To Hutchinson area basketball fans from my generation, the name Dick Gisel rings familiar. From the mid 1960’s until he retired in 1995, Dick taught history & psychology and served as assistant and head basketball coach at Buhler High, Hutchinson Community College (HCC) and at Hutchinson High School. As head coach at HCC in 1975, the Blue Dragons entered the NJCAA tournament rated number one in the nation. Dick feels his other most memorable experience was having the opportunity to be assistant HCC coach for 8 years under Gene Kady who eventually went on to become head basketball coach at Purdue.
Gisel is also well known for something else in the Hutchinson area; the melons he grows and sells at his small hobby farm each summer. His dad grew melons for years, and for around 15 years now Gisel has grown between 4 and 6 acres of watermelons and cantaloupes, even adding pumpkins for a time. He says “I like to work and I like to see things grow, so growing and selling melons keeps me busy and keeps me connected with people.” The first years the patch consisted of numerous varieties, but now he has chosen just one variety each of watermelon and cantaloupe to keep life simpler. The Kansas State Fair awards a “governor’s sweepstakes” prize each year for the best display of 3 different varieties of melons, and half-a-dozen years ago the Gisels won it twice in a row. Dick won the first year, and as the story goes, his wife Jan won the following year even after Dick had secretly chosen his melons first.
“Now these are fun stories,” you’re saying, “But how does this story make an outdoor column”? To melon growers and to predator hunters and trappers, it’s well known that raccoons and coyotes love watermelons. Over the years the Gisels have lost dozens upon dozens of watermelons to the sweet tooth of those two critters, and they have already begun mooching from his patch this year. He said the damage wasn’t bad for the first couple years, but then evidently the word spread through the critter community, and during August last year he lost 3 or 4 watermelons every night to four-legged panhandlers.
Raccoon’s usually gnaw a hole in the side of a melon and dig out all the insides they can reach, then move on to a fresh melon. Gisel told me a few years ago coon’s got into a trailer load he had picked that day and ruined all the melons they could reach by chewing a hole in each. Coyotes on the other hand most often break a melon to pieces, sometimes even moving it from the patch to an isolated location before they chow down. The most recommended solution is to exclude the thugs from the garden with a fence of some sort. Other fixes reported to work with varying results include somehow lighting up the area at night, playing radios all night, placing scarecrows or flashing lights amongst the vines, spraying melons with hot pepper sauce, wrapping young melons in old pantyhose and even spraying human urine around the plants, all in an effort to spook the intruders.
Gisel has tried numerous solutions over the years to curb the thievery, some which seemed to help for a time, but none with lasting results. He tried a scarecrow for a few years, a radio for a week or so, placed a row of little wind spinners along the entire length of the patch and even parked his pickup in the garden overnight. He once borrowed a hunting blind and sat all night among the plants with his twelve gauge at the ready, but not one four legged thief even showed. His latest experiment is to step out the door each night just before he goes to bed and fire his shotgun into the air a couple times to try to disrupt the varmint’s intentions. The funniest thing he’s seen from all this is when a coyote actually left droppings on top of a ripe melon, as if to mark it for the following night.
The bottom line to keeping critters out of a garden or melon patch is that a fence will work most of the time, but every other fix, homemade or otherwise works for some of the people some of the time, but don’t bet the farm on them. I like Dick Gisels take on the whole thing, as he quoted what his dad said to him many years ago; “Dick, you just gotta’ grow enough for all of them!” Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]