What do deer like to eat? Everything in this bed looks fine at first glance.
Realization of the Day:
Just when you think your plants are safe from the bugs, the dogs, the cold, the heat, the [fill in the blank with your latest garden problem here], the deer show up.
We have literally thousands of acres of forest and greenery surrounding us, and yet the deer want to eat in my little cultivated spot. What I want is an 8-foot high stone wall around my entire garden. It's the only thing that will keep out the deer (and the digging dogs), and I've always loved how they look. Of course it's probably never going to happen—who builds 8-foot high stone walls anymore?—but a girl can dream, can't she?
A few years ago my mother was staying with a cousin in Pennsylvania who told her that all he grows anymore is asparagus because it's the only thing the deer won't eat. I feel his pain—and I'm sure many of you do, too.
More below. . .
At least they left me a few baby leaves.
At first glance I didn't even notice that anything was wrong—the carrot tops from my heirloom carrot growing experiment were nice and frilly, the Nero di Toscana cabbage (also called Tuscan kale and dinosaur kale) was looking good, the Swiss chard was still being choked out by the tall grass weeds. But then I realized the Swiss chard was gone. All of it. Those obnoxious deer had eaten around the weeds.
These Strawberry Plants Are Looking a Little Stemmy
Then I turned around and realized the strawberry bed had been decimated, though, surprisingly, they didn't eat the ripe fruit—but probably only because most of the berries had turtle slobber on them.
This was two mornings ago, and since I forgot to cover the beds with floating row cover that night (my memory is an amazingly elusive thing), naturally the deer returned the next night for a second serving.
There are all sorts of deer repelling tricks and methods out there, and I've tried a bunch of them: dog hair, human hair, bars of Irish Spring soap hanging from old nylon stockings, peeing in the garden. Yes, I used to go out and pee in the garden. I was desperate. Nothing has worked.
A few years ago I read somewhere that whenever deer leap over a fence, for some reason they seek out the highest spot—so if you make your 4-foot high fence several feet higher than that in just a few places, they deer won't jump over it at all. How cool is that? I thought. All of my deer problems are over! I stuck 7-foot bamboo stakes every few feet along the back fence, and all summer long I swear I could hear the deer laughing at me as they sailed over the shorter spots right in front of my eyes.
What's really embarrassing is that I have four dogs. Granted, the two big white ones—who will take off at top speed after a deer that is on the other side of a 15-acre field—spend nights down at the barn protecting their sheep. And twelve-year-old Robin is retired so she usually sleeps in the house. Lucky Buddy Bear will chase after a deer if I order him to, but after years of having them totally ignore him, his heart just isn't in it.
Other than building the stone walls, I don't have any solutions to offer, but I can say this: there are a lot of things growing either adjacent to or just a few steps away from the strawberries and Swiss chard that the deer didn't eat. That's not to say they won't move on to them after they've finished off their first choices (especially since I don't have that much floating row cover), but I figured it's worth making note of their preferences.
What the deer did eat:
—All the Swiss chard (both green and red varieties)
—Some bush bean plants
—Most of the strawberry bed (but not the fruit)
What the deer didn't eat:
—Nero di toscana cabbage (aka lacinato, tuscan, or dinosaur kale)
—Spinach (mostly bolted)
Besides not eating everything in my garden, there are a few other bright spots to all of this. Swiss chard is a cut-and-come again vegetable, so the plants may actually grow back. And the green chard leaves were full of bug holes (more about this in a future post), so I wasn't all that excited about eating them. The strawberry bed will need to be cut back and 'refreshed' soon (more about this in a future post), and most of the work has already been done.
But I still want my 8-foot high wall.
How do you deal with deer? Any tips or tricks you've tried that actually work? Is there really such a thing as a deer proof vegetable—or deer proof vegetable garden?
—How to Grow Swiss Chard from Seed and Why You Should
—Growing and Thinning (and Weeding!) Heirloom Carrots
—How to Grow Nero di Toscana Cabbage (aka Tuscan Kale, Cavalo Nero, Lacinato Kale, Dinosaur Kale) from Seed and What To Do with It
—How To Grow Beets from Seed and Why You Should
—Let's Trade: Your Purple Kohlrabi Growing Tips for My Best Kohlrabi Recipe Ever
—Successfully Growing Strawberries
—I Can't Live Without My Inexpensive Bamboo Stakes*
*A.M. Leonard's bamboo stake prices have gone up quite a bit since I wrote this post three years ago, but compared to the prices I've seen at garden centers, they're still a really good deal.
© Copyright 2009 FarmgirlFare.com, the decidedly desperate foodie farm blog where I may just have to dig out the rolls of mesh deer netting leftover from my deer battles years ago at Windridge Farm that I know are still kicking around here somewhere.