Friday, February 6, 2009

Zen and the art of deer deterring

The other day, Diana, Garden Master at the Providence Zen Center in Cumberland, RI, contacted me for some advice. (No, I'm not so well known that people from around the country seek out my advise. She found me through a mutual friend, from my days as the Bearded Lady of Grailville.)

The first on her list of problems is deer. They seem to be eating more than their share of things. When people bring up deer problems to me my first thought is EAT THEM. We created this problem by removing all the predators and increasing their food supply (the way we clear land, plant bushes and young trees, create forest edges, and never let anything mature to the old forest stage provides tons of food for deer and increases their population) We, collectively, have the responsibility of dealing with the problem we created. One way to do that is to increase predation. Since reintroducing wolves into suburban America probably wont be view as a good idea, we will have to take on the predator role. That said, hunting and eating them is probably not a good option for an organization devoted to peace, a contemplative life, and vegetarianism. My second thought is usually getting a dog. A dog living in the garden usually does a good job keeping deer and other intruders out. Dogs, to be an effective deer deterrent, need to live in the garden all the time. This requires confining them in some way (usually a fence) and comes with it own level of inconvenience and damage. They tend to dig, tromp, sleep in, and poop on things you wish they wouldn't. Not as much damage as deer (usually), but still quite a bit. They keep the deer away by their presence and by barking (usually all night long). If you live out in the country and a ways away from the garden, that isn't such a problem. But at a meditation center... The sound of one hand clapping might be a good thing to meditate on, but the sound of one dog yapping makes finding peace a bit difficult.

That brings us to barriers, both real and imagined. (I've tried all the scent products, and they don't work.)

Fences tend to be expensive, ugly, and most of them are only somewhat effective. I've tried the double fence, which is supposed to keep them from jumping. It only works when they are coming straight on. If they are coming in at an angle they jump one and then the other. They also take up a lot of space and are a nightmare to maintain. I've tried the single fence with a cantilever top. They works fairly well, and I would recommend them for a large area. Use woven wire on the bottom and light weight electric on the cantilever. The cantilever needs to extend out at least 3 feet and up at least 3 feet. It is probably too much for a small garden, and visually leaves the space looking rather like a maximum security prison. The best fence I've seen for small spaces is an 8 foot high fence made of bird netting. If you put it up right it almost disappears. You have to flag it so the deer don't run into it and get tangled, but once they learn it is there it works quite well. FarmTek sells a complete system for a reasonable price. I have found that deer are pretty selective in what they eat. Many things we plant in the garden they won't bother. Another very effective way to protect things is to use bird netting on hoops over the individual beds that need protecting. This leaves the rest of the space open and more accessible while providing a good measure of protection for the most vulnerable crops. The same hoop structure can be used with floating row cover to protect from flea beetles, caterpillars, and other pests. That is what I would start with. If it doesn't do the job then I'd move up the scale.

We would be interested in hearing what works for any of you other gardeners out there in deer country.
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