Gardening for carnivores

So hey, since moving down here to the south I’ve become a passable vegetable gardener. (I don’t know if it’s so much due to the move as that the longer growing season is a lot more forgiving, and also I have a fenced area here to keep the deer from eating everything we grow.) Each year around Easter I trot out the wheelbarrow and various tools and dig the weeds out of my boxes and start planning what we’ll plant this year.

I’d love to tell you each year has layered precious knowledge on top of what came before, and now—five years into my clueless time of gardening-with-Google—I’m an expert. But… mostly I am a person who 1) likes vegetables, 2) knows how to read, and 3) has sort of learned a little from past mistakes. To wit: After multiple years of trying to grow snap peas in the middle of the summer, I actually bothered to read up on them and now know that they don’t do well in heat. Whoops! So this year I planted some early, and theoretically they should be ready for harvest before we’re into endless weeks of 95+ temps.

Also, I’ve learned that tomatoes are pretty easy to grow as long as you don’t have to battle tomato horn worms. So the garden is always pretty tomato-heavy. We all like tomatoes and tomato sauce, so that works.

Clearly I’m no expert. But it makes me happy, this gardening, on lots of different levels. The challenge, though, is trying to figure out the best way to structure it all so as to maximize my family’s vegetable consumption. Because SOME PEOPLE in my family would rather eat other things. (And by “some people” I of course mean “everyone else who lives in my house.”) The tomatoes seem to work out, like I said, but everyone gets tired of grilled zucchini about halfway before the plants are done and no, I am not just going to make zucchini brownies every day, CHILDREN. (And it’s not just the carnivores making this happen, either. A certain vegetarian I know would really like to be a candytarian. Maybe a fruititarian on occasion, but VEGetarian is a LIE.)

Like I said, I already planted the peas this year. Here they are, tiny and hopeful:

(I put them in the box where I lovingly tended to cantaloupe last summer, winding vines and creating slings out of cut-up pantyhose and generally taking better care of those stupid melons than I do my kids. Over half of them were eaten by bugs or inexplicably shriveled before reaching ripeness, and the rest… tasted horrible. Clearly I displeased the melon gods, but WHATEVER. Lesson learned, I give up on melons.)

The day Monkey and I prepped all things garden-y we got the peas planted and cleaned out the rest of the boxes and even made a run to the Big Box Home Store and grabbed a few things we were going to need, including a bunch of bags of soil.

Listen, I feel stupid buying soil. I mean, it’s not expensive, but let’s face it: I’m buying dirt. When I live on… dirt. And have a compost pile which produces… dirt. DIRT IS EVERYWHERE. And yet I go to the store to buy it. Because I’m smart like that. Also because I am lazy about turning our compost pile and I’m not convinced the soil it produces is all that awesome. So I buy topsoil and I mix it with our composted soil and then I cross my fingers that things will grow. It usually works out.

So back to our first gardening day: We bought all this soil, and then stacked it inside the fence. When I go out there to plant the rest of our stuff—probably this weekend—I’ll mix it up in the boxes and that’ll be swell.

Turns out, Licorice did not approve of this plan. Licorice usually pays no attention to my garden boxes at all, but that all changed when there was an interloper and I wasn’t paying attention.

Remember, we have a fenced area (containing the deck, the pool, and the garden boxes) that leads out to ANOTHER fenced area FOR LICORICE. We didn’t add a dog run because WE wanted to have a big ugly chain-link fence that would make it harder to mow that part of the lawn, we did it because we thought it would be nice for, y’know, THE DOG. And she repays that consideration by running outside, approximately 98% of the time, and spending all of 30 seconds out in her run before returning to the deck/pool/garden area to either sun herself or try to find a way to escape.

This is already rotten behavior, but yesterday I let her out and the next thing I knew, Otto was outside hollering at the dog. It would appear that Licorice had spotted a lizard (and you know how Licorice loves lizards) and that lizard had the utter GALL to run away from her. Apparently it ran behind the soil sacks.

Licorice had to be removed from the scene bodily, clumps of dirt and shreds of plastic still stuck in her fur. Every time I’ve let her out today, I’ve had to walk outside and make VERY DISAPPROVING NOISES when she makes a beeline for the crime scene. She then stops, looks up at me on the porch with a guilty look, and goes the other way. (For about ten seconds. Then she heads back over there, hoping that I won’t notice. Lather, rinse, repeat.)

We’ve owned her for three and a half years and have never known her to dig. I hope this was a one-time thing and not a sign of a new hobby. Either way, it was really hard to get mad. She was just so darn PROUD of herself. Apparently while I grow veggies, she’s hoping for a crop of lizards.


  1. Megan

    Ages and ages ago BBC did this gorgeous series called Victorian Kitchen Garden which I stumbled on (thank you YouTube, god of procrastinators). You have never seen anything more amazing than the meticulous care the gardener took of his melon plants. I had no idea they were such pampered darlings, or that they were so ridiculously picky about EVERYTHING in their little lives. I resolved then never to attempt to grow them and you have just confirmed that was a really good choice! [note – the exception was watermelon which I grew once and which was extremely successful except the bit where I remembered I don’t actually like watermelon all that much really)]

    Also – if Licorice is at all like my former idiot dog, that place will ever and for eternity be The Place of Lizard. Dogs are lovable, dim, and very, very optimistic.

  2. Jim

    Thanks Mir. This was a refreshing change of pace compared with the previous post, which reminds me of what might just be a helpful hint for your backyard gardening readers. You know what can make an excellent fertilizer………….

  3. KarenP

    My husband spent an hour on Saturday planting dozens of sunflower starts. He looked at them yesterday and the tops had been eaten….squirrels. A couple of years go we bought a greenhouse just so we could start plants without them being washed away by spring rain. One day we would have carrots and the next day they would be gone because of the rain.

  4. JennyA

    Mabel doesn’t dig either, unless I’m in the garden. It’s like she sees me working with the dirt and she decides that’s what she needs to do, too. So, she comes over while I’m digging and very busily makes a hole, stopping a few times to make sure I’m watching. I guess she’s helping? Honestly, it makes me want to hold her and squeeze her and call her George.

  5. Juli Ward

    And you are now a true Southerner. I am referring to your use of the word “hollering”. Congratulations!

    We aren’t all that bad and we have lovely weather.

  6. Rocky Mountain Woman

    I am sooooo excited for my little garden boxes which, of course, I can’t plant until late June because we have a growing season here of approximately 29 minutes…

  7. Aimee

    Ooh, your peas are pretty. Still small, yes, but promising. My niece spent the weekend yanking dandelions and grass out of the little raised garden bed that has been designated for her (they just moved into the house and the people who lived her before clearly had not used that little bed in a while) and she is most excited about radishes. I am most excited about zucchini, because unlike certain people in your house, I never get sick of grilled zucchini.

  8. Angela

    I live in Houston and we have the same weather, but I’m going to try the cantaloupes AGAIN anyway…apparently I don’t learn either. Last time we tried to grow them the good ones were eaten by animals of some sort and the rest didn’t really make it. I planted peas too, and then a friend of mine said that peas are a cool weather crop, they like cool temps for the flowers to set peas. Oh well, they’re pretty little plants anyway! And they do put nitrogen back in the soil, so it’s not a total waste. He said to till the plants back into the ground in the fall and that helps the nitrogen too. So far, everything’s looking pretty good!

  9. My Kids Mom

    I think some kids are pastatarians.

    All gardeners are optimists. Just saying. I have one (1) two inch lettuce plant – planted last fall? certainly months ago. I still hope it’ll grow enough to eat it.

  10. Nelson's Mama

    When I was little Mama planted the cantaloupes next to the cucumbers. They cross-pollinated and we had cucaloupes that summer ;)

  11. Jen

    Re Licorice and the lizard…

    I once had a young dog that had an encounter with a porcupine at the base of a certain tree at my parents’ house. She lost.

    For the rest of her life, *every* time we visited, she beelined for that tree to try to even out the score.

    I suspect bags of soil will forever be the-hiding-place-of-the-lizard in Licorice’s brain.

  12. Kira

    About the compost – if you put scraps and stuff in, and got dirt out, it’s fabulous dirt. You don’t have to stir and tend compost, that just makes it break down faster. It will still compost if it’s neglected. No one stirs and waters the forest floor, right?
    And you can totally grow cantaloupe. I say this because I had a bang up successful cantaloupe season once, and I won’t tell you how long ago it was, but okay, I threw up one of those lovely lovely melons because I was in labor with Max. And ever since I’ve had fair to middling success, and gone around insisting that cantaloupes can be grown.
    Sometimes I don’t know why anyone speaks to me.

  13. Jody

    Ha Ha, perhaps it was just a belated April Fools prank by the pooch? My dogs have a hard time reading the calendar themselves. (I have to read it to them each morning to remind them.) We’re starting up a garden this spring, or at least plan to, but it always seems to move from us being in the planning phase to it’s-suddenly-winter-again. Wondering if you’ve tried recruiting Licorice in your gardening labors yet? I’ve tried with my Boxers, but for some reason they keep mistaking the plants for weeds and pulling them up as well. I think I should get a rebate on that e-course “Dogs and Gardening” I enrolled them in.

    Buying dirt, that’s funny. I guess you can get that stuff tested to see what’s in it, but really, who has time for that? Besides, even if I did get it tested? I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what the results meant.

  14. Daisy

    Mother Nature Network ( has a gardening feature this month with loads of “beginner” advice. I skimmed it, and it looks good. My goal this year is to plant asparagus. It won’t be mature enough to eat for two years, but that’s part of the beauty of it.

    Oh, the melons? Anything that grows on a squash vine either fails or takes over my garden. I’ve been reduced to buying zucchini from the farmers’ market because I won’t plant them anymore.

    As for that dirt? Compost. It Happens.

  15. Katie in MA

    Maybe if you plant a fake lizard somewhere else in the yard, she’ll be all “HEY! SOMETHING LIZARDY!” and forget about the original crime scene?

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