Hoffman's Houston
you win, squirrels

Ken Hoffman digs into the worst part of gardening — and why he's never planting again

Ken Hoffman digs into the worst part of gardening — and why he's done

Picture of tomato seedling being planted
Our intrepid columnist has tried to wield a green thumb, but forces of nature have bested him.  Photo by Allee Brand

Attention squirrels, birds, possums, stray cats, and raccoons — and whatever else may lurk in my backyard after dark:

You win. I’m done trying to be Farmer Brown. I’m tired of walking back there every morning and checking how much damage you’ve done to my vegetable garden. I’m done finding bare, pathetic stalks which were hearty, leafy green plants the day before. I’m done mourning tomatoes with a large bite taken out of them. No more running to Houston Garden Center for replacement basil plants.

Anybody want to buy about 20 “gently used” but “heavily trespassed” garden pots filled with store bought top soil, and a couple dozen gnawed tomato, basil, oregano, bell pepper, and rosemary plants? Total retail value, a few hundred dollars. Total worth in vegetable production: nothing.

I’ve been this way before. I once bought an infomercial home bread maker for $89. I used the machine maybe twice before sentencing it to the attic. For $89, I can buy my whole wheat at Common Bond bakery.

I’ll throw that bread maker in the deal with the garden pots. 

I will never forget, soon after I bought my spring/summer home in West U., I opened my barbecue grill and a rat jumped out at me. The plate of burgers flew and I screamed like a child — from the high pitch of my scream, about a 5-year-old girl.

I’m not meant for the outdoors, even in densely overbuilt, supposedly civil West U. You ought to come to one of our city council meetings. It’s a scene out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When it comes to gardening, I can’t grow anything that arises to the kitchen table. I should lock my backdoor, from the outside.

I’m pretty sure my garden invaders are squirrels. During pecan season, I can hear them rustling in the tree in my backyard. They sit up there and throw nuts at me while I’m shooting baskets in the driveway. Hey, who’s paying the bills around here?

Squirrels are sneaky. I have never seen one attack my vegetable garden, but the next morning, their damage is done. I’ve sat in my backyard at night, like Elmer Fudd, holding a garden hose, waiting for the squirrels to attack. They outsmart me every time. 

The worst part is, squirrels will take a one bite of tomato and leave the rest. I’m not eating squirrel leftovers. I used to get stuck taking a neighborhood kid named Andrew Hardee to lunch. He was a friend of my kid. Andrew would order a whole large pizza, take two bites of each slice, and leave the rest. Other times, he would order a foot-long at Subway and barely nibble at it. When I said, “I’m ordering you a 6-inch sub,” he threatened to tell his mother, like I was a school bully stealing his lunch money.

Andrew Hardee would make an excellent squirrel.

I watch those weekend garden and home repair shows. True story, Tom Tynan once used my fall/winter house to demonstrate how to install attic insulation. I like Tynan, although it has nothing to do with home repair. I heard him once describe hunting as “murdering animals.”

I tried covering my vegetable patch with chicken wire. That didn’t work. I could imagine the squirrels laughing as they squirm under the wire like a military training film.

A garden host said there are products that will keep varmints out of my vegetable garden. I bought one – you know what it is? It’s fox urine. Foxes are natural predators of squirrels. Last month I sprayed fox pee all around my backyard.

I’m not sure which is more insane, operating an after-hours salad bar for squirrels or turning my backyard into an unflushed toilet for wild animals? Besides, how does the Just Scentsational company get foxes to pee into the bottle?

Male foxes have very bad aim, you know. Ask Mrs. Fox. It’s a gender thing.