Friday, June 25, 2010

Solving Deer and Raccoon Issues in your Home Vegetable Garden

Planting and growing a garden is work. A labor of love though it may be, work it is nonetheless. When you're a first time gardener as I was when this took place, you tend to do a lot more work than you really need to out of ignorance. Reading articles helps, but nothing pounds a lesson home like the school of hard knocks. At any rate, you go with what you know. You've prepared your bed, planted, watered your little heart out, weeded until you're light-headed all for that delicious satisfaction when what you've planted starts reaching for the sky with wild abandon.

Such was the case one morning when I was watering and admiring 4 glorious 4 ft rows of sunflowers I'd planted, separate from the vegetables which were growing more slowly at the time. My sunflowers weren't yet budded, but in my mind's eye I could see their dinner plate faces following the sun across the sky, declaring to my neighbors in no uncertain terms my gardening prowess. Peaceful and triumphant was my demeanor as I went about my work day. Normal evening activities ensued, nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary.

The following morning I awoke to again admire my green thumb's handiwork. As always my ratty t-shirt, pajama pants stuffed into my gardening boots, I make my way to my point of pride, hose in hand. Vegetables get soaked first (they are the priority) and then on to my "showoffs" what will be the easily recognizable sunflowers to awe passers by with their billboard-like perfection. I'm slowly watering and admiring each of my plants with the loving affection of a mother dog towards her puppies. That was when I saw it. A sunflower, the plant clipped off at the top, the rest of it still there like a green leafy trick. Slowly my gaze turns to the rest of my sunflowers. In complete and utter disbelief I see that over half of my plants are in the same condition. I fell to my knees screaming NOOOOO!!! Shaking my fist to God for this tragedy...Okay, so that didn't happen. But I did look around for some evidence of the culprit, and there they were, tracks like little broken hearts straight through my patch of sunflowers. And that wasn't just being dramatic, if you've seen a deer track, they're pointy at the top, a cloven hoof that is rounded at the base. It almost literally looks like a broken heart. So I finished watering the survivors of the deer attack and went straight inside to learn how I might avoid another such tragedy that would be coming in the very near future if I didn't take action.

There are a lot of options available on the market to keep deer out of a garden. You can use chemicals, or you can buy an electronic animal deterrent which is good for not only deer but rabbits and raccoons as well. Many great products on the market will readily take care of your problem. However, as a first time gardener and being young and unestablished, money was an issue. Many people consider cheap to be $50 or less. At the time, my cheap was free. I also wanted to take into consideration the organic-ness of my enterprise. I wasn't all that keen on using chemicals to defend my plot. Wasn't that kind of the point of growing your own, to get away from the chemicals? So I needed something free of both chemicals and cost. Luckily, my garden didn't go unprotected, and here's how.

To defend from the deer, you must know the deer. Having a father who is a hunter, and numerous relatives who are garden enthusiasts this is a valuable resource, not to mention the internet. Being a country girl myself, advice was my first stop, and I received some pearls of wisdom. The key, is what deer don't like. Deer don't like people. And I also learned that deer have a fear of becoming entangled. A deer fence was obviously a thought, but A. Cost was a huge factor in my world, and B. Have you seen how high those suckers can jump? Fencing really wasn't an option for me...or was it? I was amazed to learn that you can deter a deer with string. My mind was boggled. String? Yes, friend. String. Have some decent sticks about 5 feet or so high after you've driven them into the ground, and stake out the perimeter of your garden, and fence it in with twine. Not fishing line, mind you, but string. Or ribbon if you wish. A shiny kind of ribbon is desirable, something that might flutter in the wind a little. Then, at intervals throughout the length of the string between stakes, tie on a line to hang down a foot and a half or so. Then on the end, tie something that will flutter, an aluminum pie plate if you're feeling extravagant, or any sort of little doo-dah that will weigh down the string or ribbon a little. Voila! Deer fence! Deer don't want anything to do with that.

Another solution I was given was the smell of people. Am I supposed to mark my garden like a male dog? Not at all. My Aunt suggested hair. Human hair. Go to your local hairdresser or barber. Make friends with other hairdressers. Collect hair from them, and then sprinkle it generously in a perimeter around your garden. Deer deterrent galore! They can't stand the stuff and will give your garden a wide berth, and its somewhat effective on other animals seeking to pillage your garden. However, it is organic material and you will need to recharge your hair barrier every few weeks.

Although my main concern was the deer, my Aunt being the incredibly wise individual that she is, knew it wouldn't be long before my problems were more than just deer. Rabbits would be after my other veggies. Raccoons would be decimating my corn. So she gave me some outstanding tips on how to deal with these critters as well. As it turns out, rabbits don't like bacon grease. Yes, simple bacon grease will protect your rabbit-preferred veggies. Just sprinkle some bacon grease around the outside of your garden, and Peter Cottontail should be effectively thwarted. Mothballs are another excellent solution to rabbits, but those are recommended more for flowers than vegetables.

Raccoons are another matter. Tin pie plates hung from your string deer fence will only keep them at bay for so long. The hair and the bacon grease...I envision their little masked faces laughing at me while I sleep, my cobs of corn in hand. The solution? Cayenne pepper. I had some right in my kitchen. Sprinkle it around each corn stalk. It kept the raccoons away, and other animals as well. Another tip she gave me was to leave a radio in the garden, of the small and portable variety. Tune it to the loudest station you can find and turn it up, not loud enough to disturb you or any neighbors, but loud enough to be heard throughout your garden. That's a suggestion that will deter any garden seeking critter. Just remember to put in in a plastic zipper bag, or some other protective container that doesn't block the sound. I didn't. One afternoon rainstorm later....I don't need to talk about my own stupidity. Let's just say I really liked that radio. Rest in Peace, Panasonic. You are missed.

About the Author
Gillian Gaddis is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.

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