Enough garden drama to keep it interesting

  • A small fire in the woods drew the rapid attention of our local firefighting teams. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
    A small fire in the woods drew the rapid attention of our local firefighting teams. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER

It’s getting too hot to enjoy gardening, at least in my world, but now I can update everyone on what has happened in my yard over the last couple of months. Each month brings in surprises, and now that I am home most of the time, I have a lot to report.

First off, there is the never-ending rabbit story. With a new twist.

For years, I have battled rabbits that eat up my vegetable garden. Various fences, repellents – whatever we’ve tried to divert them with – have done no good. If I plant something delectable, the rabbits eat it way before it is ready for me to harvest. So, I resorted to only planting things in my elevated beds, far above their reach. But a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d try again.

A friend of mine dug up some sweet potato plants from her yard and, seeing their rapid spread in her garden, they looked like something perfect to cover the ground under the raised beds. Well, they only lasted in my yard a day. I planted them, with their leaf-covered vines, and the next day they were all gone, nibbled down to the soil.

I’ve now decided, as long as I can maintain some veggies above the rabbits’ reach, the rest are fine for them to eat. 

Every morning, and some evenings, I have been enjoying one rabbit, sometimes two, that visit our backyard and are highly viewable from my air-conditioned windows. So, what about the plants? The rabbits won. But something is very wrong. The bunnies have disappeared with no sightings of them for days now. And, you know what? I miss them.

Then there are the pond turtles. These reptiles spent most of their life cycle in the retention pond behind our house, with only their heads popping up in the water, or sometimes they haul out to sun on the far bank. Now it is turtle egg-laying time, not just the sea turtles on the beach but also the turtles that live in the woods and ponds in our area. Our yard, the only one around the pond with some bare patches of sandy, sunny soil, becomes a turtle nursery ground.

Every couple of weeks, Dumela (my cat) and I watch from the bedroom window as a turtle crawls out to these bare spots by the bird feeder, digs a hole with its back legs, and drops in dozens of eggs. Sadly, when I inspect the spots where the eggs were laid, I see dug up holes. The predators – raccoons, crows, who knows what else – quickly locate the nests and chow down. At least some must survive, since we sometimes see tiny turtle heads in the pond. Nature has accommodated for the loss of eggs that feed other animals by ensuring that turtles lay enough of them for a few to survive to perpetuate the species.

My latest adventure in the yard has been my fire pit. This large kettle was custom made for me by a fellow up near the Okefenokee Swamp from a recycled propane tank and has designs all around the edge: “Pat’s Swamp Tours,” turtles, otters – all hand wrought out of the metal. For nearly 20 years, this fire pit has been situated in the same spot at the edge of the woods. But the trees nearby have grown and the cypress, chaste, and sumac now tower over this location. I didn’t even notice, as I stoked my fire and enjoyed the rising flames, but Bucko came out worried. And when I posted my fire photos on Facebook, my Liberian forester friend Richard said tersely, “Look up.” Yes, it was a fire hazard above me. A few days later, a small fire broke out in the woods nearby and all the fire vehicles and staff in the area responded. Yes, the fire pit now sits safely on our concrete patio, well away from the house and any trees. Phew, another crisis averted!

These days, I’m thinking you may get more updates from my yard and the nearby environs. The coronavirus is not leaving our area anytime soon and cautious seniors like myself are mostly staying at home. At least there’s a lot of drama in my yard to keep me interested!

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.