Well, it’s another fine mesh in the garden | TheUnion.com

Well, it’s another fine mesh in the garden

A wise man once wrote, “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.” A sadder-but-wiser man added, “and VERY few of these consequences are vine-ripened tomatoes.”

Here at Clear Creek Ranch, we are resolutely pro-growth on the vegetable issue. There are no multiple tractors chugging toward the horizon in tight formation over endless rows of lush greenery, just me.

My wife acts as “weed consultant.” As in, “WE’D better do some work in the garden today.” Then she remembers an important errand, and I’m left to outline a comeback movie script for former child-actor McCauley Culkin: “Hoe Alone.”

During our garden’s early years, we had a laissez-faire attitude. No fences, no fertilizer, no weeding, and, of course, no vegetables.

Then we subscribed to Ruth Stout’s heavy-mulch theory. Old straw thickly blanketed every square inch of the garden. This kept moisture in and blocked the sun to discouraged weed growth.

It was ideal habitat for field mice, which burrowed everywhere in a lethal game of hide-and-seek with the neighborhood rattlesnakes. Every time I wanted to gather salad fixings, I alerted the paramedics to warm up the antivenom. Very few fresh veggies that summer. Mulch ado about nothing.

Nothing takes a bigger bite out of the gardening dollar than fencing. But eschew it, and the veggies get chewed. In the spirit of that obscure organic communist gardener, Sharon Sharalike, we set out enough seedlings for the forest creatures, figuring a few would reach maturity (and our dinner table).

That year we purchased over 2,000 tomato plants, at $1.99 each, for a net yield of five mature tomatoes. (Not each plant … in total.) The next year, we decided to spend $1.99 times 1,999 to build an impregnable fencing system to protect that year’s $1.99 investment in one tomato plant, which also yielded about five tomatoes.

This was the beginning of our isolationist period. The problem with fencing is that there is no such thing as being “a little bit impregnable.” Either it is or it isn’t. When our fauna population gets the munchies, the garden is still vulnerable to both subterranean and airborne attacks.

The birds weren’t too ruinous – they eat like birds, after all. The gophers were stealthy and methodical, decimating row after row of root crops, leaving nothing to harvest but carrot tops.

Wire mesh was the answer. All I had to do was excavate a garden bed, lay down mesh on the bottom and sides, then toss the dirt back in. Except for the mesh part, this is called “French intensive gardening.” Take it from me, this is not a gardening technique for the laissez.

After I recovered from hand digging a 25 feet by 25 feet, 1-foot-deep pit in the native adobe clay, I dumped in two truckloads of semi-composted horse manure. The result was soft, rich, soil – a sprouting vegetable’s dream.

Incoming gophers soon surfaced outside the bed’s perimeter, high-jumped over the wire, and backstroked through the fluffy loam as easily as kids in one of those amusement park bins filled with tiny plastic balls.

This year we are regrouping again, indoors. No hydroponics – I don’t want the DEA banging on my door at 3 a.m. Container gardening on a screened-in second-floor deck. Impregnable tomatoes at last … I think.

But just in case, I’m covering the deck itself with a double layer of wire mesh.

Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at

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