PLANTING FOR ANIMALS
Last summer, keeper Dan and I hatched the idea of starting an enrichment garden for John Ball Zoo animals. Novel food items (treats) are one facet of enrichment, defined as items and activities designed to stimulate the animals brains' and keep them engaged and active. Other types of enrichment include toys (balls, kongs, phone books, bells, etc...), novel smells (like hunting lures, spices or hay from other exhibits), making them search or work for their regular food, and rearranging exhibits. While we have a good variety of fresh and nutritious produce on hand in the commissary, a lot of other seasonal items aren't normal parts of our animals' diets. These include hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, summer squash, fresh green beans, parsnips, radishes, cabbage and herbs. Anyway, we conferred with our horticulturist Tim and decided we could grow most or all of these items in containers outside our Central Services Building. That building houses our commissary and warehouse, and is the big tan and brown structure across from the Coca Cola plant on Butterworth street. Twelve partial barrels were set up along our fence and filled with compost, and with donated seeds and starter plants purchased from the enrichment fund we were on our way.
Our first year was very productive, so we're doing it again. The wet spring and recent HOT weather has put a damper on things, but all-in-all it's going pretty well. The radishes, Swiss chard and herbs are flourishing, I picked some hot peppers yesterday, and the cherry tomatoes are almost ready. The garden has definitely been a boon to our animals, and it's gratifying for us to see them enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor. We're always in the market for more though. Up to your armpits in green beans? Too hot to can those tomatoes? Do the neighbors pull their blinds when they see you coming up the walk carrying a grocery bag bulging with zucchini? Don't forget your furry, feathered and scaly friends at the John Ball Zoo.