The Farm on Oak Creek

Rupert the Garden Dog

When I first moved up to Northern Arizona I left behind the (tiny) garden of my dreams that I’d created in the backyard of my (equally as tiny) Scottsdale home.  However small that garden, when I turned my back on it, it had been in constant production for almost twelve years and supplied most of my family’s produce needs year round. I expected to be able to do the same up here where the weather has more seasons to it.  What I didn’t expect was not being able to get a shovel into the soil. We even tried a tractor fitted with a roto-tiller. The tiller bounced off the ground.

I’ve been battling with the native heavy clay soil ever since. My weapons have been chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cow poop, if not cows. They worked, but what I needed was an atomic bomb. In this case, that bomb was sheet mulching or, as it’s sometimes called, Lasagna gardening.  Forget digging down. Build up! To do that, you need to lay down cardboard, top it with newspapers, sprinkle that with bone meal and blood meal, then add 3 inches of alfalfa, 9 inches of straw, and 3 inches of compost. It an instant garden.

The orchard garden has seen numerous rounds of sheet mulching, and this year I am reaping the reward. Or rather I will be reaping the rewards once the farm team clears off all the bermuda grass. I swear that stuff reappears the instant I look away, and I’ve looked away from the garden way too often over the last two years. But the soil we’re finding under that carpet of grass is AMAZING! It’s rich and dark and smells just like soil is supposed to smell.

It’s also full of gopher holes, which brings me to Rupert. He’s now 6 months old, give or take. He’s also still small enough to walk under Bear without hunching and make it under Radha with only a little hunch. Still, a terrier is a terrier. To me, that meant he ought to have an instinct for killing gophers. Thus, I started point at those rodent holes, saying, “Look!”

I’ve got to pause here to explain the difference between livestock guardian dogs and dogs like Rupert. Rupert loves his toys. He has a green plastic watering can, now chewed beyond all recognition, that he retrieves every morning just because he loves it. He loves balls, ropes with knots in them, and frisbees. Neither Bear nor Radha play with toys. When I give Bear a command, he looks at me as if to say, “I’ll take that under advisement.” With Radha, the response is a simple, “I don’t think so.” Thus, I’m always astonished when I give Rupert a command and he instantly does what I say, and he does it with a wag in his tail. The dog actually wants to please me! Who knew?!

So, Rupert has obligingly looked at every gopher hole I’ve shown him. A week or so ago, he finally unearthed a gopher. I watched with bated breath, waiting for that ratting instinct to kick in. Rupert moved the gopher around with his nose. It charged him. He backed up. It bit him on the paw. He yelped and backed off. His yelp brought Radha running. Suffice it to say, she’s become as bad as Moosie, wanting to keep her dead gophers at her side until they’re too gross to tolerate. .

dog racing across the grass

Rupert, racing after a clod of earth

Rupert was just fine with Radha taking over gopher duty. That’s because he’d discovered that gardening includes turning the earth, and turning the earth means that clumps of grasses, roots, rocks and sticks must be tossed somewhere. If any one of the team heads toward the garden with tools in hand, Rupert follows. He sits quietly, watching as the tool bites into the dirt. The moment  he sees grass leaving soil, he’s up on his feet, his tail wagging, ready to race after it. What choice is there after that but to throw it for him.

He can chase clumps of sod for hours, his whole being focused on whatever it is we’re throwing. Both Bear and Radha have come to observe what their pack member is up to. I can see it in their eyes. They think he’s crazy, spending all that energy to catch a tangle of roots.

How about that. I think I finally have a dog that wants to be a pet and also loves to garden. Now, if there was just some way to stop that other terrier instinct, that awful need to yap. He even does it in his dreams.


© Denise Domning, 2023