In mid-June, Tyrant Farms suffered the terrible loss of multiple squash, zucchini, flowering bulb, and bean plants.
The crime scene: previously healthy plants that suddenly wilted due to their root/stem bases being chewed in half at or below the surface of the ground. The culprit: a dreadful beast known as a “vole” (or “voledemorts” as we sometimes call them due to their similarity to the Harry Potter character).
Voles are small rodents often confused with moles, their close relatives. However, unlike moles, whose diet consists mostly of grubs and worms caught in their underground tunnels, voles’ diets are predominantly plant-based… and there is nothing more appealing to a vole than the supple roots of the fruits & vegetables grown on Tyrant Farms. Amongst organic gardeners, it’s widely known that there is no permanent solution to these natural pests—other than cats.
Technically, we already had a cat, but anyone that has met or seen Charlie von Cat, the fluffy, rotund queen of Tyrant Farms, knows that the animal is physically incapable and mentally disinterested in any form of strenuous physical activity, much less rodent-hunting. Plus, The Tyrant and I had no interest in getting more cats: too much time, money, and aggravation; not to mention that Charlie von Cat would absolutely NOT approve of any challenge to her dominion.
No more cats. We’d have to come up with a different solution to our vole problem. We tried caster oil, which worked ok, but mostly caused the voles to go into other areas of the yard until enough rain washed the stuff away, after which they’d return to exact revenge with rampant destruction. Garlic was also ineffective. Short of burying wire caging throughout our beds, we were running out of ideas.
On a Saturday night in late June, The Tyrant and I were enjoying a nice dinner with family at Tyrant Farms. We’d been out picking chanterelles at one of our favorite secret spots until the early evening, so dinner was served a bit later than usual.
As we were finishing off our stuffed Tyrant Farms squash (the voles had kindly left us with 6 of our original 12 squash plants), we heard a single small forlorn meow of a kitten. This was not the type of sound that could have been produced from Charlie von Cat, who had evidently heard the same sound and awoken from nap #7 of the day to come investigate. We all quieted down and waited… a few seconds later “meeeeow.” Charlie von Cat panicked and ran into her bedroom to hide. However, The Tyrant and my mom raced for the front door to investigate. I was close behind, determined to make sure no bad, Pinot-induced decisions were going to be made.
Outside, barely visible underneath the Cannas near our front porch we could see the frame of a small stray kitten. It was rail-thin and terrified. Tyrant soon managed to coax it out from its hiding place, and in less than a minute, the small orange and white creature was on her lap purring loudly under the influence of the four female hands coddling it. Things were not going according to plan (as mentioned, another cat was not part of the plan).
After a 30 minutes of “baby, it’s so cute’s” and “awww’s,” things took a terrible turn for the worse. Another meow emanated from the oak tree bed in the front yard, but this was not stray kitten #1′s meow, since he was still in the lap of his new, adoring fans. The realization that this sound had come from a previously undiscovered creature soon set in, and I considered panicking and hiding with Charlie von Cat under the bed. Soon, stray kitten #2 emerged, equally skinny, scared, and desperate for attention.
A chorus of purring, cooing, and awwing continued for another 10 minutes, reaching a crescendo once the raw cow milk from nearby Milky Way Farm was presented. Kittens #1 & #2 put down the entire bowl within a few seconds… followed by another bowl, this time watered down with equal parts water.
It should be noted that we’re friendly enough with all of our neighbors to know that these were not stray kittens from a nearby home. They’d been intentionally dumped in front of our house by another human being who lacked the decency to feed them or keep them flee-free prior to dropping them in our front yard.
That night, the kittens slept soundly on the back porch at Tyrant Farms with the aid of a large cushioned box replete with blankets and bowls of food and water. I made it clear to all present, including The Tyrant, that kittens were not part of the plan and that a good home would be found for them soon. We were all in agreement, especially Charlie von Cat.
The next day, Kittens #1 and #2 were washed with a mild kitten-friendly soap and dusted with diatomaceous earth, a natural powder made from fossilized diatoms that kills flees, ticks, and worms (it’s even safe enough to be eaten by humans). A makeshift kitten shelter was then constructed in our back yard overlooking Tyrant Farms. We figured that as long as the kittens were here, we’d at least put them on pest control duties.
Evidence of Voldemort activity disappeared virtually overnight. A few days later, the Tyrant returned home with cat collars. The following day, the Tyrant hosted a small garden ceremony where she officially pronounced the kittens as “Bob” and “Oscar,” thereby replacing their common names Kitten #1 and Kitten #2. The Tyrant Farms “no-cat plan” was going down in flames, much to the horror of Charlie von Cat and Voledemorts.
As you probably guessed, Bob and Oscar are now pampered members of the Tyrant Farms family. They’re two of the best, most affectionate cats we’ve ever been around, and they’re equally loved and appreciated in return, despite my/our best efforts to remain emotionally detached and follow the no-cat plan. Even Charlie von Cat is slowly warming to the new “guests” (we haven’t had the heart to tell her we’re no longer looking for another home for the kittens).
What’s the moral of this story? Maybe this: when life (or business) gives you voles, be open to the kittens you encounter. A “plan” is akin to a roadmap you take with you on a trip. No matter how brilliant your plan is on paper, it should also stress the importance of flexibility and being open to new opportunities as they arise. After all, capitalizing on unplanned detours, experiments, and serendipitous moments are often what makes life magical, and turn a good business into a great business.
So, to the (insert favorite expletive) that dropped Kittens #1 & #2 on our front porch: a heartfelt thank you… but please don’t do it again.