Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

Who ate my lettuce?: A Caterpickles Investigative Report, Part II

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Our story so far…

If you’re just joining us, a crime has been committed in my vegetable garden. Somebody’s been eating my lettuce and it wasn’t me.

Photo of lettuce plant in a container garden. Something's eaten it down to the stalk overnight.
(Photo: Shala Howell)

The Suspects

Each of these suspicious characters was spotted in our backyard by reliable eye witnesses over Memorial Day Weekend.

Wanted poster showing photos of the groundhog, lesser goldfinch, brush rabbit, and western grey squirrel who hang out in our back yard. The words "Potential Accomplice" have been stamped in black on top of the photo of the lesser goldfinch.
(Photos: Michael and The Thirteen-Year-Old Howell. Wanted Poster: Shala Howell)

The Finch is in the clear (more or less)

In our last post, we assessed what role, if any Speckles Madison (AKA Inspector Finch) might have played.

While Inspector Finch had the means and the opportunity (no newbie gardener would boot a Lesser Goldfinch from their garden), it’s not clear that he had the motive. When it comes to foliage, Lesser Goldfinch know what they like and what they like are sunflower leaves, not lettuce.

That said, Inspector Finch could have used his bird call-mimicking skills to summon a flock of ne’er-do-well American Goldfinch, rabbits, squirrels, and other critters who do enjoy a spot of lettuce in their diet. And there’s no getting past that one plant that seemed to have been uprooted and toted off overnight.

No goldfinch is going to do that. At least not alone. At best the Lesser Goldfinch is an accomplice. Our real criminal is an excellent digger.

Which brings us to today’s potential villain…

The Gopher: Bardo Field, AKA Professor Grumpy

Image shows a mock-up of a Suspect Profile from the Caterpickles Garden Authority. The profile, which is stamped Top Secret, includes a suspect photo, a list of personal details including name: Bardo Field, alias: Professor Grumpy, species: Pocket Gopher, Age: 1? 2? 3 max, Children: 2-5 per litter, multiple litters per year, Gender: TBD; Language: Click, hiss, and squeak. It also includes a list of specialist fields, including burrowing, digging, ground aeration, subterranean navigation, uprooting plants, food storage and transportation.
Suspect Profile for Bardo Field, AKA Professor Grumpy. (Source for the details in the profile: The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History’s Gopher page. Suspect Photo: The Thirteen-Year-Old Howell. Suspect Profile: Shala Howell)

You may remember that last year we had an issue with a gopher (“Is that weird beastie in my yard a vole, a mole, or a gopher?“). We didn’t see him much over the winter, but last week The Thirteen-Year-Old reported that the gopher (AKA Professor Grumpy) was back — enticed no doubt, by the sweet smell of the lettuce and onions growing merrily away in my garden.

Could the gopher have done it?

Gophers don’t jump, but they can climb, so my raised bed wouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent.

But did Professor Grumpy have a motive?

According to the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, a gopher’s diet consists mainly of earthworms, vegetables, roots, stems, leaves, grasses, and herb-like flowering plants like alfalfa dandelion and prickly pear cactus.

“Vegetables” implies lettuce, but it doesn’t exactly scream it, so I did a little more digging to verify Professor Grumpy’s dietary preferences.

According to Pestnet, gophers eat a shocking amount of food — more than half their body weight every day. Sure, a lot of that food ends up being earthworms and soft-shelled insects, but there’s also a lot of plants in the mix. In the garden, gophers mostly eat root vegetables like carrots, onions, and sweet potatoes, but they will also happily devour lettuce, if a lettuce plant happens to be in their path. They are also prone to ripping out entire plants and hauling them off to their burrows for later feasting, which might explain my missing lettuce plant.

So far, so good. Still, there are a couple of problems…

Problem #1: Professor Grumpy’s burrows don’t reach my vegetable patch

Gophers tend to eat the food already in the path of their burrows. Professor Grumpy’s burrows in the back yard, while more extensive than they have any business being, don’t come anywhere near my vegetable garden (yet).

Problem #2: Gophers tend to eat their food roots-first.

My remaining lettuce plants were definitely nibbled leaf-down.

So unless Professor Grumpy left the safety of his burrow, traveled several feet in the open across the yard, and climbed the sides of my 32-inch high raised container garden so that he could eat the plants top-down rather than roots-up, he isn’t to blame for this.

However, gophers are nocturnal by nature, and my lettuce disappeared overnight, which means Professor Grumpy was likely roaming around when the crime was committed.

Which raises the question…

What did Professor Grumpy know and when did he know it?

I still think Professor Grumpy knows more than he’s telling. Just look at those furtive eyes and those handy pocket cheeks. If he doesn’t have my entire lettuce plant tucked in those cheeks, he knows who does.

Photo of the gopher who lives in our backyard making trouble for my vegetables.
(Photo: The Thirteen-Year-Old Howell)

And that brings us to that rascally rabbit

Rabbits are notoriously fond of lettuce, especially the dark leafy green kinds I used to have in my garden. I would be amazed if Colonel Cottontail doesn’t come into this nefarious scheme somehow.

Could Colonel Cottontail really jump high enough? Find out in the next episode of “Who ate my lettuce?”

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