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Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - August 10, 2012

Garden tips for August

'Winning' the gopher wars

by Jack McKinnon

Pocket gophers are named for the large cheeks they have. They store food in these cheeks and transport it to their food chambers. This is a characteristic that is both their strength and weakness.

In the gopher wars I am witnessing throughout the West there is a clear lack of understanding regarding the gopher cheeks and how important they are to the social, economic and strategic characteristics of this conflict. This month's tips will explore the opportunities available to all of us engaged in the current gopher wars.

Please note this column does not have the space to fully develop all the strategies regarding the "gopher problem" but stay tuned. The "gopher problem" didn't arrive overnight, and although I will be recommending night-vision equipment later, it will not be resolved overnight either. Here are the tips:

1. We need to develop a witness-protection program for gophers. The reason why gophers have not been coming forth and turning each other in is because they fear retribution from their peers. This is nothing to be thought lightly of. Gophers are not only very territorial and quite violent but they are sexist and opinionated too. A witness-protection program will allow those who want to get out of the gang mentality to feel safe to rat (I apologize to all the rats out there) each other out and live to dig again.

2. Gophers are organic eaters and in the recent past (the last 90 years), there have been way too many chemicals (and I do mean that generically) put into our gardens. This creates disorientation, social upheaval and general angst in the gopher community. With all this lack of proper diet it is very difficult to come to the negotiation table for gophers. They don't feel heard and you know how it is when nobody listens. I think shifting to strictly organic gardening will remedy this problem. After all, with all that cheek, gophers need to talk too.

3. Gopher cheeks need to be acknowledged. There is a real self-image detach in the underground these days. Passing in tunnels can be a tight situation and in the past, when cheeks were accepted, gophers would rub cheeks, purr or grunt or snort lovingly thus acknowledging each other's cheeks. Since the cheek has been getting less attention in the media, gophers have been feeling left out. This is really bad news since a rogue gopher will really mess up a garden a lot faster than a content, happy one. It might benefit the gardening community to have a cheek appreciation day once a month to try and keep the rogues down.

4. I have been noticing more gopher immigration lately. With this new influx of culture in local and regional gardens there is a demand for more ethnic food. The solution to this is to grow appropriate international foods to complement the recent arrivals. I recommend Italian Swiss chard, Greek oregano, French thyme and plenty of garlic, chilies and maize. These can be planted around the perimeter of the garden in order to welcome the newcomers.

5. Gopher cages have become quite popular lately and by far, are the best way to keep gophers out of the root system of a plant. But gophers are learning to climb and simply having a cage around one's root system may not keep your gophers out let alone happy. If a gopher happens to get inside the cage it becomes quite lonely very quickly in there. Gophers as we all know are social animals and feel left out if caught in a gopher cage. I recommend a badminton set placed on either side of each and every gopher cage sticking out of the soil so your gophers can play "over the fence" so to speak. This will keep them happy and well socialized while eating all the roots and everything else of the caged plant. As gopher badminton becomes more popular the price will come down, of course, and the sets will be available online.

6. Lack of education is proving to be just as devastating in the gopher community as it is in ours. I am seeing ignorant, ill-educated, drop-out gophers all the time, and their ability to communicate is declining precipitously. The gopher education project G.E.P. is clearly the solution here. Once gophers stop learning, they get blinder vision and become bigoted, loud-mouthed ignoramuses. Continuing gopher education is much needed. This will help in the war effort also because there will be better communication at the negotiation table and less name-calling.

7. Once negotiations for peace are engaged in, it is important to have plenty of organic food at the table. This will keep the gophers around to work things out with gardeners. Remember they have big cheeks and will want to fill them before starting to swallow. Of course this will hamper their ability to talk at the table but will allow you to get a word in edgewise.

8. Setting a nice mellow tone of negotiation is important. Remember that gophers have feelings too. Saying things like "I will nuke your little ... !" won't get you very far. Try to be diplomatic whenever possible. Never insist on your way or the highway (gophers don't like highways very much) or "absolutely no gophers allowed" because you will only meet resistance. Remember it is called a negotiation for a reason.

9. It might help to set up a retirement benefit and medical and dental care as a tipping point to the talks. After all, historically gophers have been always under-cared-for in their old age. Offering a gopher assisted-care facility may just get you what you want.

10. Of course what you get is a peaceful garden. Remember that happy gophers are a lot less obnoxious than nervous, frightened and disenfranchised ones. There will always be gophers; may as well have them on your side. And remember keep those cheeks full. They will eat less of your veggies.

Good gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687 (cell), by email at jack.mckinnon.hmb@gmail.com. Visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com.

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