At the community garden, there are almost as many approaches to keeping thieves and unauthorized snackers out of plots as there are garden plots. There are high fences, low fences, green fences and orange fences. There are stakes tied with caution tape and plastic bags and stakes topped with bottles and empty Romano cheese containers. There are scarecrows and flags, pinwheels and moats. There's even a plot with a 12-foot fence but many with no barriers at all.
I set out to get to the bottom of it all; I began asking people. (Tiffany, a commenter on my last post, had some interesting suggestions for rabbits, like corncobs soaked in vinegar or used kitty litter). The first person I asked, whose name I didn't get, was watering a garden with no barrier, so I asked his opinion. "This is all potatoes," he said. "The only thing that's going to want potatoes is squirrels, and there's nothing I can do about them." He explained that the potato plot was an unclaimed one that he just picked up. His real one, he told me, has a 12-foot barrier. You might wonder why (I did). "Because a deer can jump 14 feet high from a standstill," he said. (No, I did not ask the obvious question, "Then why didn't you make it 14 feet, one inch high?" --there was no unsnotty way to ask that.)
He motioned to nearby fences, made of chicken wire or plastic, varying between two and six feet high and said, "These are all worthless against deer." Worse, he went on to tell me, if a deer doesn't see the barrier and barrels through, it enters a garden and might freak out because it then thinks it's trapped, which is when the worst destruction happens. He said it's key to make sure the barrier is visible to deer at night. Well, what about rabbits? "I haven't seen a single rabbit out here this year," he said.
In fact, not one person I spoke with has seen any deer or rabbits, nor any evidence that an animal had been snacking on their crops. The only pest anyone reported to me so far is squash bugs. Another gardner I just met, Mike, was using a spray bottle of soapy water. "But," he told me, "you have to catch them in the act." (Meaning that spraying your squash with soapy water will not keep the squash bugs away, but it will kill them if you manage to spray them directly). Mike also told me that he used a storebought deer repellent made with mint and rosemary oils, sprayed on the perimeter of his plot, which he believed was working. We decided that deer must not like the strong herbal smells.
Two nights ago at dusk, one of my garden neighbors told me that last year, almost every evening when she came to water her garden after work, she would see deer. (Our plots are near a patch of woods). Interestingly, the plot separating mine from the edge of the woods has nothing but some plastic bags tied to their tomato cages and pinwheels in two corners. (Although they may be using an invisible barrier, too; I didn't ask).
So what's going on? Could the construction on 30 have made the deer move out? is there a bigger, more delicious restaurant nearby? Have wolves or some other predator been introduced to the area without my knowledge?
I decided that if deer are not a problem (at least not yet), I'm not going to bumble around with some awkward fencing, especially if it could ultimately make matters worse. I'm also not comfortable with doing nothing, however, so I marked off my plot using a method that I hope will annoy any potential deer or bunny dine-and-dashers. I bought stakes (thin bamboo--a mistake purchase to be replaced) and put one on all four sides and in each corner. I bought neon marking tape (green and pink--you know, because they didn't have purple) and ran it around the eight stakes. I also tied strips to the tomato cages. This will do absolutely no good on a still evening but with a breeze, the movement and rustling sounds might be deterrents (as is the logic behind plastic bags, flags and other things that make noise). I had already planted marigolds but the day I learned of the deer repellent I also put in some mint. Was it all an exercise of futility? Perhaps. I'll go out every day to monitor my plants, and if I need to take more drastic steps, I'll do so.
The good news is that I'm not growing any Swiss chard, which, I've been told, "is like heroin to deer. They will do anything to get it." So I figure as long as other plots in the community garden have Swiss chard (and they do), my garden should be pretty safe.
What deterrent methods do you employ to keep animals and insects out of your garden? Have you noticed differences between this year and previous years in regards to pests and poachers? Tell us in the comments.