Thursday, February 4, 2010

Deer And Gardens

Yearling checking out the quince behind a fence

While making gardens on our land, deer have had much to say about the snacks that we provide.  Sometimes it seems as though we buy, plant, and nurture gardens simply for the enjoyment of visiting deer.  But then rabbits, chipmunks, raccoons, and birds get into the act and remind us that there are many mouths to feed here.  

But I am getting ahead of the story.  We live on a knoll that juts into the marsh.  At the base of the hill, 20 feet above the marsh, is an old log landing, a place where logs were last yarded in the mid 60’s to be trucked off to a mill.  This area is a level site with sunlight for a garden.  Initially I cleared the land of small alder trees and had a well driller come in.  We found water at 40 foot depth and established a well.  Then I began digging in the dirt to make a garden.  The soil was 3 to 9 inches of matted grass roots on top of hard grey clay.  While the grey clay looked to be of good quality for pottery,  I was quickly convinced that a garden would not flourish in this and built raised beds with cedar boards and top soil scraped off of an active quarry site.  Top soil does not imply that it had much fertility, just that it was not compacted clay.  After five years of adding mulch, compost, manure tea, and lime, we had soil that would support a flourishing garden.  We grew cold weather vegetables; lettuce, peas, beans, carrots, chard, kale, and beets.  While the temperature warms to the 60’s during summer days, it falls into the 40’s during the nights and there is a cool breeze that flows down the Beaver Creek valley from the Coast Range.  Growing popular warm crops - tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant is not possible because they do not ripen.  We could have built a greenhouse, but the thought of how much mold would result was not inviting.  We did manage to grow corn a couple of years, but about that time the animals changed our minds about vegetables.

I knew that deer would be a problem for the garden.  There have been many proposed methods for repelling deer.  None of them work very well or with dependability.  Many people get a dog or two and this can work if the dogs are active, but some dogs are not interested in chasing deer, and the ones that are can be a real nuisance to wildlife.  We encourage wildlife on our land and do not have pets, so dogs and cats are not an option.  Fences can work, but deer can jump over a 12 foot high fence.  If you watch deer jump a fence, you will see that they run along side it and jump over.  They do not approach it head on and jump.  Knowing this, I built a 6 foot high fence and extended arms out at an angle from the fence posts to make a ‘gulag fence’.  I strung white clothes line along the arms, parallel with the fence line as something for the deer to see.  In this way, deer were inhibited from running along the fence and jumping into the garden.  We have not had deer in the garden in over 20 years, except the time I left the gate open and one walked in briefly. 
Winter view

Summer view

We also have flower, shrub, and herb beds throughout our land.  Jackie got the idea to fence them locally with 4 foot high fence that formed smaller beds into which deer would not jump.  I put up 800 feet of fence for this purpose and we have a large variety of flowers, herbs, and shrubs that supply us and wildlife with enjoyment, food, and medicine.  

Rabbits, chipmunks, and raccoons are another story.  For several years they were content to nibble around the edges and in the flower beds outside the vegetable garden.  Then slowly the populations built up and we shared more and more of the garden.  So I got tired of growing vegetables for the wildlife and switched the garden to red raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, apples, and plums.  We still share with the wildlife, but I don’t have to work so hard with the perennials.  Some years, birds get into the act too and love the blueberries.  In the fall, black bear climb over the garden fence and into the apple trees if we don’t get the fruit first.  I like the black bears because they dig up ground wasp nests and save me the trouble of finding the nests by accident and getting stung.  All in all we have a close relationship with the wildlife who visit and live here and are happy to supply them with food and shelter when it suites them.
Posted by michael

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