The good news is that I found a residential excavator who is willing to come some distance to do most of the work I need. I'm at the edge of his regular service area. He'll do the leveling of the 6'Hx50'Lx15'W ridge and haul away the brush and gravel/clay soil, but he really isn't into bringing in topsoil and raising the front lawn level. Well, I can get THAT done locally. It will be 2 weeks before he can arrive though. At least he assures me he WILL arrive to do the work.
The bad news is that I was a bit casual about finishing the garden enclosure and left some small seams open while I fussed around with getting the enclosure door to fit (it kept getting out of square each day as the posts settled and the soil around them dried). And then I had the tree removal crew here for several days and spend time after that cleaning up (they cleaned up, but there were still piles of ground-up tree stump chippings for me to spread out and such). And I wasn't seeing any varmints bothering the garden.
Well, the varmint situation changed overnight several days ago. I walked quietly into the backyard one late afternoon and caught a glimpse of a groundhog running away. There were a few melon leaves nibbled off nearest the enclosure door, so I set up a live-trap cage in the barely-open doorway. I didn't catch it, but there was no further damage. So I figured it was both suspicious of the trap AND baffled about getting in otherwise. The other open seams were way around the back of the enclosure.
Foolish me! I went out yesterday afternoon and found my 2 small (unripe) dwarf watermelons and 2 of my 5 (unripe) honeydew melons completely gone, and another half-eaten. It had obviously found the backside openings! I closed the enclosure door and set the baited cage trap closer to the path it must have taken to the back with a part of the half-eaten melon (a trapping website said to use whatever is being eaten as bait - though melons were usually best). So melon was best for bait of both counts.
This morning the cage trap was sprung but no groundhog. But the bait was pulled out, so it must have reached in carefully and tripped the lever while still outside the cage enough to get free. Well, I've never thought that varmints were exactly dumb; if they were, they would be extinct. The idea is to use their habits against them. I set up a "V" of upright 2"x12" boards to "guide" the groundhog to the trap. That has helped in the past. and I covered the cage trap with landscaping fabric to make it look more like a safe tunnel.
I'll bet it doesn't work. But I did finally lock the enclosure door frame in place and seal the chicken wire seams around it, so that's no longer and problem. There are still 2 more opening in corners, but it was dinnertime today and I was starving! So I put a piece of chicken wire over the remaining melons, piled some melon leaves (which it also seems to eat) at the remaining openings (for distraction bribes) and called it a day.
If I don't catch it by tomorrow morning, I have pieces of leftover chicken wire cut to size to seal the remaining openings. After that, my garden area should be safe anyway.
I still need the groundhog gone. It will eat flowering plants too, and I can't protect everything. In past years, a groundhog would show up in Spring, I'd trap it and relocate it. Or find it's burrow and dump used cat litter into the hole until it fled in disgust. But this August appearance is a surprise and I can't find the burrow (it may be in a neighbor's yard).
That melon-eating varmint has GOT to go, one way or another.