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Whitehurst Diaries: Bugs/blights list has Old Testament cadence

Even idyllic Gradyville, KY, has challenges for the valley's farmers and gardeners, with plagues of bugs and blights, and now, one of opossum critters. Even Willis the Cat is put off by them. The Whitehurst Possum War is now in its 5th year, though it's gone nuclear only once, when Jim killed one with a rifle which had terrorized the farm. Mostly, the heaviest equipment used, otherwise, has been a HavAHart trap.
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By Sharon Whitehurst

Recitation of the bugs and blights which plague the dedicated gardener can begin to have an Old Testament cadence: squash vine borers, Japanese beetles, potato bugs, striped cucumber beetles. Then there is tomato blight and drought that must be factored in.

We gardeners are a hopeful lot; no matter the disappointments of a particular season, when spring arrives, we turn the soil, sort seed packets, mark out the rows for corn and beans.

Moving to Kentucky's Zone 6, we've had a bit to learn about different seasons. Here, in early July, we harvest the first cukes and tomatoes, begin picking green beans. In our native Vermont, it is folly to plant corn or set out tomato plants before Memorial Day weekend!

The Vermont years saw their share of gardening battles: the unexplained appearance every few years of tomato hornworms, a marauding woodchuck, the raccoons who moved in as the first sweet corn swelled to ripeness. We didn't have a nightly procession of opossums!

Jim is into his 5th summer of waging war on the possums. No matter how many meet a flattened ending on Old Gradyville Road, there is no shortage of those who meander up the driveway and go on a shuffling foray in the produce plots. Jim matched wits with one two years ago who could squeeze under the fence in the lower garden night after night, leaving a wreckage of nibbled tomatoes. One tomato didn't suffice - he juiciest ones in reach must all be sampled. That possum finally met his end when Jim rigged an electric hot wire along the bottom of the regular fencing resulting in an electrocuted thief. Most disgusting to me was the discovery of a gnawed muskmelon rolled halfway down the drive and abandoned with a calling card of possum poop left by the greedy intruder.

I was outside about six on Saturday morning. I'm not at my brightest when I first go out to sample the day, a bit muzzy. It took a moment or two before I noticed that Willis the Cat was keeping watch [from a respectful distance] on the hav-a-hart trap which Jim had baited with an alluring mixture of leftovers. I viewed the trapped possum with my usual distaste. The creatures have no redeeming charms that I have discerned. [At least a raccoon is 'cute' with its pert face mask and clever little paws.] Passing the trap a few minutes later I stopped to stare at what appeared to be the possum washing an overly large foot. Going cautiously closer I discovered that the inhabitant of the trap was a female with a tribe of squirming youngsters whom she was bathing as they nursed, unmindful of their littered surroundings.

Jim was staring at his laptop screen, mug of coffee beside him when I went in. "Do possums have pouches?" I demanded. "You've got a mother with babies in your trap and they seem to be able to disappear into her belly! They all smell dreadful!" I added.

Willis the Cat followed me in, affirmed that the possum family stank too much for him to continue supervising, padded to his favorite corner behind the rocking chair. I fired up my own PC and googled 'oppossums.' Marsupials, indeed.

Jim has shot only one possum - a huge male that terrorized the yard cats at close range one chilly March evening. I've backed one or two off the porch by prodding at them with a broom. Those trapped in the hav-a-hart are loaded into the back of the van or truck and driven far from any human habitation - not exactly the perfect solution, but at least no dead bodies to dispose of. My Cousin Tom, seeing the possum comments, "Granny Clampett made possum stew!"

That delicacy is not going to appear on our menu. We'll continue to challenge the possums for our corn and tomatoes and melons! - Sharon Whitehurst

This story was posted on 2014-07-14 03:52:52
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Incarcerated marsupial facing deportation

2014-07-14 - Old Gradyville, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst. Lodged in a HavaHart trap this opossum will be taken to opossum friendly habitat elsewhere on the Whitehurst farm. So long as opossums behave, follow the rules, and follow acceptable natural ways, exile from the garden area is the maximum sentence. Only when they break the rules - as the bad bear did in William Faulkner's The Bear - are guilty of terroristic threatening, as one did, do they face capital punishment. This one is one of the many lucky ones.
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