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August 25, 2009

Deer, oh dear.

One thing I didn't have to contend with in my city garden was four footed garden pests. As long as the dog didn't get in and run roughshod over my plants, the only things I really had to worry about were slugs and aphids. Not so here in deer central.

We've been pretty lucky that our property doesn't seem to be on their main route. For most of the year, it's rare to see a deer in this neck of the woods, even though people across the street (on the lake front) seem to have them year round. Last year I left all of my plants unprotected for several months and they weren't even touched. Come July and August though, it was a different story. The pickings must get fairly slim at this time of year, because they suddenly start showing up in droves.

As annoying as it is to lose flowers and other ornamentals (they seem to particularly love anything labelled as deer proof), I've been tolerant of them and their nibbling because I understand their need to eat, and most of those things will recover eventually. Even so, I researched homemade deer repellents and started spraying my hostas and other tasty plants with the concoction. It really seems to work, as I recently had a new, unsprayed hosta sitting in a pot beside the sprayed ones in my garden, and it got eaten while the others were completely untouched.

Deer Repellent (this is a combination of a few recipes that I saw online):
Put a litre (quart) of water into a blender and add
  • 1 egg
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 1 large clove garlic
Blend until smooth, strain, and pour into a spray bottle. Spritz anything that the deer seem to like. Refrigerate any extra for a later application. This should remain effective for at least two weeks, unless there's a lot of rain.

We are in the process of installing a more permanent solution (deer fencing), but we recently had a breach that left me fuming and contemplating filling my freezer with venison.

When we first put in our garden, I bought 200 feet of fence from Benner's, which worked really well. This stuff is incredibly strong, and even works to keep the dogs out. The only problem is, it's also quite expensive, especially when you've got well over 1000 feet of fence line to protect. So I was understandably thrilled to discover that Lee Valley had deer fencing for $20 per 100 feet. It's very thin and lightweight (like the netting that you put over fruit trees to protect your harvest from birds), but the packaging assured me that the deer wouldn't go through it as long as they knew it was there. The only problem is, it catches on absolutely everything, so I was worried about birds getting entangled in it (I'd already cut a robin out of our badminton net this summer and didn't want a repeat), and the dogs plowing right through it in their galumphing. So we decided to move the heavier fencing from around the front of the garden to the perimeter of the yard, and put the flimsy stuff in its place around the veggie patch as a temporary measure (we'll eventually build a lower, sturdier fence to keep the dogs out). But, with all the work on the chicken coop, we still haven't managed to finish fencing the perimeter of the yard, so we'd been relying on the flimsy stuff to protect the garden. You know where this is going, don't you?

A few days ago, I was out in the garden and noticed footprints through my freshly planted bed of winter crops. I was slightly annoyed thinking that the dogs had somehow gotten in, but then I saw that the apple tree was looking less bushy, and the strawberry plants were bald. It was then that I noticed a section of fencing laying on the ground. Thinking that it had somehow gotten knocked down during the previous night's wind storm, we put it back in place and thought nothing of it.

That is, until I woke up the next morning and saw the fence laying on the ground again, with one apple tree leaning on a funny angle (and half of the apple harvest laying on the ground), and the other apple tree looking like this:


The main central branch is snapped off at its base.

Then I saw the cherry tree:

My winter broccoli crop is also a goner:

And the lovely pepper plant which is loaded with peppers is now missing it's top.

They also chewed my winter cabbages, ate the leaves off both grape vines, and decapitated the heritage bean plants that I was growing solely for seed for next years crop. An entire summer's worth of babying these plants and they're gone in 24 hours - grrrr!

To add insult to injury, they came back twice that day. My neighbor had to chase them out in the afternoon while we were out (and even fixed the fence for me - have I mentioned our wonderful neighbors?), only to have them return again a few hours later. It seems that once they figured out that they could pull down the fencing, there was no stopping them.

Needless to say, the Benner's fence is back around the garden, and there's a rush on to finish fencing the yard.

And the deer are damn lucky that my freezer is full of frozen berries...

10 comments:

Chiot's Run said...

GRRRR, I feel your pain. We got no blueberries this year because the deer ate off my plants this winter. They also ate all of my peas so I have no peas in the freezer for winter. I have found that if I plant things in the back they don't like (like tomatoes, celery, squash) I don't have as much trouble. They are eating our fruit trees though.

Every time I eat venison (my dad's an avid hunter) I smile thinking about all of my eaten plants. It's too bad we can't hunt on our property (in a gated community). I'd fill my freezer with deer first, and then all of my uneaten crops later.

denise said...

Oh, yes yes. The deer in Northern California are relentless too. Good luck. Make sure your fence is tall and strong.

Heather said...

So sad to see your fruit trees, those must be especially heart breaking.
I've been lucky so far here. We see one deer each evening and know he has come quite close to the gardens (based on the piles of droppings we see) but he hasn't actually eaten any of my plants yet. I'm not sure if it is because of our dog's scent, the Irish Spring soap I've put out or the fact that we have been leaving our human scent around the planted areas with liberal applications of human urine as a deer repellent/nitrogen booster. ;-0 In any event...the deer have so far left things alone and I consider us quite lucky.

Silver Circle Magick said...

I feel terriable for you that you lost your fruits and veggies, but if your deer are anything like our deer they are starving. We even had on the news where one walked into the supermarket (automatic doors) and was eating at the produce area. They are building way too much around here. Would if off the edge of your property closer to the deer trail you put a salt lick and some deer feed. Then once it becomes winter or the natural time for deer migration don't put the lick or feed out anymore. That way no one gets hurt... Just an idea. :o)

Annie said...

Oh my goodness! That poor broccoli looks the saddest! Okay maybe the apple tree does. :(

We've been thinking a lot about deer proofing lately as we plan the beds for next year's garden. They've nibble on my blueberry bush but that's all there is right now.

Maybe you need to borrow a dog? Mine would be happy to oblige.

Carla said...

Oh dear...they really got you bad. I was upset when they ate my tulips early spring, but I think this would put me over the top. Last year they ate my lettuce...this year I planted it close to the house and they didn't touch it. Not sure what the solution is.

Cheryl said...

Chiot - Ooh, no blueberries would make me really mad!
Venison is a gardener's best revenge. :)

Denise - Working on it! The deer here are small, so thankfully the fence doesn't have to be quite as tall as it would elsewhere.

Heather - The dogs don't seem to help - there's enough pee out there to sink a ship, and our neighbor's border collie is a real deer chaser, but they just come right back (at this time of year, anyway). My concoction seems to work, but of course the garden hadn't been sprayed because it was safe behind a fence (not!). Maybe hanging bars of soap along the fence line would help.

Silver Circle Magick - Development isn't really an issue here, and there seems to be lots for them to eat, but aside from cars there are no real predators, so there are a lot of deer. But don't worry, if they start to look hungry, I'll be the first one to feed them (yes, that's a sucker sign you see on my back)! :D

Annie - My dog's a pansy and insists on sleeping in the house at night, which is when they do the most damage. If your dog is willing to sleep outside, send him down for a visit!

Carla - Ours don't mind coming close to the house, but it does seem to happen less often than elsewhere on the property. Sadly, I think fencing is the solution (albeit an expensive one).

inadvertent farmer said...

Oh I feel your pain, we have an herd of elk that come through here and eat everything and what they don't eat they trample...60 elk can do a LOT of damage.

Sorry for your losses, Kim

Cheryl said...

Kim - Yikes, a herd of elk is another thing entirely! I won't complain about having to deal with a few little deer anymore. :)

la famille may bouffandeau said...

aiie, aiie, aiie. from time to time my chickens escape and even in my vegetarianism i look at them, after they've scratched up my onions, my raspberries, my herbs, and mutter something about chicken soup...
but deer!
good luck! and thanks for the blog, i'm enjoying it (i should be gardening)
b

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