Here on our vegetable farm, we like deer. Mostly. At least we like them when they’re outside the vegetable garden. Over our ten years here, we’ve used various techniques to discourage the deer from relishing our produce so fully.
We’ve cobbled together the old and the new to make fences: six-foot metal posts and rusted old rolls of sheep wire wrested from the hedgerow, all inherited from the previous owners; tangled metal electric line from our horse pastures; a thick black and white rope of poly and metal electric line; scare balloons. All of them worked. For a while.
But the lure of chard and beet greens is strong, and every deer that learns the secret of garden produce whispers it to the next deer. Last fall, our chard was chewed down to the ground, followed by the beet greens and the carrot tops, the deer harvesting our vegetables faster than we could. That winter, we discovered that the deer were, in fact, bedding down right in the garden. Sigh.
Time for a new trick. This time a two thousand dollar trick.
Five big boxes arrived in the spring, each one holding 300 feet of nylon mesh fence. We had some misgivings about both the money and the materials—gosh, that’s a lot o’ plastic -- but we were also feeling desperate. We opened the first box, and read the directions about our brand new $2000 fence very carefully.
“Be sure to completely enclose the area to be protected,” it said, with “completely enclose” in bold letters. Well, of course, we thought, that seems pretty obvious.
We were also advised that “To prevent deer from pushing under the fence, stake bottom edge of the fence to the ground every 3 to 4 feet.” “Every three to four feet” also happened to be in bold. Well, that seemed unlikely, deer pushing under the fence. But we would do it. Of course we would.
We got four-fifths of the fence up that very day, despite the fact that our trusty rusty six-foot posts weren’t tall enough to support an 8-foot high fence. First we had to screw broken wooden garden stakes to the top of each post. But we were amazed at how light and easy and fast the brand new mesh was to work with, compared to our other deer fences. We crawled into bed late that night, sure that we would finish the fence up properly the very next morning.
But a miracle happened! No deer got in the garden! No produce was eaten! The four-fifths of the new fence had done it! We were delighted, and it was right in the middle of our spring push, and we had lots of ground to work up, and lots of transplants to get in . . . and then of course the summer work came on, and then the fall work . . .
Four months later, in early autumn, I was harvesting Swiss chard, the number one choice of deer on this farm. Alas, I had to bring the dreaded news back to my fellow farmer: “Somebody’s eating it again. It doesn’t look like woodchucks. It’s more spaced out, a nibble here and a nibble there.”
The next harvest day, he brings the dreaded news back to me: “The lettuce. Hoof prints.”
I groan. “They must be getting through the open part.”
But later that day, my fellow comes running to tell me: “I saw them! They’re going right underneath!”
“You’re kidding! I can’t believe they’re so clever. Even though the directions said so!”
We vacillate between awe for the general cleverness of deer, foaming at the mouth over the produce that is disappearing, and despair that we did not follow the very clear directions. We stake down the fence. And it works!
For a while.
Then: More hoof prints. More nibbles. Early one morning, from a window in the house, I see a deer slipping through the hedgerow, suspiciously close to the one-fifth absent fence. We scrounge around for some more broken wooden stakes, and finish our deer fence. Almost. We are ten feet short. Ten lousy feet. But even so, the fence works!
For a while.
A few days later, my farming fellow’s head is hanging low again. “Something’s eating the beet greens.”
Sure enough, we find a trail in the early morning dew, yes, right through that ten- foot gap, to the beet greens. Oh those clever, clever, blasted deer. Oh those foolish, foolish, non-direction-following farmers.
But now I have a brilliant idea: we’ll weave the last ten feet using every farmer’s friend: baling twine. It works beautifully. And it’s kind of fun, weaving under and over, under and over.
“Well, this fits in well with the rest of the farm,” my fellow says, as we close the gap with our goofy use-what-you-got fence fix.
I am very pleased. “Just look at that! We could have saved $2000 dollars and made this whole fence out of baling twine!”
“Now there’s an idea,” says my fellow, “that wouldn’t have taken us any time at all . . .”
“Maybe we could do that after this fence quits working?” I joke.
My fellow gives me a long, sad, deer-beleaguered farmer look.
“Just kidding,” I say, I taking his arm. “This fence is going to work forever!”
Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Oct 30 – Nov 5, 2013