. They would draw sketch after sketch until they understood how these critters moved and what their expressions were like. Anyone who is familiar with the antics of Chip and Dale who also has a vegetable garden would probably agree that Disney pretty much nailed it.

Picky Eaters? No, not at all! 

Chipmunks are omnivores and will eat pretty much everything. They love seeds, berries, bulbs, nuts, insects and mushrooms; not to mention bird eggs and baby birds. As chipmunks forage for their food to store they perform one of their most ecologically important tasks they are spread seeds and important mycorrhizal fungi, playing an important role in forest health and regeneration.

Interestingly, chipmunks need to sleep 15 hours a day meaning we see them only during the remaining 9 hours. There is much to be done during this time which is they always seem to be out when we are out. During the wintertime, chipmunks don’t hibernate completely, but they are so inactive that their heart rate and body temperatures drop. When they get hungry they rely on their food storage is accessible but is in a separate chamber than they’re sleeping area.
Alvin & The Chipmunks
Contrary to Ross Badgdasarian’s famous family animated trio, Alvin, Theodore and Simon, chipmunks are solitary creatures– unless it’s breeding season of course. Chipmunks mate in the spring and late summer and have litters of that 2 to 6 pups. Male chipmunks, known has bucks, have one role and that it to mate. The female, known as the doe, carries and cares for the litter until the pups leave the nest.

If you’ve ever had the chance to simply watch a chipmunk in action undoubtedly then heard one as well. They use a bunch of different vocalizations including chips, chucks and chilling alarm calls. Some of these high-pitched sounds can easily be mistaken for a birdcall. The other day at we are out on the deck with the dogs and there was a chipmunk who was very talkative, confidently chattering away from the other side of the dog fencing we have surrounding out deck. I thought the dogs were going to lose their minds, but they just stared at the talkative little chippie who undoubtedly was giving them an earful. Chipmunks are very territorial and protect then areas around their main burrows. 

Now that we have a better understanding of chipmunks, is there any way to keep them out of our gardens? After all, isn't our garden a buffet of tasty treats to the chipmunk? Are there ways we can still enjoy tulips and another bulbs chipmunks continually eat the bulbs, seeds, starts and anything else that we might to plant?

Yes, there are things that we can do to try to deter chipmunks from coming into the garden and wreaking little less havoc. First of all, try to keep rock walls out of the garden since love to nest in rock walls unless of course you have to a retaining wall put in for landscaping purposes just know that chipmunks love to build their tunnels near structures like retainment walls and foundations.  These burrows can compromise these structures, as well as plantings that may be above them – destroying their root systems. They also love old logs, trees, stumps and areas that have plenty of ground cover – so take that into consideration if you have a chipmunk problem in your garden.  We removed some of the old stone walls that were in the old garden

Use hardware cloth over a freshly planted area covered with mulch can help mitigate damage to bold that you hope overwinter to bloom come springtime. Simply remove the hardware cloth in the early spring once the winter snow so thawed. There are also some plants you can introduce into your garden which chipmunks do not like at all– particularly due to their fragrance. Chipmunks are sensitive to smell and don’t like fragrant perennials like monarda (Bee Balm), hyssop (agastache) or lavender. Generally, chipmunks are sensitive to texture as well, staying clear of thorny and hairy leaves and plants.

Perennials Chipmunks Don't Like

Bee balm (Monarda)
Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan
Butterfly bush (Buddleia)
Catmint (Nepeta)
Daffodil (narcissus)
Hyssop (Agastache)
Joe pyeweed (Eutrochium)

Ornamental garlic (allium)
Ornamental Primrose/ sundrops (Oenothera)
Purple coneflower (echinacea)
Sneezeweed (Helenium)

There are a number of annuals which holds no interest for the chipmunk– all of which would be happy in the garden making a wonderful companion plants bringing in beneficial as well.

Annuals Chipmunks Don’t Like



Marigolds (tagetes)
Annual Salvia/Sage

Other helpful ways to keep the Chipmunks away from the garden is to be sure to deadhead your flowers that form seed heads like marigolds and zinnias. Chipmunks loveseat heads, so deadheading flowers is always a good idea. How many times have we all found half eaten or slightly eaten tomatoes in the garden? Any time is too many times. The reason for this is not that chipmunks are necessarily hungry, but rather that they are thirsty and seeking sources for water. A couple of strategically placed birdbaths should help keep the chippies and birds from taking a bite out of your prize tomatoes.

Be careful not to include flowers that will attract chipmunks. There are plenty of flowers that chipmunks consider tasty treats.  The best way to include some of these flowers in your garden plan is to surround them with plants and flowers they hate and hope for the best.

Flowers That Chipmunks Love
Lemon Queen Sunflower

Columbine (aquilegia)
Seedlings of any type

Other natural ways to determine chipmunks in the garden include the use of cayenne pepper sprinkled around the plants. Remember they don’t like fragrant or spice and capsaicin is a powerful deterrent.  It’ easy enough to also make a homemade pepper spray which is safe to spray on your bulbs and plants’ leaves and stems to keep the chipmunks from going to town.

Homemade Pepper Spray

1 quart of boiling water
2 tbs. ground cayenne pepper 
2 tbs. oil
  • Drain the cooled down water  and ground cayenne pepper through a cheese cloth and add 2 tbs of oil – shake mixing well.
  • Put liquid into an unused or clean spray bottle and use on whatever it is you wish the chippies to stay away from. Reapply after rain or once a week.

There is no surefire way to keep chipmunks from coming into the garden, their size and acrobatic abilities make fencing impossible; however, sheer netting can be effective in extreme cases.  The best way to deal with chipmunks is to understand what they like and dislike and try to work to live in harmony with each other in our gardens. Good luck to us all.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Perennial Vegetables

Perennial Vegetables

Gardeners are usually passionate people. Looking after their plants morning after morning, observing the daily changes. I like to go out early in the morning with the dogs with my coffee in hand and walk the garden, inspecting plants like a general would his troops, searching for things right or wrong with each and every individual cadet. We invest so much time, generally enjoying the work in preparing, planting and caring for our little babies. There are some plants though that we can add to our gardens which don’t require as much work as our annual vegetables and they will give back to use year after year.

The last six years we’ve been installing and planting and caring for other people’s gardens and a number of years ago we were renovating an old garden space for a client who was interested in putting in a raised bed for asparagus and strawberries. We always like to plant exactly what our clients are growing, so we can to be cognizant of how well the plantings work. We loved asparagus, so we decided to add a new raised bed to our own garden and started to grow our own.  We had already been growing strawberries in whisky half-barrels but after reading that the two make for very good companion plants in the garden, we added some strawberries to the bed.
Asparagus in our CT garden

What you need to know about growing perennial vegetables

There are a bunch of perennial vegetables which can be grown in your garden. The most popular and well-known and of course include asparagus, rhubarb and globe artichokes as well as berries (strawberries, raspberries, etc.) The beautiful thing about using perennial vegetables in your garden, besides their physical appearance, is that you plant once, and you’re basically done. Perennials are overall low maintenance additions to the garden which will give your harvest, year after year. Plus, there seems like there is a perennial vegetable for every type of soil and light you might have. They also are found to be more nutritious compared to most annual vegetables, so it was a great way to introduce more nutritional food into your diet. The addition of perennial vegetables to your garden also increases your harvest season which will help to provide steadier source of food for your family throughout the year. For some people who’ve decided to take on providing for themselves either through homesteading, permaculture gardening, perennial vegetables provide a very important role for these gardeners. They not only enhance the landscape with their beauty and provide nutritious flavorful foods, they play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy soil web.

Perennial vegetables are the ecological smart choice.

Overall, perennial vegetables require less water to care for than annuals, saving on this valuable natural resource. Plus, they don’t require tilling, saving on the release of soil organic carbon (SOC) into the atmosphere, important since it’s the foundation of soil fertility. The use of tilling has been shown to be very destructive to the soil web, in particular to mycorrihizae, a beneficial fungus that shares nutrients with plants. They also make for efficient weed suppressors since their leaves come out before annuals.

Properly designed and planned out, you can create moderate microclimates within your garden with the use of certain perennials which will help improve your soil’s organic matter, porosity and its water retention abilities. Their deep roots catch and store water and nutrients that would otherwise be washed away. The use of perennials not only provides much needed habitats for some animals and fungi, but they also attract other beneficial insects into the garden. They also tend to be more past and disease resistant than annuals, which is nice since you don’t crop rotate perennials. Lastly, but equally importantly is the role perennial vegetables play in the garden to help moderate climate change by capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide and sequestering it in its long-term oil hummus and perennial plant parts.

Our new asparagus crowns arrived yesterday along with the strawberry starts. The plan is to create a new raise bed for New Hampshire Garden. These two perennials make for good companions together in the garden: the strawberry spreading out to create a nice groundcover keeping weeds away from the tall shoots of the asparagus which developed beautiful showy ferns as the season progresses. The first asparagus bed we started in Connecticut is now four years old, it is now ready to be harvested annually. Too that we don’t live there full-time anymore to be able to enjoy the delicious asparagus. Luckily one of us will be heading down there and hopefully can bring home some fresh cut homegrown asparagus for us to enjoy. One thing we learned in all of our years of gardening is that you must have patience. There is no rushing mother nature, pushing her a little- maybe, rushing her – not a chance. The same thing goes when introducing perennial vegetables into your garden, patience is a must. Many required time to be properly established, asparagus is a prime example since it takes a full three years to establish before being able to enjoy a full harvest.
Rhubarb in our CT garden

Some perennials can be so maintenance free that they can never take your garden if you’re not paying attention. I was just recently reading about a gardener who had a Little Shop of Horrors-sized rhubarb plants that removed from their grandmother’s garden as a medium-sized transplant. The plant needs little care and gives them bountiful harvest year after year. However, the plant has sprouted off into other plants all over the place which the gardener referred to as her runaway babies that she hopes to be able to give to others who want to start growing rhubarb. So low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance. It’s best to pay attention, harvest repeatedly and keeping control of your perennials just in case your perennials do too well.

Popular Perennial Vegetables


Berries – strawberriesblueberries, raspberries, elderberries…

Globe Artichoke

Jerusalem artichoke
Bunching or Egyptian Onions
Scarlet Runner Beans
Sea Kale
Good King Henry

Garlic (grown as annual)
Radicchio (grown as annual)
Kale (grown as annual)