Homesteading Disasters: The Skunk Menace

Franky, I think our mistakes are more interesting and educational than the high-horse blog posts we typically churn out. I’m hoping, in fact, to collect our misadventures into a little booklet of homesteading disasters. To that end, I’ll periodically write about the latest problem around the Root Simple Compound starting today with how fun it is to garden with skunks.

Angry red arrows mark skunk dig sites in our new keyhole bed.

I know that I’ve got a skunk problem. Yet each year when I sow lettuce seeds I get lazy about putting up the required bird net barrier over the beds. Or I haphazardly put it up, thinking that the skunks aren’t smart enough to squeeze through any gaps. And each year I wake up the morning after planting to a kind of vegetable garden apocalypse–dozens of V shaped holes, overturned seedlings and scattered seeds. And each year I swear off vegetable gardening entirely.

Actual photo of absent-minded conquistadors.

So what’s the science behind this? Why do skunks dig? Skunks dig for doubloons dropped by absent-minded conquistadors many generations ago here in California. Our gardens in Los Angeles are thick in doubloons. In fact, if it weren’t for my metal detector I’d never be able to pay our inflated mortgage. Remember, our crumbling 92 year old bungalow (located in the “hippest neighborhood in America” according to Forbes Magazine) cost more than an entire town in Kansas. So these damn skunks are not only ruining my vegetables, but they are taking a big bite out of our house payments.*

The moral here: you gotta make time to fence off the veggies. For us that means hoops with bird netting carefully stretched out and held down by bricks. There’s no easy way out short of hiring 24 hour guards (off duty conquistadors perhaps?) And let’s not even talk about the deer menace (which, thankfully, we don’t have)! Deer harassed readers are welcome to share their horror stories in the comments.

More on that kooky new keyhole garden in another post . . .  

*Ed. note:  Skunks are actually digging for insects. The irony is that better soil (moist, rich with life, etc.) invariably attracts skunks. In that way, you may wish to consider skunk attacks a sign of gardening success.

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  1. Be thankful you just have skunks and deer. Living in the middle of no where we deal with deer, skunks, possums, coons, bobcats, coyotes, groundhogs, badgers,foxes, eagles, owls, moles and voles. Recently we have seen an increase in black bear and mountain lion sightings and the State conservation is talking about reintroducing ELK! Try gardening and keeping a flock with that!

    • Vertebrates and gardening are a tough combo. I corrected my post to note that we don’t have deer where we are, thankfully. Though many other parts of LA have deer and bears. I once had to help move a beehive here that had been menaced by bears. Those bees sure were pissed off!

  2. We have a very similar skunk garden attacker! And may have sworn off vegetable gardening this very morning! Even worse, our ever loyal chocolate lab decided to defend the garden at 5:45 am last week and lost a very stinky battle!

  3. We don’t have any veggies in our backyard, our neighbor does, and every night a friggin skunk hung around her place, and nosed around our compost bin. We both have wood fences separating the front yards from the back. I found holes dug under her fence, so I convinced her to put some rocks down on the other side of her fence so the skunk couldn’t tunnel under. The next day, I saw a hole under the fence, leading to–a rock barrier! No more skunk after that. They can’t jump, so if you have a wall (we have a retaining wall in our backyard), they can’t get into your yard.

  4. i thought it squirrels ! How can one tell ? Does that mean i must guard my fruit trees from the squirrels and the vegetables from the skunks ? F**kers must be looking for beetle grubs.

  5. There is no perfection in gardening. At least not in my gardening! It is such a good lesson. Some plants do well, some plants fail. Some beds get dug up. Those perfect gardens pictured on book and magazine covers are the new skinny lingerie models.

    This summer we had a teenage possum (culprit ID not certain) who would dig up two beds most nights. After a week or so of silly angry feelings in the morning I gave up on those, and was thankful that the critter left the other six beds more or less alone. The two he was digging up don’t really get enough sun anyway.

    • “Those perfect gardens pictured on book and magazine covers are the new skinny lingerie models” – this is hilarious. I agree with you! The more I talk to people about gardening the more I realize that everyone responds more to what has gone wrong – and how you cope with it – than to stories about what has gone right. I personally am quickly intimidated by garden perfection (and skinny lingerie models…)

  6. What does a raccoon look for when it digs a very long V-shaped area leaving a scar on the yard. I just know that one is here. The people down the street are annoyed their sod is destroyed.

    Why don’t you trap the skunk?

  7. yeah, no kidding! Just us humans! we are sooo self-important.

    My neighbors growing up had a skunk they found as a baby. they never descanted it and to my knowledge it never sprayed. they really are just docile bumbling creatures. who are unfortunately bumbling around your garden.

  8. I spent several weeks last spring trying to figure out the identity of a creature with rather large claws that was digging around the base of one of my compost piles (in a Rubbermaid compost enclosure that I picked up at a yard sale). I finally discovered the culprit…one of my dogs. I put down some chicken wire and cement blocks to discourage her. She went off and found another place to dig.

  9. Squirrels! Grrr…decimated my sunflowers and my tomatoes his year…and actually ate every single marigold flower in my garden. I watched them do it. No mistake. I wouldn’t feel so bad if they were native, but the darn things are escapees from the zoo back in the 30s. Only we in the inner city have to fight this battle. Grrr.

  10. I agree that garden disaster are more interesting! I have learned everything I know through the continuous making of mistakes. They’re more fun to write about too! My personal garden nemesis this past year was the groundhog. They about ate me out of house and home on several occasions. I am still working on improving my fence, whose original purpose was to keep my own dogs out of the garden. Now I know I need to worry about groundhogs (and rabbits) too.

  11. I’m not sure how sustainable this is with water as an issue in Los Angeles, but my boyfriend (an Atwater Village resident) and I were getting our raised vegetable beds decimated by skunks and/or raccoons after multiple rounds of plantings… until we bought one of those scarecrow motion-activated sprinkler systems. It’s hooked up to a water source, set on a timer (dusk to dawn for the beds), motion-detecting, and aimed directly at the area you need to protect. We have raised beds… so, we put the system in a simple planter with rocks for the necessary height and stability. There have been no garden intrusions since it was installed six months ago.

    • It was definitely worth the money, and worked in the equally pest-heavy AV. We used to see a HUGE raccoon make his nightly trek along the fence, at dusk every evening, presumably to go snack on the garden grubs until we put that scarecrow in. After it was installed, he/she left a few enormous protest poos right smack in the middle of the backyard, and then he/she and the skunks seemingly picked up and left! I love your blog, by the way. I’ve been a quiet reader since I moved to Silverlake/Los Angeles a year and a half ago. It’s one of the few sites I regularly check! –Nadia

  12. I inherited a nice, friendly mid-sized dog a few years ago. She has done a fine job running off the groundhogs and deer, but not so much the raccoons, moles, squirrels and…mockingbirds, of all things! (Who knew they liked cherry tomatoes?) Maybe they’re just weird, like the woodpeckers who drink out of my hummingbird feeders. Oh well, mom taught me to share, and share I will, like it or not!

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