Ahem. . .And now a word about the Pilfering Problem

After spending the spring and summer dutifully tilling, tending and weeding your garden, you are finally seeing results as your plants start to bear fruit.  One day, you are in the garden, checking and watering things, and you figure that you need to bring your gathering bags and baskets with you tomorrow.

But when you arrive the next day you discover that a substantial portion of your vegetables are gone.  A closer examination of the area reveals that you did not lose your crop to critters of the animal or insect kingdoms.

Two-legged Thieves have beaten you to the harvest!

They’re not diamonds and gold, but the vegetables and fruits that you tended and cared for up to ripeness represent the outcome of months of planning, attention and hard work; not to mention the money that you spent on the seeds or plants. And if you are like me, you plant heirloom veggies that cannot be obtained from any of the local supermarkets.  When those are stolen, that makes the loss even more acute.

It might seem like a small matter to most people, but to a gardener, it’s the same as a felony burglary.  Finding that someone has stolen from your garden can leave you feeling angry enough to give up.  Last year, thieves stole over 50 Texas Sweet Onions, two Habanero pepper bushes, several quarts of green beans, both of my old lawn chairs and a 5 –gallon bucket from my garden.  For good measure, they also smashed two other 5 –gallon buckets to pieces.  No doubt they were angered by the fact that they couldn’t take my wagon, which was secured by a padlock.

I’ve spoken to so many gardeners who can tell tales of loss.  One told of how all of his Brussels Sprouts were taken.  His neighbor had her tomatoes stolen.  Another said that all of his cabbages were stolen except three.  Others angrily reported that their corn and peppers had been picked.  And even more told of stolen watermelons, squash and cantaloupes.

And the list goes on and on.

The question might be asked, who’s stealing from the gardens?  Well, when you hang around the community gardens as much as I do, you can find out.

In some cases, hard times, unemployment and the down economy have led some people to steal from the gardens.

Last year, as I was watering in my plot one evening, an elderly woman pulled up to a plot neighboring mine in a beat-up old car.  She got out of her car, took two plastic bags out of the backseat and approached my neighbor’s plot.  I knew that she didn’t belong there and I confronted her, asking if she knew the name of the women who gardened there.  She didn’t bother to lie.  She told me that she had driven by earlier and noticed that there were sweet potatoes ready and she intended to take them.  I told her that these gardens were not open to the public in general and that each plot was privately rented and tended by a gardener who owned all of the produce in the plot.  I said that simply taking vegetables without asking was stealing.  I offered her some of the greens from my plot and sent her on her way.  Apparently, she was hungry.   Perhaps her pension or Social Security was not enough to pay for adequate food and she was going to glean the gardens.  I also met a woman who was driving a slightly better car with two young children in it.   This woman explained that she had lost her job and she ASKED for food.  I gave it to her.

While some people taking from the community gardens might be driven by hard times , others have other motives–Greed.

One late evening as I was about to leave the garden a truckload of men drove past me.  Neither the truck nor the men looked familiar to me.  Thinking this strange, I loaded up my tools as fast as I could and drove off in the direction they went.  The truck  was parked near the porta-potty, but there was no one in it. Feeling apprehensive because it was getting darker, I did not leave my car, so I couldn’t get the license number.  But I sounded my car horn and yelled, “John! I’m leaving the garden now! I’ll see you tomorrow!”  Suddenly four young men with cowboy hats on bounded out of the garden and ran to the truck. Each one was carrying a bag and some of the bags were full. It seemed to be a planned out harvesting session, probably with a view to selling the produce.  They hopped into the back of the truck and peeled out of there.   Apparently they didn’t want to meet up with “John” or me.  Fortunately, I never saw them again.

On a couple other occasions, I reprimanded some well-dressed people who were boldly helping themselves in broad daylight.  I suspect that some of them were state employees who work at the State Hospital (where there are office buildings). One young man got off  his expensive-looking motorcycle in front of my garden WHILE I WAS HOEING and started to pick my hot peppers.  Sheesh!  The Nerve!  I reprimanded him and sent him packing too.  Apparently some people think that the term “Community Garden” means that the gardens and their produce are free for the taking by anyone in the community who happens by.  These people are nothing more than greedy freeloaders who don’t want to work for anything, but who want to eat the fruits of other people’s labor for free.  I disabused these people of that notion quite handily.

But the worst are the people who steal from the gardens and SELL the produce.  Worse yet is when a fellow gardener does it.  Remember the Brussel Sprout and tomato thief I mentioned earlier?  Sadly, this was the case with that person.  That person’s fellow gardeners saw that person everyday and that person was trusted.  No one would believe that a neighbor would do something like this.  What a sorry shame!  They are, HOPEFULLY, banned.

After a community garden has been pillaged it is normal to feel anger, shock and even pity for the thief.  But there are means that one can take to help prevent or minimize theft of vegetables.

First and foremost, KNOW WHEN TO HARVEST 

In an earlier post, I mentioned the importance of knowing when to harvest your crops and taking them yourself as soon as they are ready.  Harvesting as soon as things are ready can prevent your veggies from being eaten by critters, but it can also thwart critters of the two-legged variety. There is no need to wait to take your crops.  After all, cabbages will split open, squash and okra will get woody, peas will turn bitter, broccoli will go to seed, and cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers will soften and rot if they are left hanging on the plants too long.  Why not take them when they are ready?

Hundreds of cars pass by and near the Community Garden on a regular basis.  People are looky-loos.  Some of those looky-loos do notice the squash, corn and tomatoes.  Unfortunately, some of them then plan to TAKE these.  Yes, there are even people who actually “case” the gardens and plan where they will steal from.  These people watch regularly to see the nicest cabbage and watermelons and they know where they are so that they can quickly take them and get away.  Check your seed packets or information tabs inserted in vegetable plant pots to see how many days it will take for your plants to mature.  Watch out for the “half-silk” time of the corn that was mentioned in an earlier posting.  By being aware of harvest times, you can beat thieves to the harvest.

Next, KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS

I know that I’ve told of the extremely sad case of a gardener who stole from their neighbors, but such a thing is very rare.  Nevertheless, by being friendly with your neighbors,  getting to know them and making friends with them, you can create one of the very best deterrents to thieves.  Remember the case of the elderly veggie-taker I mentioned earlier?  It was because I knew my neighbors and had a friendly relationship with them that I knew that the woman approaching their garden didn’t belong there.  If you don’t know your neighbors, then you won’t know who does and who does not belong in the garden.  If you know your neighbor, you can stop a thief from entering their garden, and hopefully, your neighbors will stop a stranger from stealing from yours.

Then, PERSONALIZE YOUR GARDEN

Earlier, I mentioned thieves who don’t think they are stealing; namely,  people who think that the term “Community Gardens” means that anyone in the community can feel free to help themselves to anything growing there.  If your garden has that “generic look,” or doesn’t look well tended, you might be contributing to the problem.

Creating a garden sign with your first name and a message can help deter thieves.  So can placing an official looking “No Trespassing” sign.  You can even post the Biblical command THOU SHALT NOT STEAL on a nice sign.  If you give some of your produce to charity, saying that on a sign might help.  Another way of personalizing the gardens is to add fanciful whirligigs, garden decorations, wind chimes, flags or other garden whimsies that let passers-by know that this area belongs to someone, someone who cares. You don’t have to spend a lot on these.  Places like the dollar stores, A C Moore and Big Lots sell some things cheap.  It won’t deter hard core criminals, but some thieves may be put off by knowing that the garden belongs to a person who had put so much hard work into it.

Then, WORK YOUR GARDEN REGULARLY

One thing is true about the gardens.  If you work your garden regularly, you get to know familiar faces and familiar cars.  You actually get a feel for your fellow gardeners, no matter where their plots are located.  You see and say howdy-doo to all of the ‘regulars’, people who are always there, and you become one of them.  If you work your garden regularly, it will also  look well-tended and be free of weeds. Remember –one type of veggie swiper is the innocent person who thinks that when a garden looks abandoned, they can take things from it.  Not only will working the garden regularly help you to have a better and more productive garden, you will also become acutely aware of who does not belong there.

Then, BEWARE OF STRANGERS

See something?  Say something.  When you know who belongs there and who does not, you are better equipped to beware of strangers.  Odd cars and odd people hanging around, especially late in the evenings or very early in the mornings, will immediately get your attention.  Do not try to accost suspicious acting people. If possible, you can take down the license plate numbers of strangers who are needlessly hanging about and report these to the Parks and Recreation Department.

Nothing can prevent every single case of theft, but by following these tips you should be able to get and enjoy most of your harvest and keep it out of the hands of thieves.

Gadgets that can help

There are some gadgets that can help scare human and animal critters off.  Or you might be interested in identifying the thief or thieves.  These aren’t too expensive, but you need to be clever about hiding them in your garden.

Cameras, for example.  These are usually used for photographing wildlife in the woods or people hanging around outside of homes,  but their weatherproof casings and their color make them effective for getting a picture of outdoor intruders:

http://www.improvementscatalog.com/product/code/387146.do?cm_mmc=Froogle-_-SecurityCamerasandAlarms-_-2011-_-387146&code-macs=MP1WFGL&code=MP1WFGL&mr:trackingCode=73BE2A06-4AB0-DF11-904F-002219319097&mr:referralID=NA

http://www.gandermountain.com/modperl/product/details.cgi?i=431297&pdesc=Wildgame_Innovations_S2_2_0MP_Digital_Game_Scouting_Camera_w/Strobe_Flash&aID=503B1A&merchID=4006

http://www.gandermountain.com/modperl/product/details.cgi?i=428665&pdesc=Moultrie_Game_Spy_D55_Scouting_Camera&aID=503AC3&merchID=4006

http://www.basspro.com/Wildview-EZCam-2-1-22-0-Megapixel-Digital-Trail-Camera/product/10206659/-1692300

How about a Pulsating Strobe Light that senses motion?

http://www.sportsmansguide.com/net/cb/Koolatron-Yard-Contro-Electronic-Pest-Repeller.aspx?a=499055&kwtid=509733&pm2d=CSE-SPG-1-SHOPPING&utm_source=shopping&utm_medium=cse

Something like this will startle thieves, whether they are two-legged or four legged!

And last of all,

For the FOUR-LEGGED pests that could plague your garden, this device might help

http://crittergittersensor.com/

Finally, YAY!  Gardens were ready this week!  My hubby and I took our old Troy-Bilt Horse over and roto-tilled everything!   We weren’t impressed with the so-called “plowing” at all.  Huge clods and clumps everywhere. Obviously it was not disced properly.   Not to mention LATE, LATE, LATE!!!!   EVERYTHING must now be put out at once, and the weather is not good for the brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels, Cauliflower and the like).  Pretty poor plowing job.   Everyone I talked to complained about it.  . .It is clear that we don’t want that person back, or if they do come back conditions need to be specified IN WRITING!  A good thing would be to have the gardens both PLOWED and DISCED at the end of the season, rather than at the beginning.  Then everyone could start after registration in March instead of losing two months of the season as we did this year.  . .

What do you think?  Click on the “Leave a Comment” button at the top of the page. . .


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