Keeping Critters Out Of The Garden
As winter retreats, plump buds are opening on shrubs and trees and bulbs and perennials are waking up. This does not escape the notice of a horde of hungry critters, from raccoons and rabbits to rats, beavers, deer and more. Considering how fast woodlands and wild lands are being converted to housing and shopping malls, it’s hard to blame them for being drawn to our gardens, but it’s also hard to simply stand by and let them rip. Young, tasty ornamental trees and shrubs can be protected with wire cages until they’re large enough to outgrow the browsers’ best efforts. True, they are not very attractive, but neither are mangled plants. Since caging isn’t always practical, I’ve used several variations on a revolting elixir that discourages quite a few critters, especially when it’s fresh.
The most recent version of this concoction uses a lot of lemon balm because it grows all over the yard, as does peppermint, which is also quite an effective repellent. The soap acts as a surfactant (sticking agent) and the eucalyptus soap is fairly critter-offensive even on its own (peppermint soap works well too). Straining the glop through cheesecloth keeps the sprayer from clogging, and the ground up remains can be strewn around lettuce, strawberries or other critter-favored plants.
1 cup (about 10 large) garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3 cups fresh lemon balm, lightly packed
2 cups peppermint, lightly packed
1 tablespoon Dr. Bronner’s Eucalyptus liquid castile soap
1 tablespoon plain liquid castile soap
Few drops eucalyptus oil
In a food processor, grind garlic and herbs with a few tablespoons of water to a fine slurry. Add enough water to make it pourable and transfer to a gallon jug. Fill with water, add the soap and let stand overnight. The next day, strain through a large funnel lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Fill a spray bottle, then spray around the edges of the garden and on critter-nibbled plants. Refrigerate the gallon jug, and spray again every few days and/or after it rains.
Edibles are another thing all together; if we want to grow a significant amount of food for our family, serious plot protection is definitely in order lest our food become fodder. Consider the fact that the average buck needs to eat five or six pounds of foliage, buds, and twigs every day in spring, which may require roaming over a hundred acres or more. Working that hard takes energy, which requires more fodder, and our lush gardens are simply too rich a food supply to pass up.
Yes, deer fencing that is both effective and long lasting is not cheap, but if we plan to grow and harvest much of our daily food, fence we must. It’s worth taking some time to investigate effective fencing materials and techniques, from double-fencing to peanut butter wire. Double fencing can trick (some) deer into thinking a site is inaccessible by creating a baffling space between two relatively low fences. Usually, this involves two five-foot fences five feet apart, a model both farmers and gardeners report (at least some) success with. A peanut butter fence partners electrified wires with bait, and according to the ICWDM,
“The peanut butter fence is effective for small gardens, nurseries, and orchards (up to 3 to 4 acres) subject to moderate deer pressure. Deer are attracted by the peanut butter and encouraged to make nose-to-fence contact. After being shocked, deer learn to avoid fenced areas.”
That Good Tutorial
The Internet Center For Wildlife Damage Management, a joint effort supported by four major universities, offers an impressive range of options as well as an excellent tutorial:
Where To Find Supplies
Rather than scope out the local hardware store, try farm supply companies such as Farmtek Grower’s Supply, which carries rolls of galvanized steel fencing that come in many heights. You’ll also need stout posts that can stand up to male antler rubbing.
The National Wildlife Research Center recommends that deer fencing be 7-8 feet high. Very effective 8-foot fencing can be made with two tiers of 4-foot stockade wire, tightly strung between sturdy posts. Place smaller-mesh sections in the middle (deer nose height), strung closely together with cable ties or wire. Where rabbits and raccoons are roaming, place the smaller-mesh section of the bottom stockade wire at ground level to frustrate short critters and the small-mesh part of the top section mid-fence. Western ranchers use fence wire stretcher tools to keep tension even on wire fencing, which helps prevent deer pushing through. Look as well for stretcher-splicer tools, which reconnect broken wire to restore the integrity of wire-strung fencing after storm damage. Onward!