Marmota monax

March 15, 2010


One of many holes in the garden fence

Over the past two weeks we have been experiencing a Great Thaw. I hate to stir up jealousy in my family from Minnesota, but we’ve been seeing temperatures consistently in the mid-fifties with a couple days up to seventy. Needless to say, the snow is gone, and we’re turning our attention to the garden space.

Returning to the garden means returning to the challenges of the garden. Early last fall, our number one concern with was the groundhog (Marmota monax). They absolutely destroyed most of what we planted. Left with what we thought was our only choice, Whitney and I put up fences around some of our planted rows. (We originally thought the plants were being gobbled by rabbits.) After the fences proved worthless against the formidable little foes, we turned to alternative measures.

I must preface this by mentioning that while I grew up in a hunter-friendly community on the fringes of the rural world southwest of Minneapolis, I have little sympathy for those who complain about firearm regulation. I don’t have another way of expressing my ambivalence toward guns without more nuanced language. With that caveat noted, our neighbor, Jackie, taught me how to shoot the farm’s .22 rifle.* The farm purchased a small “humane” trap and I proceeded to capture and “remove” about 5 groundhogs in the last few weeks of autumn.

With the Great Thaw in progress, it seemed last week like the right time to start setting the trap again. Last Monday, I set the live trap in the garden and baited it with some leftover orange peels from my breakfast. By the time I returned from work in the evening, the trap had snagged the first of what I believe will be several sneaky groundhogs.

We didn’t come to our decision to trap and shoot groundhogs lightly. It’d be absolutely fabulous if there were a simpler, less violent way to prevent them from getting at our food, but at the moment it’s not clear there is an effective alternative.

However, after surveying the main fence that surrounds the garden (built mainly to protect against deer), we found several holes where little critters have managed to create openings (see photos of fence holes 1, 2, and 3). To reduce the amount of groundhog killing we have to do while better protecting our food, we hope to augment the base of the existing fence with 1×1-inch chicken wire. If even that doesn’t work, I’m sure we’ll let you know about it.


* by the way, Jackie deserves several shout-outs for the numerous ways he helps; I hope we give him due credit.


Growing up, there was a groundhog that literally chewed through our shed door (made of half-inch plywood) to get at its delicious innards, so I can confirm that removing the rodent is probably your only chance at keeping it out of your fenced garden.

Christopher Finke — March 16, 2010

Also, from what I hear (I do hear things sometimes) the Marmota Monax is well-equipped for digging. I’d have to imagine that there are very few fence contraptions you could build that these little guys can’t outwit. Not to be a Negative Nelly. I’m just sayin’.

Angela Fritz — March 16, 2010

You should see what they did to our poor chicken-wire fencing last autumn. I still anticipate having to trap and remove them, but we also speculate that the extra layer of wire at the base of the outer fence will help fend off rabbits who can come and go as they please

Matt — March 16, 2010

Let’s not overestimate a woodchuck’s abilities here. A well designed and built fence will keep (even aggressive and crafty) pests out. For woodchucks Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Gardening recommends making a “wire-lined trench a foot or more deep and up to 3 feet wide.” We won’t be able to make the underground portion of the fence 3 feet wide easily because there are perennials in the way, but we can probably make the fence deep enough that it starts reaching the really rocky soil. Here’s how I see shooting vs. fencing:

low monetary cost
time investment: spread out
potential moral problems
spotty effectiveness

high monetary cost
time investment: front-loaded
not morally problematic
high effectiveness

…am I missing anything?

In the end we’ll probably use both methods and be better off. Even if the woodchucks can still get in the garden after fixing the fence, they’ll at least have to try much harder rather than sauntering through the big holes in the fence.

…I’m having a bad feeling that similar comparisons to the above were made regarding the Israel-Palestine as well as the U.S.-Mexico borders.

Caleb — March 18, 2010

Well, at least the groundhogs are not challenging our religious beliefs! I do think the two pronged approach is going to be the most effective. When one must eliminate pests by way of lead poisoning, it is essential to dispatch ones’ quarry as quickly and painlessly as possible. A groundhog is a big animal to be taking out with a .22 long rifle. I’m sure Jackie told you already, but I’ll say it again, You must direct the projectile to the brain to achieve this. A body shot will not do. We understand and respect the dilema you all are faced with in dealing with the intruders. I do know of someone by the name of Rachael Ray that could help justify the taking of these animals. Good luck!

Warren Sancken — March 21, 2010