Flora and Fauna of the San Jacintos: Gophers

Note: If you are a gopher lover, I recommend that you not  read the following post, since I will be saying some very mean things about gophers below.  Also, if you do like gophers, I’m not sure if we can be friends, since I loathe the little buggers with all of my being.  I tell you why below.


Today, in the latest installment of this series, I’ve decided to talk about gophers.  Of course, gophers aren’t exclusively found here in Southern California, but are very common, and if you do any kind of gardening, you’ve probably cursed them once or twice.  Or maybe a lot more.  They are nasty buggers.

I bring them up in relation to my writing, because the characters I write about are farmers and ranchers at the turn of the century, meaning that they must grow most of their own food.  And if you are growing your own food, gophers are one of your main enemies.  You can imagine how you might feel if you’ve spent months growing the food that is meant to feed your family over the winter, and the gopher devours all your hard work in the course of a night.  So you might say that gophers are one of the villains in my writing.  (I certainly think they’re villainous.)

I decided to write about the gophers now in honor of one of their victims, which my husband discovered this weekend: a Granny Smith apple tree that he had planted last winter, which the gophers dug up and tried to kill this past week.  Right now the tree is sitting in a pot in the backyard, looking quite ill.  We hope that we can save it, but it’s not looking good.

The amazing thing about this story is that the gophers actually dug (or chewed) through the wire cage that my husband put underground to protect the roots and the wire fence he put around the trunk to protect the main part of the tree.  And that’s not the first time we’ve had a gopher chew through chicken wire to get to our plants.  Last summer a gopher made it through the chicken wire on the bottom of one of my raised garden beds and ran riot through it.  Every day a new plant would be gone, the only evidence that it had ever existed the hole left behind where the gopher dragged it down into its tunnels.

It can make a person crazy, watching all your well-loved fruit trees and vegetables disappearing under the onslaught of an enemy that you can never catch a glimpse of and who attacks from under the ground.

Our first plan of attack involved the dogs.  We had heard stories from others about how their dogs had cleared their entire property of gophers.

We ended up having no such stories to tell.

Next, we got some cats.  The cats ended up clearing the gophers out of the backyard, but decided to stop there, leaving the other 2+ acres to be riddled with gopher holes.  Apparently, the cats believe that they can retire now that they’ve cleared the backyard, and now seem to be intent on spending the rest of their nine lives sleeping on the lawn chairs.

Finally, we toyed with the nuclear option.  There is a method, known as the gopher gasser, where you fill the tunnels with propane and then ignite it, causing the entire tunnelworks to collapse in a fiery inferno.  We were so crazed by the gophers attacks on our plants, we briefly considered this, even though the hill our house sits on is so riddled with tunnels, we would likely collapse it and send our house crashing down into the street.  But at least the gophers would have been gone.

I am sure that this is the same kind of thinking that lead to the concept of mutually assured destruction during the Cold War.

In the end, we are still using the chicken wire to try to keep them away from our plants, and we keep hoping that one day, the dogs and cats might actually decide to do something to earn that premium food that we feed them.

And we thank goodness that we don’t have to grow our own food, like real homesteaders, because in this war, the gophers seem to be winning.

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