When we had a vegetable garden in our backyard, woodchucks were our adversary. Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, are a type of mostly plant-eating rodent that digs burrows. They are actually part of the squirrel family.
I remember one time, when looking out through the rear window of my house, I realized the plants in our garden were swaying. Seconds ticked away as my brain processed why this was happening. Suddenly, I realized that there wasn’t a breeze or a storm blowing in; it was a certain short-legged intruder munching on the baby veggies. I flew out the back door yelling “Caaa-Caaa” while loudly clapping my hands together and chased the woodchuck into his underground tunnel beneath the neighbor’s shed. It was all in vain though; it didn’t take long for him to return and take a bite out of nearly all of that day’s ready-to-pick vegetables.
My neighbor also had an eye out for woodchuck invaders. We called her Babcia (babshee?). She was Ukrainian and, I believe, in her late eighties. With her hair pulled up in a bun and wearing her muumuu-type dress, she spent almost all day tending her garden of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, corn, and other expertly-grown produce. She was a sweet neighbor, until the groundhog decided to venture out from under the shed into her garden — then she became ruthless. For an elderly woman, she could be very spry. In a flash, I’d see her grab a broom and chase the critter. After she passed on, I picked up her technique for myself…Note to readers – I only scared them away, no groundhogs were injured in the process!
Woodchucks were actually a double threat to our garden. Not only can they burrow under the fencing, but they can also climb quite well. When the groundhog became nervous about being in my neighbor’s garden, it would climb the chain link fence into our yard. I never realized they could climb that well, until I watched one skillfully pausing at the top to make sure the coast was clear. As soon as he decided he could visit without interruption, he’d jump right down from the fence into our garden.
If you can forgive them for raiding your veggies, woodchucks are quite fun to watch. They waddle around like large, rotund guinea pigs. They are quite humorous when they stand on two legs, probably checking the landscape for broom-carrying humans. I’ve never had an encounter with one that was aggressive; they seem to run away quickly when a human being comes near. Other than human entertainment and their yearly prediction of when spring will come, groundhogs do make a contribution to the ecosystem. Other animals use their burrows as shelter and all their digging helps improve the quality of the soil. Interested in learning more about these creatures? A general woodchuck overview can be found on this school website.