Read about Craig Presnell


Table for one

Lining up the blocks


Gator in the big pond

Gator in the lily pond

Darcy and goats

Garden helpers are not
what you might expect when you are

Rural Gardeners

by Craig Presnell
Zolfo Springs, Florida

Click images to enlarge

A few years back we relocated from what had been "rural" Palm Beach County to the truly rural heartland of Florida. One immediately obvious drawback was the limited availability of human help. As luck would have it, the animal kingdom immediately stepped up and offered assistance.

The first on the scene was a great horned owl, who for the price of an occasional chicken dinner not only shepherded us safely from the nursery home on those nights we worked late, but also assisted with his keen eyes to ensure I laid the blocks for the ponds in straight courses.

The long hours were taking a toll on us and it became difficult to get up and at 'em some mornings. Luckily, the next to show was a wayward guinea fowl we dubbed Rover, as he behaved more like a dog than a bird. His raucous calls at dawn made sleep nigh impossible and if we dallied over a second cup of coffee … he'd appear at the cat door to insist we get into gear.

Our move occurred in the "summer of storms" and our area endured a series of three hurricanes in six weeks. The owl could still get around fine, but Rover had trouble coping with the flooded conditions, so an alligator appeared to pick up the slack. Rover would still wake us up, but the gator stood guard over the one functioning pond while we worked on expanding the production area. It turned out he took his job too seriously and once the block ponds began producing, he moved from the original dirt pond into the lined ponds to be closer to the action. The flood water had receded and Rover was back, so it became obvious to all that the gator had outlived his purpose. With the arrival of spring, he officially retired and moved on to find someone else in need of his services.

Considerate neighbors gave us goats to help with the ground maintenance and chickens for bug control. Turf wars broke out over assignment of duties and things were getting a little chaotic when Molly the Ostrich arrived and immediately assumed a management position, supervising the growing menagerie.

Things were good. Molly acted as the efficiency expert, but wasn't as forceful as necessary sometimes. So enter One Trick, the Haflinger pony; she rules with an iron hoof. While Rover's morning calls have become background noise … there is no way to ignore One Trick clomping up the steps to get us out the door. Once she had us on the job, she gladly offered her services as an expert in dealing with spent lily pads.

Our first chick


One Trick as guard horse


An assortment of snakes also felt obligated to take up residence in the ponds as well and you can't work in a pond without them coming over to offer suggestions. We try to be equal opportunity animal employers, but this fellow (center below) was turned away at the gate.

Good snake | Bad snake >


With the insistent help of the animals, order has been made of the initial chaos and the steady chorus of frogs now lulls us to sleep at night for some needed rest, before our "bosses" step up in the morning and it all begins again.  

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