Deer Vs. Gardeners II

I used to say that while we had a few deer visitors every year at PPCG, the humans always took home more from their gardens than the deer did.

And then last year happened.

Going into our 2019 growing season, I’m going to assume that if we want more harvest than heartbreak, we’re going to need to start off with active defenses. The good news is that many of us found some reasonable solutions that worked well for us.

For more info about deer control, see this post. Here I’m going to focus on the methods that seemed to work well for our gardeners, along with a few sources and best prices. (If you find some better options, please share!)

Repellent: Plantskydd

At least one of our gardeners, Gary  (plot 31), had good luck with this product, which is sprayed on plants. OMRI-listed, it’s main ingredient is dried animal blood. For the best results, you’ll want to spray it early in the season, before deer get a taste of what’s in your garden. 

Pros:  One of the least expensive options in terms of initial outlay. No need to struggle with fence installation. Allows you to keep your garden open and easily accessed. Doesn’t wash off in rain. Organic.

Cons: Needs to be applied to new growth, so you do have to keep up with it. Since its main ingredient is animal blood, it (1) may not be an option for vegetarian gardeners and (2) will add nitrogen to your soil, which you may or may not want. Also, although the product specifies it’s safe for garden vegetable plants, you can’t spray it on any part of the plant that you intend to eat, such as lettuce leaves or tomatoes. There’s also a granular formula that you can sprinkle around your plants.

Available at: Amazon for $23.99 for a 32-oz. spray bottle or at Park Seed for $21.95. Check here for local dealer locations. You can also buy larger quantities in powder concentrate that you have to mix and a granular formula for sprinkling.

Fence Option 1: Multi-Purpose Netting

IMG_20180503_103531591.jpgJun (plot 24) and I (plot 30, photo right) used this product by Tenax with good success. At 4-feet tall, it’s an easy jump for deer,  but I’ve read that deer don’t normally like to jump into enclosed spaces as small as our gardens. For extra measure, I put a few obvious tomato cages inside my plot to clutter up the landing zone.

This product is sturdier than the netting described below, but not really sturdy enough to support  vines such as cucumbers. I installed it using 60-inch u-posts, slipping the fence onto the hooks on the posts as I wrapped it around the garden. 

Pros: Sturdy. Should last a few years. Relatively easy to install; I was able to do it myself. Most difficult part for me was pounding in the u-posts. Allows easy access to gardens–just unhook the netting from the posts. (The whole garden can be opened quickly and easily.) Even though it’s thicker than the deer netting below, it’s still unobtrusive and doesn’t cast significant shade. Can also be purchased in 7′ x 100′ rolls, enough to keep out jumpers from two garden plots. 

Cons: Costs about $24 for the netting plus $27 – $45 for 6 – 10 u- or t-posts. Not a good choice for folks who don’t want to go to the trouble of installation or who don’t like enclosed garden spaces. Not tall enough to prevent jumpers or “leaner-overs.” The 7′-tall fencing will need sturdy, more expensive posts to be installed properly.

Available at: Lowes in Weymouth and on Amazon.

 

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Fence Option 2: Deer/ Wildlife Netting

Product Image 2A few gardeners used a product like this one, which is finer and less stiff than the multi-purpose netting above. They installed it using bamboo or green plastic garden posts, attaching the fence to them with twine, zip ties, or tomato Velcro. I’ve also seen recommendations to hook the netting onto nails, screws, or cup hooks fastened to wooden garden stakes, which then could function a lot like the netting above.

Pros: Tall enough to keep the champion jumpers out. Reusable. Lightweight and unobtrusive. No problems with product casting shade. Depending on how it’s installed, it can be removed easily if you need better access to your garden for maintenance, etc.. The cost of the netting itself is reasonable, around $20.

Cons: Must be secured properly. Potential tripping hazard. Does a number on our lawnmower. Ideally, should be marked with flagging tape so deer see it and don’t blunder into it. Could be chewed or torn. A little fiddly to use. Best installed with a second set of hands. To make full advantage of the height, you need tall support posts, which may cost more than the netting itself.

 

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Barrier Cover: Bird Netting

Bird netting is similar in weight to the wildlife netting above, but sold in dimensions that allow you to drape it over large sections. This option is a good, inexpensive one if you want to protect certain plants or sections of your garden. 

 

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Pros: Perhaps the least expensive option. Allows you to section off areas of your garden, leaving open access to other areas. 

Cons: Like the wildlife netting, it’s fiddly to use. Must be secured properly! (I used clothes pins, attaching the netting to twine stretched between stakes.) Potential tripping hazard. Gets tangled in our lawnmower. Depending on how it’s installed, can make garden access annoying. Your plants won’t like bumping up against it, so your netting supports have to be taller than your plants at full height.

 

Available at: Lowes in Weymouth and Home Depot in Quincy. (See photos below.) 

 

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Final Thoughts…

Repellents, fencing, or cover netting…there’s no perfect solution here, but we managed to find a few workable options that allowed us to recover last summer. Pick the one that works best for you and go for it–early in the season. It’s better to set up your repellents and barriers as soon as possible, before deer get a taste of the good stuff  in your garden.

Happy gardening, everyone!

 

The End of Open Season

It’s open season at PPCG, and we’re the targets, our gardens laid out like a giant picnic spread for deer. Tomatoes, beans, peas, flowers, beets, lettuce, peppers, zucchini, chard…more tomatoes. Tomatoes are taking a tough hit. Peppers too.

This year seems especially bad for everyone, not just a select few. It’s our ninth season in our location. The way we’re sheltered on all sides by trees, tucked away from street traffic, we can probably count ourselves lucky the deer haven’t discovered us earlier.

But let’s figure out what we can to to make ourselves less vulnerable.

Things We Can’t Do

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Deer track

Let’s get the don’ts out of the way first. Gary did some asking around at Holly Hill Farm, where he said they rigged a simple electric fence powered by a car battery. Tempting, but not especially safe in a public park.

Years ago, Christine and John S. looked into installing a perimeter fence, but quickly put that idea aside when they realized how prohibitively expensive it would be for us. Effective deer fencing needs to be a good 8 feet tall.

Products such as Liquid Fence, cannot be used in our gardens because they are not organic (#3 ingredient is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate).

Similarly, don’t hang smelly bars of soap (another recommendation I’ve read on a number of websites), which will drip down into the soil.

Probably Our Best Option: Barriers

UMassAmherst notes that the best way to protect a garden is to install some kind of physical barrier to keep the deer away from the crops. Since we’ve already ruled out a perimeter fence, that leaves us with…

  • Bird netting. It’s probably the cheapest option, found here at Home Depot for around $7.

 

 

I’ve used this at home to protect some plants from squirrels. It’s fiddly to use and easier to install if you have a second set of hands. One of our gardeners laid this product neatly over their entire plot, and it seems to be working out well. As plants grow, taller supports can be used to lift the netting (though you may need a bigger or second piece of netting).

 

 

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Another one of our gardeners wrapped this product around the perimeter, and yet another draped it over specific plants she wanted to protect.

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Here, bird netting is wrapped around a plot and supported by plastic and bamboo posts. Both this product and the one below are fine enough that they won’t cast significant shade in our small plots.

 

⇒⇒⇒If you decide to use this netting, please make sure it’s secured. It’s very difficult to see, it’s a tripping hazard, and does a very bad number on our mower.

 

  • Plastic mesh fence. This product is made of a heavier, stiffer plastic material that can be wrapped around your garden and hooked onto/supported by U-posts. I installed this by myself and thought the hardest part was pounding in the stakes. Remember to plan how you are going to get in and out of the garden. Here, I left an opening near a walking path and secured it with a strip of “tomato velcro” for ease. In addition, because a deer could still lean into the garden to nibble on plants, I wove a tight piece of plastic-coated wire around the top.

 

 

So far it’s worked: no more crop damage and limited hassle getting myself in and out of the garden. Also, the mesh is unobtrusive enough that I don’t feel caged, but sturdy enough to function as a trellis for peas and pole beans.

The biggest downside is the cost, between $50-$60, plus the cost of the U-posts.

img_20180627_085051505
Deer climbed right into Joe’s raised bed and helped himself to Swiss chard, tomatoes, and beans.

Another important factor to note: deer can easily jump over a fence that’s 4-ft high, the size I used. But also, they apparently (1) don’t like enclosed spaces and (2) like to have a clear landing space when they jump. Still, there’s no guarantee. From Joe’s raised bed next to mine, it’s an easy leap into my lettuces. Parkour dining. Maybe I’ll pound in a few wood stakes near the center of my plot to give them pause before they make the leap.

One other way to make either kind of barrier–the bird netting or the heavier fencing–more effective would be to add some kind of “flag” to help the deer see it, so they don’t blunder into it and get spooked, which would likely result in a lot of damage to structures, plants, and maybe even deer too. Worse than a few nibbles. (Ever seen the movie Tommy Boy?  This. Scene.) (YouTube link)

 

Might Be Worth a Try: Deer Repellents

  • Once a deer gets a taste of a crop, it might  be difficult to apply any smelly/distasteful/frightening product that’s safe for you and strong enough to stop deer. Also, these types of products must be used very consistently. Are you willing to put in the effort and accept that they are more likely deterrents than guaranteed barriers?
  • I know at least one organic grower who uses PlantSkydd, which is OMRI-listed. It’s primary ingredient is dried blood meal (cow and/or pig). For the best chance of success and your own safety, follow all directions carefully, and note that it must not be applied to “edible parts of fruit, vegetables, and other food crops.”
  • Predator urine (Amazon link) might frighten off a deer. One source indicated this was the most effective offensive scent.
  • Border your garden/targeted plants with herbs that deer don’t like, such as oregano, lavender, and rosemary.
  • Human hair, collected and hung in the garden in nylon stockings might also frighten off a deer, but remember the deer in our area are likely quite used to humans.
  • Motion deterrents, like pinwheels and dangling disposable pie pans or CDs are img_20180629_080123739easily installed. I put these in the category of “it can’t hurt to try.”
  • Ultrasonic noisemakers may be effective until a deer becomes accustomed to them; also, they may work best when paired with a visual/motion deterrent.
  • Solar-powered predator lights (Amazon link), again, may be most effective when paired with other deterrents.

Crop Selection

Another option is to choose to grow plants not favored by deer. I’ve had good luck with tomatillos, ground cherries, eggplant, herbs, onions, and some flowers such as dahlia, zinnia, cosmos, tickseed, snapdragons, and calendula. For more ideas, see here and here.

Do Nothing

Maybe it’s obvious, but doing nothing is also a choice. It’s all right if you don’t want to go to the expense and hassle of installing barriers, etc.. Nothing in PPCG’s rules indicates that you have to take any measures against deer; we only require that you maintain your plot organically.

One Final Note

For best control, remember some facts about deer.  They are afraid of anything new, yet learn quickly and adapt to your strategies, so try several repellents and rotate them.”


Sources/ For More Info

Preventing Deer Damage from UMassAmherst

Keeping Deer Out of the Garden from Bonnie Plants

Deer Deterrents–Scents from U of Vermont Extension, Dept. of Plant and Soil Science

Nonlethal Deer Damage Abatement Techniques–Deterrents from Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control

Deer Proof Gardens: 4 sure-fire ways to keep deer out of your gardens from Savvy Gardening

Deer-Resistant Plants from Old Farmer’s Almanac

Deer-Resistant Garden Vegetables from SFGate Home Guides

How to Build a Plastic Mesh Deer Exclusion Fence from Purdue Extension

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Started at PPCG (Part 6): Maintaining Your Garden

After you’ve planted, you might be surprised by how much attention your small garden will require, sometimes on a daily basis. You’ll also be surprised by how much it yields if you put in the effort.

Watering

Those baby seedlings and transplants can’t be abandoned; one hot dry day will do them in. Once they’ve been established, you’ll grow healthier, stronger plants by watering less frequently and more deeply, which encourages root growth beyond the surface of the soil. See more Watering Tips.

Mulching

The benefits of using mulch in your garden include:

  • regulating soil temperature
  • maintaining moisture
  • suppressing weeds
  • adding organic matter to your soil
  • protecting crops from soil-born diseases that can be splashed onto your plants when you water

Types of organic mulch include straw, salt hay, wood chips, seaweed, chopped leaves, buckwheat hulls, stubble-harvest-straw-agriculture-158198.jpegand grass clippings. But take note:

  • Leaves can form a matted, water-resistant barrier if they are not chopped or composted first.
  • And thick layers of grass clippings can turn into a stinky, slimy mess.

In addition, some gardeners like using plastic mulch.

Keep the mulch away from the base of your plants. I usually put down mulch in my walking paths first, then fill in with more mulch closer to my plantings as they get established. The goal is to smother weeds, not your plantings.

Last summer, I applied a thick layer of newspaper topped with wood chips. The worms loved it. Most newspaper dyes are okay; check if you’re not sure. The Boston Globe, for example, offers this info. I’ve also heard that lawn refuse bags make great weed barriers.

Gary makes use of free seaweed, collected from beaches. Louise (plot 25) favors buckwheat hulls. And I noticed that Marie (plot 11) uses salt hay.

We do not use the composted leaf mold offered for free by Braintree because we cannot guarantee that the product is free of chemicals and other unwanted matter. For this reason, we’ve started our own leaf compost pile in our garden.

Fertilizing

It’s difficult to talk about fertilizing without knowing your soil, so here’s one more pitch for getting your soil tested. Before throwing down any fertilizer, if you know exactly what your soil needs, you won’t be making blind guesses that can be detrimental to your garden, the environment, and your wallet.

Depending on the needs of my garden at the time, I’ve used products like Garden Tone, composted manure, blood meal, bone meal, kelp meal, and compost from my home composter.

Want more information about organic fertilizers? Here’s a good place to start.

Pests and Diseases

Heads up, gardeners: the deer are active at PPCG this spring.

I’m not sure there’s much we can do to protect ourselves from determined deer because we cannot exclude them with tall fencing around our garden perimeter. In this case, it’s helpful to think more in terms of deterrents and “acceptable losses.” On a more positive note, I will also say that in every year I’ve gardened at PPCG since 2010, I’ve always harvested more than I’ve lost.

In the past, I’ve sprinkled my plants with cayenne pepper and dangled old CDs from

string around the perimeter of my garden. I’ve seen other gardeners use pinwheels. And Louise (plot 25) has covered her lettuce and pea shoots with bird netting (available at Home Depot). If you notice forks growing out of Gary’s plot, it’s because he’s hoping the sharp tines will deter rabbits. With all of these efforts, there’s not much to lose except a little bit of our time.

IMG_20180423_075227139.jpgThis year, I tried inter-planting lettuces with bunching onions and bordering my garden with shallots, leeks, and garlic. Maybe the scent of allium will deter rabbits and deer from chowing down on my lettuce. It’s worth a try, and if nothing else, this particular inter-planting makes good use of space. (Update: the deer did, indeed, skip over my lettuce, but chowed down on a perennial flower and trampled carrot seedlings. I counted myself lucky he didn’t eat the peas and decided, not without pause, to install a fence around my plot. He can still jump over or wiggle under the 4′ plastic mesh–and if he does, he’s going to cause a lot of damage–but at this point, if he gets my plantings, he’s earned them.)

Want some more ideas for deterring wildlife? Try here.

Regarding insect pests and diseases, we have a new gardening resource (stored in the shed) that will help us identify them in our garden. It’s also available here online.

  • Consider using hybrid plants as a front-line defense against common diseases.
  • If you have any diseased plant material, please bag it up and remove it from our site to protect other gardeners.

Specific insect problems at PPCG

  • Vine borers have plagued some of our squash crops.
  • Some of the gardens along the treeline bordering the park have been affected by winter moth caterpillars dropping from the trees overhead. If you garden in one of these spaces with trees favored by this caterpillar, you may want to use row covers over your leafy greens until their season passes. Remember to remove the covers if you have plants that need to be pollinated.
  • In 2017, we also had a localized infestation of earwigs, which the gardeners controlled with a trap (buried bottles filled with oil and soy sauce).
  • If you notice that one or more of your plants looks like it’s been snapped off at the base, you may have cutworms. There’s a simple remedy for cutworms, but you have to act before they do their damage. See the following fact sheet link.

Here’s a good fact sheet with more info on general insect management and here are more fact sheets on specific pests, but please remember that we do not permit synthetic products.

Happy gardening, everyone!


In case you missed it…

Part 1: Organic Gardening and Soil

Part 2: Our Growing Season and Gardening Resources

Part 3: Garden Design

Part 4: Plant Choices and Sources

Part 5: Planting