MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Our commentator Julie Zickefoose lives in the country and grows some of her own food, and that means she has to battle the animals who want to eat her food. And Zickefoose has found that free advice on how to keep the critters away can be costly.

JULIE ZICKEFOOSE: We've had a little peach tree in the backyard for five years. The variety is Defiance, so named because it blooms early, undeterred by light frosts.

In its second year, it produced one huge, luscious peach, which a raccoon took the night that it turned perfectly ripe.

In its third year, it made one more, and I picked it just before the coon got it. It was the most delicious peach I had ever eaten.

This spring, the tree finally made a decent batch of peaches. Perhaps 20 of the green-golden globes hang on its slender branches. I was seized with the desire to have them all to myself. How could I keep the varmints off the little tree? Perhaps I could wrap it in sheet metal. My quest took me to Metaltech, where I talked the problem over in a dimly-lit warehouse with a man named Ray. There was no sheet metal thin enough to bend, much less wrap around a tree.

Ray suggested making a box around the trunk using 16-gauge sheet metal. I could screw it together at the corners, he said.

I plunged ahead with the notion, and Ray cut four pieces of sheet metal, three feet by four feet square, and laid them in the back of my car. The car sagged visibly from the weight. He totaled it up on an ancient adding machine — $154 for a couple of dozen peaches. I swallowed hard. At that point, I couldn't turn back. I pulled into our driveway and raised the hatch for my husband Bill to admire my solution to the raccoon/peach problem. Oh, honey. I don't have a drill that will go through that, and we'll cut ourselves to pieces on those sharp edges. Besides, do you really want to look at a giant sheet metal box in the backyard, especially once it rusts? I closed the hatch again.

On Monday, I called Ray back with the news. We were talking about that after you left, he said. I said, once her husband sees that, he's going to hit the roof. You know what you ought to do? You ought to rig up some chicken wire with 110 on her. Excuse me? It'd shock them, but it wouldn't kill them. I realized he was talking about a 110-volt battery rigged to electrocute.

I said I'd think it over. Ray said he'd take the sheet metal back if I brought the receipt. I drove the load back, and Ray handed me my check, uncashed. I nearly fell to my knees in gratitude. At least I'd given the men in the warehouse something to laugh about for a while. Bring us some peaches if you figure out something that works, one called.

I wandered into our local hardware store just to look, and found a bizarre-looking four foot high plastic tube called a yard funnel. I brought it home, sliced it down the side with a box cutter, wrapped it around the tree, duct-taped the side closed, and weighted the whole affair down with boards and bricks.

The little peach tree is all trussed up like a turkey now, tied in a dozen places to an iron pipe with ropes and torn up tube socks, encased in a Kelly-green plastic tube topped with a stack of bricks. It looks like a patient in traction. A few peaches still glimmer among its leaves. There are six men at a steel warehouse waiting for their peach pie. If I have to buy the darn peaches, I'm going to take them one.

NORRIS: Commentator Julie Zickefoose. She swears she'll bake that peach pie for the guys at the metal warehouse next year. She's also the author of "Letters From Eden."

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