Avoiding Unwelcome Garden Surpises
October 6th, 2011

My sincere apologies today to the ophidiophobic, or people with a fear of snakes. But I posted this picture of an unwelcome garden surprise to make my point perfectly clear.

Be very careful as you go about your gardening chores, especially in the autumn.

At this time of year in my little corner of the world, the daytime temperatures are a comfortable and pleasant 70 or so, but the evening temperatures dip into the low 40s. It gets cold at night. You need a jacket.

Such temperatures signal some of our garden friends to seek refuge, for they know winter is coming. One such garden friend is the snake.

My garden contains many snakes, but the ones most commonly seen are the garter snake, the black rat snake, and the copperhead. Among these snakes, the copperhead is poisonous and to be feared.

This year as we worked on the garden pathways, we piled stones and broken slates we could not use on the paths in two piles on either end of the garden. I was walking to the compost pile yesterday when I passed by one of the piles. I almost stepped on a large rat snake. He was sunning himself, partially on the pile and partially on the path. His body could easily be mistaken for a fallen tree branch.

After doing what most people do in such a situation – i.e., screaming and flapping my arms around, sending carrot peels, apple cores and egg shells from the compost bin flying in all directions – I ran. The snake slithered as quickly as he could back into the pile of slates. I suddenly realized that we had created the perfect garden habitat for snakes!

As you go about your gardening chores, be mindful of areas that may naturally attract garden visitors. Black widow spiders, for example, love enclosed spaces. I have turned over rocks in the garden while weeding to find large black windows underneath, and once I reached down to pick a cucumber and found one right under the shady leaves.

Snakes look for rocks and other places to hide. During these lovely fall days, they emerge during the warm hours and sun themselves, but they also like rock piles like the ones I have in my garden. The rocks absorb the sun’s rays and remain warmer than the surrounding area, something snakes like.

Rat snakes, garter snakes and all the rest are a useful part of the ecosystem, and as an organic gardener, I’m committed to keeping the environment in our farm and garden as natural as possible. Snakes, spiders and other creatures should live in the garden, but I must also use care and caution when working out here in the fall, a prime time to encounter the more dangerous forms of wildlife on the farm.

A few reminders:

- Wear long pants and long sleeves when gardening.

- Wear heavy gloves.

- Do not reach into rock piles or brush piles. Use a long-handled hoe or rake to do so if you need to move a rock or brush.

- Know the poisonous snakes and insects for your part of the world. If you believe you’ve been bitten, seek emergency treatment immediately and go to the nearest hospital.

Gardening is fun, enjoyable, and safer than many other hobbies. But be aware of your surroundings and get to know the inhabitants of your garden. They were there first, after all!


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