They are the best of critters, they are the worst of critters.
I’m guilty. I am one of those people that think bunnies and deer are cute. Squirrels are adorable and foxes are precocious and clever. Birds are beautiful, bold and brash.
In the garden and hen yard, it’s an entirely different story. When you realize that these uninvited visitors are the cause of your poor yields, you get a reality check. Bunnies and deer are a detriment. Foxes and squirrels, savages to bulbs and chickens, and birds…must…be…BANISHED!
Some of this attitude stems from the fact that until quite recently, I have always lived pretty much in the middle of major cities. My gardens had a few unwanted visitors, armadillo, groundhogs and the occasional nuisance crow. Nothing like what I have now which is sixteen distinct beds, seven that back up to a heavily wooded area. Let’s just say I’ve put on my “critter beware” hat and I mean business.
So, what am I doing to stop the veggie carnage? My approach has a threefold structure. One, deter with some pretty low tech methods. Two, deter with a few things the garden uses anyway. And finally, break out the secret weapon.
Stay Out! Planting Diversions
Fencing is a great place to start. Be sure to go as deep as your budget will allow when placing a barrier to keep out critters. Armadillo, moles and bunnies are really good at burrowing. In some cases that’s what the rascals are built to do. So, put your barriers a minimum of six inches below ground to foil them. Seriously, six inches is a nuisance to most of them, but if other food sources are not handy, it will be a nuisance they will gladly ignore, tunnel under and feast. Would you dig six inches to feed your children? Of course. So, if you can go deeper, do it.
Two roads diverged in a wood…
Here’s where I take a little diversion on my road to critter consumption. I put up fences as barriers but I also grow what I call “pest plants”. This began when I realized that with every seed purchase I made I was receiving a “free gift for you” packet of seeds. I received six packets of romaine lettuce, two packets of swiss chard and three packets of parsley. At first I integrated the packets into my existing gardens, traded seeds with my father in law or just tossed them in a drawer, I have problems growing lettuce anyway so…
After an early morning bunny watching coffee break I was struck with an idea. What if I plop a plot of pest plants? A bed, five foot by six foot on the outside of the fencing, easily accessible to our buck toothed friends.
If they can get what they want without having to burrow, they’re happy to stay out of the more difficult to manage goodies. I put my pest plants pretty far away from the rest of the beds, on the other side of an area of Riverbank Grapes and a eight foot by six foot area of sweet corn. The bunnies aren’t interested in the grapes or the corn but they love romaine, swiss chard, beets and radish.
They also love that it gives them the opportunity to munch away from the house. The house has cats and dogs and people and chickens. The house does not allow them to feast in frivolity. They learn quickly and I just get the feeling they teach their little fellows to do the same so I’m setting them up for years to come. I have to admit, I really enjoy watching them in their own salad smorgasbord.
Be Gone! It’s Getting Hairy
You really want them gone, completely gone? You might try this. Motion sensor sprinklers set around your gardens. Your gardens don’t mind having an extra drink once in a while for the most part, but deer and others don’t necessarily enjoy a snootful of agua with their nibblins.
I run a line of blood meal on the other side of my grapes. Plants like the blood meal, it actually nourishes them, but rabbits and deer avoid it. A note for those that keep chickens, a line of sulphur on the outside of your chicken yard discourages rodents and snakes, and again, although you wouldn’t put it on your plants, sulphur is naturally occurring and shouldn’t hurt if properly used.
Get hairy. I’ve said before, I cut all four of my guys hair. I have an abundance of hair to use. However, even with this, I need more! Hair is great in compost, I use it in my home made tomato food, and it makes a great pest deterrent.
You can fill a stocking with runs with hair clippings and hang them from the bushes, trees and fence post around your property. Deer don’t like it. If you think about it logically it makes sense, because of the scent.
Deer sense of smell is 100 times greater than a humans. When they smell a human they perceive it as a threat to their well being. If you make a scent barrier around your property they are going to at least consider easier pickings before breaking that barrier.
Hair keeps scent longer than say ribbons of material because of the natural oils in it. Luckily for me we live down the street from a home based salon that is happy to share their hairy bounty with us. I think most communities have these shops and most shop owners would be happy to give you a days worth of clippings if you explain to them you need them for your compost and your garden.
Go Away! Bringing out the Big Guns (so to bark)
When the going gets tough, the tough get a dog. A guard-den dog (oh, that was bad)
That’s my number one answer to the critter problem. With the over abundance of shelter dogs, I think it is a great answer to an age old problem. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a farm not having a dog or two or nine.
So what will you get? You need a dog that is big enough and smart enough to patrol your property and with a strong enough personality to want to keep unwanted visitors at bay. However, if you’re keeping our feathered fowl friends, you definitely need a hound that will respect your gals and treat them with the reverence they deserve.
Labs are a great choice for families and farms alike. With proper training they can get along happily as well as being excellent bunny bouncers. (I must admit, I am a lab lover and I’m not ashamed of that) However, labs can be so easy going that they view deer and rabbits only as potential friends. While it’s awful cute that they are so friendly, it can be frustrating if you’re wanting them to bark your cares away.
Other fine breeds to consider, shepherds, wire haired terriers and border collies. One note of caution. As an owner of a German Shepherd Dog, I am acutely aware that they are stubborn and require a very strict training process as well as a disciplined approach to their ownership. In other words, GSD’s are not really for a casual, passive owner. Having said that, GSD’s are great dogs. They will shepherd your chickens lovingly and will brook no intruders to their yards. As a working dog, GSD’s are hard to beat.
That’s about all I can think of to say about this. There are many products, some green others not so eco-friendly out there designed to take care of garden critter pests. Zip around on the internet if you need more ideas. Or a friendly conversation at your local feed store can give you some old farmers tactics as well. They may even have puppies to show you, I know ours often do.
Have a paisley, pest free day!~KeriAnne