Thursday, April 1, 2010

Not This Garden, Bambi!

Because so many of you are worried about planting a vegetable garden that becomes, instead of your family dinner, a deer salad bar, I went through my “Pest” file of old Organic Gardening articles. I remember that Organic Gardening did an extensive study of deer control methods more than a dozen years ago. They tried everything you’ve ever heard of and more: soap, human hair, pepper spray, and even lion dung and/or urine. The conclusion was that the only sure thing to stop a hungry deer is at least an 8 ft. fence. An online search of articles on deer control reveals the same results. It seems, you see, that what works with deer in one area doesn’t always work in a different area. Moreover, bucks, does, and fawns have different taste preferences. One of our friends here in town had a row of tulips, with red and yellow tulips alternating. The deer ate all the red tulips right off and left the yellow tulips for later munching. Red smells tastier, perhaps?

I know, though, that there are many of you beginning new gardens with no extra money to invest in a big fence. So, I went looking for other workable ideas for you. In my file of OG articles were two comments from readers that gave virtually the same advice -- laying something down on the ground instead of in the air. I think it's an idea worth trying. Here was a comment from Oregon:
“The old orchardist down the road showed me how he protects his raspberry plants from deer without using a fence. He lays section of chicken wire and hardware cloth on the ground all around the perimeter of his bramble patch. The deer won’t walk on the wire, and they can’t reach the bushes without crossing the barrier. I tried the technique for shrubs, bushes, and trees on my 5-acre property and had the same good results. We see plenty of deer every week, but have had no damage.” (Organic Gardening, February 1991, p. 85)
A similar comment from Kentucky:
“You don’t have to be a deer psychologist to keep deer out of your garden. All you need to know is that deer don’t like to get their feet tangled. So if you really want to stop them in their tracks, don’t erect a fence – lay it down instead.

“First, dig a 3 to 4 inch deep trench about 12 inches wide around the perimeter of your garden. Then cover the furrow with 4 foot wide wire fencing that has 3 by 5 inch mesh openings; lay the fence flat on the ground. (The fencing is cheap....) The deer won’t walk on or over such a barrier and will browse somewhere else instead....” (Organic Gardening, ? 1994, p. 66)
No guarantees with the methods above, but it just might work! With that method, you would want to keep the weeds cut down under the wire and lift it up in the spring so that it didn't get buried in the grass.

For those of you starting small gardens, there are some easy little PVC pipe and chicken wire cages designed to keep out rabbits that I think would work great to keep out deer, provided you secured the cages to the ground – some good stakes or pieces of rebar (bought at the hardware store) at the four corners and some string to tie the cage to the stakes would work. A lot of people in town successfully do something more simple, but similar, for their trees. The point is to keep the deer from the plants, and this does the job and is going to be pretty cheap -- a lot cheaper than surrounding the garden with a tall fence. To weed, you'd just untie the stakes and lift off the cage. I think this might also be a solution for those of you who told me last year that your chickens ate more tomatoes than the deer did -- two families told me that the tomatoes jumped slower than the grasshoppers you thought the chickens would eat. :) You do need to take into consideration the size of the plant when full-grown. Click here for the link.

For plants you do not intend to eat, you have more options. Several people in our area, including me, have had great success with “Liquid Fence” deer repellent. It stinks when you’re spraying it on, but it dries and doesn’t stink to humans. It still stinks to the deer, though. I had tulips for the first time in years last year, and it was worth having to take a bath every time I sprayed the stuff. I found a couple of homemade recipes for deer repellent online, though, that just might do the trick, since they have essentially the same stinky ingredients. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for the recipes.

We're supposed to have a bad grasshopper problem again this year. Your best bet in bad hopper years is to get in a lot of vegetables that mature early, like lettuce, broccoli, and peas. The hot, dry, months are when the hoppers get large enough to do the most damage.

Last, I would add that, in my experience, a liberal sprinkling of prayer makes plants grow their very best and helps deter pests.


William H. said...

I recommend havahart’s defence. This is the best stuff I’ve tried. More powerful than other brands, including liquid fence. I’ve got kids running around and defence is organic, so I feel good using it. You should really try it.

R.L. said...

Thanks for the info. It's nice to know about another great option. :)