Snakes Overhead

Sunflower Farm is crawling with snakes! They’re everywhere, and it’s awesome!

I love snakes. They eat things smaller than themselves, which generally are my garden pests, like mice, moles, voles, and grasshoppers.

Most of our snakes are garter snakes, which I am fine with. They don’t freak me out, although, unlike Michelle, I don’t go around picking them up. I pulled a square bale off the top of this pile recently and apparently garter snakes like this place because there were many of them. There was also a rogue non-garter snake in the pile but I’m not sure what kind it was.

1 lotsasnakes on hay

The snakes really seem to love our old hay that I have around for mulch. They like the big round bales and the small square ones, and the hay I have spread for weed suppression … they just love hay.

1garter and brown snake wrapped

I had this big, tough, rugby playing guy helping me move round bales (by hand) recently and every time we rolled one and the requisite 8 snakes slithered off he ran screaming. Okay, I exaggerate his reaction, but he did freak out. I, being the wise old tough guy didn’t flinch. And yes, they were harmless garter snakes so it’s not saying much.

1garters on hay3

We have some larger water snakes near the pond that seem a little more intimidating. They are a very dark color and seem kind of scary. And we have rat snakes that seem to be the size of pythons even though they aren’t, but I’m surprised they haven’t swallowed a cat yet.

The other day a garter snake was in the chicken pen and I was trying to chase it out before the “ladies” decided it was a good candidate for a game of ‘keep away’. It kept getting stuck in the chicken wire fence. It could get the first half of itself through until it hit the bulge in its middle, which I assume was a semi-digested mouse. Eventually it was able to contort itself enough to get through the fence.

I will admit to being briefly… mildly… freaked out when I see a milk snake. It has a unique marking pattern that looks like a rattlesnake. I know we don’t have any poisonous snakes in our part of the world, but that never occurs to me when a milk snake is nearby. It’s bad enough that it looks like a rattler, but they shake their tails and will be very aggressive and strike out at you if you disturb them.

I believe there is something in our DNA that instinctively tells us that we need to be cautious around snakes. Humans over the eons have clued in that encounters with these things can end very badly for the two-legged ones. I tell myself that when I see a milk snake. “It’s okay to be scared Cam, it’s in your DNA. It’s primal. It’s not your fault.”

This week I was weeding the glass greenhouse (read about it here) which has a about a million places for a snake to get in and out, especially up and around the storm windows on the roof that rest on the old barn foundation wall. After walking back and forth a number of times I eventually stood up and came eye to eye with a milk snake, coiled over a beam. Clearly it was conspiring for the best time to drop on my head, bite me and render me paralyzed while it figured out the best way to ingest me. Or maybe it’s a constrictor.

1milk snakes in glasshouse

Regardless, I decided it made a great photo up there so I walked back to the house and got the camera. After the lens had defogged from the heat and humidity in the greenhouse I realized there were two of them, clearly plotting to combine their resources to take me out.

I gave them lots of clearance and finished up in the greenhouse, perhaps faster than originally intended, and they were gone when I was back there later.

I am always grateful for the volume and variety of wildlife at our place, especially amphibians and reptiles. I know they can be challenged by a changing climate, so it’s always comforting to see them thriving here … as long as they’re not dropping from the ceilings of greenhouses onto my back while I’m weeding … apart from that it’s awesome.

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12 Responses to “Snakes Overhead”

  • Jim:

    Great post and information about your snakes.
    I will see at least 15 a year here in my garden in Oz. All different over the summer and rarely see the same one twice. Only one of the ones I see is non venomous, all the rest are dangerous with life expectancy down to an hour or less for some of the worst if bitten.
    I love snakes too and sometimes have to relocate them if they tend to hang around for too long. Usually they seem to be just passing through.
    I observe our chooks, birds or other animals to give me an indication of who or what is poking around. They are usually aware of danger!

  • Heidi:

    Michelle,
    We share an interest in – and lack of revulsion for – snakes.
    Sweet!

  • Terri Alice:

    I like snakes and we have quite a few on our land. The most common is the western Rattlesnake. We believe in coexistence and do not disturb them unless they move into our courtyard or try to enter the Catio. Last summer we did have to relocate two 4 footers within a two day period as they kept coming back into the courtyard after being moved out. It is actually the Ground Squirrels who alert us to the Rattlers presence . They have a particular vocalization they make for the snakes that is different than the one they make for Bobcats, Mt Lions and Bears. They have probably save us from unexpected encounters many times. We also have Gopher Snakes, and King Snakes, and Racers.

  • I think Cam was just joking about the snakes dropping down on him. Luckily Cam appreciates the snakes and probably enjoys their company in the greenhouse!

  • Michelle Poirier:

    I love snakes and you seem to have beautiful and healthy organically fed creatures on your farm. When I lived in the country I tried to encourage the one rat snake I saw to stay, but the house was close to the road and I think the vibrations of the heavy trucks passing by kept it away. Your greenhouse looks like a wonderful place for the milk snakes to enjoy a warm sun bath while digesting their previous meal. I have never heard of milk snakes throwing themselves from perches at their prey (please correct me if I am wrong about this) so I don’t think they will drop down on you. Milk snakes are very shy and tend to hide so it is rather wonderful that they are just hanging out in your greenhouse. Lucky you!

  • Wow! Interesting comments! Apparently snakes elicit very strong responses from people!
    As Cam mentioned in the post, I am a snake lover. Whenever one crosses my path (which is daily here at Sunflower Farm!) I often stop and take the time to admire it, talk to it and even pet it. When children visit the farm I always hope that we are lucky enough to see a snake so that I can pick it up, let them touch it, and hopefully encourage them to appreciate snakes and not react with revulsion, or worse yet, violence against the snake! Unfortunately our squeamish feelings towards snakes (and other creatures) tend to be passed on to our children so hopefully I am doing my part to break the chain!
    I actually just said to Cam the other day that it is a good thing I am not the type of person to be freaked out by snakes… this would not be a good place for that type of person to live. That morning I had already seen 5 of them and shortly after making my comment to Cam I saw snake #6!

  • Melanie Ann MacKenzie:

    I am not overly keen on snakes and my hubby truly does not like them at all. Alas, we have them here on our farm also. In addition to hay, they also like straw. I have a bunch of bales stacked up to use to protect my strawberries over the winter and when I moved a bale, there they were.
    Cheers, Melanie
    candlefordfarmhomestead.blogspot.com

  • John Wilson
    July 2 1:07 am

    What a great blog. You are so lucky to have, not only a large number but a great variety of beautiful snakes. Yes I said beautiful. I’ve always thought that ever since I saw my first one, when I was 7 years old. And you’re right… they’re all pretty much harmless. Especially those milk snakes… if handled gently, they ‘ll curl up in your hand to absorb your warmth or maybe wrap a tail snuggly around your finger….sort of a hug from a snake, whereas the garter snakes can be kinda sweet except when you first pick them up and they may slather your hand with a stinky ,slimy poop that can leave you rather odiferous for a while. And what a cool find to have that little beige one in there…a dekay or little brown snake that you just don’t see that often anymore.. Yup.. it gave me goose bumps too… the really good kind!!!

  • Cam

    It is bad enough with snakes on the ground, there are snakes that can swim, the fact that They can climb things and drop on you is not right.
    Is there no where safe!
    After this story I may need to emigrate to Ireland.

  • So that’s why there was a baby garter in my tomatoes….the hay:} I let my daughter have it as a learning lesson (with a warning to be gentle of course)…she showed the neighbor kids through the fence and it was the highlight of their day (we live in a small city). It would take me a minute to get used to the biggies and the kind of volume you have under your haybales! I’ve seen a garter bite before…of course that was in 5th grade and a kid terrorized it on the playground. Cool post!!

  • Bill:

    Excellent post Cam. Thanks. Renders some non-emotional advice to those encountering our slithery neighbours. Still, there always is a visceral reaction when encountering a snake, isn’t there?

  • David Hribar:

    OMG!!! You can have them and I appreicate you telling they like the old hay as I will most definately not use that anywhere near the garden. I had goose bumps all over me just looking at the pictures. Any way have fun. Thanks

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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