When I first put my garden in I was so excited, finally I can grow my own food in the city!
For those who have black thumbs, I can't really explain my excitement, I guess you could liken it to a kid on Christmas eve. I've been wanting a garden for a long time but have held back because we have a tendency to move every 6 months or rental properties just didn't allow us to.
As soon as the dirt hit the ground in my brand new garden bed, I promptly filled it to the brim with baby seedlings.
That feeling of elation was deflated pretty quickly when the next day some of my plants were eaten down to the stalks, mainly it was Cauliflower seedings, so I was looking around for caterpillars.
The next day more damage was done. Over 80% of my plants we're eaten right down to the stalks. This was one big caterpillar.
In our garden we have a big old mango tree. Turns out this big ol' Mango tree is like an apartment block for Possums. We counted 3 nests, but I later found a lot of babies hanging about.
Having grown up in the bush, it never occurred to me that native wildlife would like eating my baby lettuce! I guess because there isn't much food around for them in the city, anything tastes good.
Enter my nemesis - Ron, the Possum
I guess he's like the veggie patch grinch. I first met Ron digging into my pots on the back deck. He knocked a pot full of radish off the railing down to the ground below and it made a god awful bang (and killed all my baby radish). I jumped out of bed, I cornered him with my torch. You could tell he had no problems with humans and the look he gave me was more like 'What are you doing on my deck shining that light in my face'. This was his turf as far as he was concerned.
I called him this because he's was a red Ringtail Possum. His fur, his eyes, all red. And yes I am a Harry Potter fan so a Weasley reference was an absolute must.
After talking to the neighbours it turns out that the mango tree was also home to a very sure of himself Brush tail, he used to jump in the window and steal food from their kitchen if they didn't close the windows at night.
What didn't work
I jumped on google and went about trying to find remedies for Possums destroying your garden.
Someone suggested the commercial animal scat products. That didn't work.
Another suggestion was providing alternative food (fruit scraps). I didn't feel good about this, mainly because I didn't want the Possum population to explode, instead I opted to put around some decoy plants instead (Ron loves italian flat leaf parsley).
Another suggestion was high beam sensor lighting. The veggie patch being quite close to our bedroom window we ruled that out.
A lady at Bunnings suggested using 'coffee grounds'. After chatting with her, we had no idea that Bunnings had a nightly raid on their plants as well and had to throw a large percentage away. Even Bunnings has issues. Anyway the coffee grounds didn't work.
Now if anyone tries to sell you some magic anti possum magic, it's likely they are having a go. Or they have never dealt with a possum like Ron.
We finally opted for 'exclusion method' which is basically put a big old net over your prized veggies. I picked up a net from Bunnings for around $5 for a 4m x 4m area.
Initially the exclusion method wasn't 100% effective. We then started to think perhaps it was rats or mice getting at our veggies, so we tried traps inside the net. All we caught was a naughty Beagle trying to steal peanut butter sandwiches.
Turned out it was definitely the possums.
These guys were smart - they actually knew what was in there so they figured out how to lift up the net and get in, it only started working when we invested in some tent pegs and pegged the net down. Whatever was outside of the net was fair game - that included stray branches hanging on the outside and if a corn cob was close enough to grab consider it a goner.
Yes the net is ugly as sin, but hey it works. Perhaps when we buy our own place we'll build a permanent possum proof enclosure.
With our aquaponics system we've got some awesome Vegepod covers that just sit over the top - you can buy these components separately from the Vegepod system if you already have garden beds the same dimensions (we got the medium covers which are 1mx1m which runs a little bit short but so far the lettuce has been safe on the outside). These have not only been great for the possums but also the white cabbage moth caterpillar and I'd love to one day upgrade some of our traditional gardens to these wicking bed systems.
For the few one off plants, our neighbour uses cheap washing baskets that she places over the top of her prized plants and has had success protecting against the possums that way as well.
What Plants are safe in Possum territory
This is not a definitive list (it's just the plants that I had out in pots unprotected), and perhaps different varieties of Possums eat different things but I've found these plants to be safe in possum territory. It's also worth noting that any young plant is fair game:-
Basil(New possum perhaps but after the decoy bok choi was annihilated the basil soon followed)
- Rosemary (see comment below, someone had their rosemary eaten, ours is still safe)
- Onions (spring, chives, garlic)
What Plants are NOT safe in Possum territory
These are the ones that got annihilated. Plants they love:
- Any seedling
- Basilicas (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale)
- Leafy greens
- Chards (Beets, Silverbeet, Swiss Chard)
Moving forward my vegetables now always get tucked into bed each night in their cosy net. I often leave it on all week and take it off on weekends to do some pottering.
It only takes one night of Possum rampage to put you a few steps behind!
But is it a possum?
It's been almost 10 years since I first published this post and one thing I have to add is that, it's probably more likely a rat than a possum doing the damage to your veggie patch.
Whilst ring tail possums love new shoots of plants (particularly eucalyptus) and fruit, it's unlikely they are eating the tops of your broccoli and cauliflower off. Put some traps out and rule that out first. Honestly I'd rather the possums than the rats.
Listen to the podcast version of this post here
For more podcasts or to subscribe click here.