Foxy Toms and Hairy Palmers: Gardening in the DNE (Part 3)

One of the most unpleasant sights for any gardener. Snails can destroy plants overnight so be sure to pick them regularly! Photo courtesy of Gardener’s Supply based in the U.S. You can check out their blog at

The votes are in on this magnificent summer. Everywhere you go, people are adamant that this summer has thus far been 100% better than last summer. The sun has been splittin’ the rocks as each week rolls by, every day heating up to more than 20⁰C, even in the rain and wind! This is good news for every person who watched their gardens struggle all last summer. Crops and flowers are in bloom, local strawberries are already showing up in the grocery stores, and farmer’s markets are in full swing. With this bounty, however, come pests that will tear holes through your leaves, suck your plants dry, and even run or fly off with a tasty morsel if you let them alone. This month’s Twig is all about those nasty pests that tyrannize your gardens.

One of the most troublesome invaders is the hedge sparrow (Passerella iliaca), or indeed, any kind of sparrow. If you haven’t protected your crops with some kind of cover, they may eat your seeds or even seedlings. Other names for this sparrow are bobby-rooter, foxy tom, foxy rogue, foxy ruler, fox-coloured sparrow, and rusty tom rooter.

Word file for ‘bobby-rooter’ giving some idea of the number of variants for the sparrows of Newfoundland. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Other birds that can harrish you and your garden include biffs (Calcarius lapponicus), or Lapland Longspurs, that will dig out your seed as soon as you turn your back. Silken jays (Northern Blue Jays) can be quite noisy and brazen but they really are full of character and interesting to watch, as long as you can keep them out of the garden.

Word-file for ‘biff’ from a speaker from St. John’s. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Goats, also known as poor man’s cows, can also be nuisances in the garden. While they are lovely to have around and are quite useful, they can wreak havoc in the garden if not properly contained. One solution to this problem is to use a yoke. Another way to keep these animals out of the garden is to use a spancel or you could spancel the hens since this word can be used as a noun or a verb. These methods might seem a bit cruel, but when you count on your crops to get you and your family through the long winter and spring months, every bit counts.

‘Spancel’ word-file. This word is quite old. I wonder if anyone still uses it. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

In open meadows and fields, you’ll undoubtedly have rats and mice to deal with. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll have to contend with rabbits as well. Snares, or slips, are a popular choice for catching rabbits. In fact, Newfoundlanders sometimes make rabbit gardens or a rabbit run. These are small cleared enclosures with browse, or shoots, twigs, and bark placed around the garden to lure the rabbits. Slips are placed around the rabbit run in order to catch the rabbits.

Word-file for ‘rabbit’ from Heart’s Content in 1969. This is the reverse side of the card. Many cards have quite a lot of information on them and only a small portion appears in the DNE. This file is a citation from the Newfoundland Folklore Survey and some of these have drawings like the one seen here. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

If you have yesses, or earthworms,in your garden, you can leave them in the ground. They can help your soil and provide bait if you want to try your hand at fishing. Lassy-bugs (lady-bugs) eat aphids so they are normally welcome in the garden. Other insects are not so beneficial; earwigs and hairy palmers can hurt your plants if you don’t keep them under control.

Word-file for ‘palmer’ from 1971. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

One of the most destructive slimy puddles of joy is the beaver thorn, or the garden snail, which is also known as a snagle, snarly or wrinkle. They can suck the life out of fully grown trees, let alone your cabbage and hostas. There are many ways to combat these awful creatures, including pesticides, broken glass or shells in the soil, cups around the base of plants, strategically placed beer, etc. Chances are, though, that they’ll still show up in your garden.

‘Snagle’ word-file from 1968. Only a portion of this citation appears in the DNE. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

So, this summer, when you’re out in your garden shauling berries, mind all the pests and hope they don’t go stingin’ your crops.

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8 Responses to Foxy Toms and Hairy Palmers: Gardening in the DNE (Part 3)

  1. Gail Catto says:

    Love this site. We had such fun names for nasty pests. I do remember yoked goats in Conception Bay north. We would be chased and run for cover into Nan’s garden with its small opening gateway. this brings back memories of a life style long gone.

    • suzannepower says:

      We’re glad you enjoy the site Gail! Do you remember any of the names you had for these nasty pests? Farming your own food seems to be making a comeback at least in the urban core of St. John’s. I often wonder how popular it is outside of the city where lead isn’t a problem. I’m trying my hand at some growing this year and even considering getting some goats. Do you recall if people in CBN made their own yokes or is there somewhere they would purchase them?
      Thanks for reading!

      • Gail Catto says:

        Yes, a few names come to mind from the Goulds. . Snails in shells were called limpets where my grandfather Stacey’s family came from. They were farmers near Stone henge before enclosure forced them to move off the land. He said they farmed communal fields using a 3 field system. They rotated a fallow field, a grain field and other crops like beets, peas, beans etc..
        Worms figured highly as fertile components in the soil. In spring before rock picking the soil in the Goulds he and as many grandchildren as he could muster gleaned the fresh turned soil for clods or clumps of worm castings. These were broken up evenly over the garden. He used another fertilizer he learned about when he was living in The Somme River area in France during ww1. Rushes that grew along running water such as golden rod , grasses and fire weed were composted and added to increase fiber in the soil.

      • suzannepower says:

        Thanks Gail. The term limpet is listed in the OED, you can check out the entry here if you’re interested. It’s quite old and comes from Old English. The farm way of life is something so foreign to most of us growing up in the urbanized areas of Newfoundland and Labrador today. There are several new community gardens each year so let’s hope that it’s making a comeback. On an island, where numerous circumstances could interrupt food supplies, I think it’s a valuable skill to be able to produce food to feed your family. Imagine kids turning soil instead of texting and playing video games. Your grandfather’s way of life certainly sounds fulfilling.


  2. Little Sis says:

    I’ve been finding a lot of snails this year – slugs have always been a problem, but I hadn’t seen so many snails. They are hungry little devls.

    • suzannepower says:

      Those snails are pesky little buggers. Just when you think you’ve gotten rid of them, you find more on the undersides of your plants. There are some interesting natural ways to control them but I’m never sure that they really work.
      Thanks for reading!

  3. Gail Catto says:

    Goats wore yokes that were bought or home made. Many men could make their own yokes, windows , houses, boats etc. The yokes I remember resembled old window frames with tools handles protruding 6″or so off the sides.
    With regard to lead in soil, the dandelion was used to clean soil. There are other soil contaminants to worry about. PCBs oil etc. all these can be found in soil.

    • suzannepower says:

      The yokes I have seen look very cumbersome. I womder if folks still use them here on the island. I didn’t know that dandelion was used to clean the soil. Of course, lead is only one issue when it comes to soil. There are so many contaminants in the soil and the battle against them continues.
      Thanks again for reading and for your comments!

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