And I love watermelons.

Early yesterday morning as I was going to feed the chickens I glanced over at the watermelon garden.  What I saw literally made me feel sick.  Not long after planting that garden we had a torrential downpour that ruined a lot of it.  I went in and reseeded everything and repaired the damage.  Once the plants were established they starting growing rapidly and vining out.  Once it became impossible to cultivate with a tractor we weeded it entirely by hand, twice.  The plants responded beautifully.  The garden is planted with Crimson Sweet and with Yellow Fleshed Moon and Stars.  With a lot of love and attention we had a happy healthy watermelon garden.

Had.  We had a happy healthy watermelon garden.  But Thursday night deer decided to walk down the rows and eat the buds out of the plants.  They took the tips off of almost every vine.  Despite the fact that there is almost nothing growing on this farm that they won’t eat, and despite having hundreds of acres around here upon which to feast, they choose to ruin our watermelons.

I was furious when I saw what they’d done.  I’m still not over it, but I realize of course being angry at them doesn’t make any sense.

I’m mad at myself too.  I knew from last year’s experience that this was possible.  I had just taken down the fence that had been protecting the peas and could easily have set it up around the watermelons.  In fact, I did just that yesterday.   We’d had no problems until Thursday night, but it only takes one night.

Dealing with wildlife is part of growing food.  But the situation with deer around here is getting out of control.  One of my neighbors has been a vegetable farmer for decades until this year.  After being wiped out by deer last year he just called it quits.  The only way to grow food here now, he told me, is to grow it indoors.

We’ll have some watermelons.  Some of the plants were spared.  And maybe they’ll regenerate. Nature can be surprisingly resilient.  But it seems that the big harvest we were expecting in a few weeks won’t be happening.

Grrr….

But there is plenty of good news to celebrate here.  Our squash, zucchini and green beans are starting to come in.  The potatoes and onions are almost ready.  The blackberries are starting to arrive.  And yesterday I starting harvesting the garlic. It’s a great time of year, for us people as well as for the deer.

 

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31 comments on “And I love watermelons.

  1. DM says:

    I know that grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr feeling due to deer decimating your crop. The first year we planted 40 apple trees, they were coming along beautifully….then in 2 nights they stripped those little trees bare. I felt vulnerable, and angry. I had no idea wild deer would do such a thing, Sure there are a lot white tail deer around here,but I’m surrounded by fields of corn, hay, timber..little did I know, new apple branches, (and later the apples themselves) are like candy to a deer, Ended up installing a $900 electric deer fence. 2 years ago, I finally broke down and installed a 7 ft plastic mesh deer fence that has finally done the trick..so sorry to hear about your loss. (and your neighbor who has gotten out of vegetable farming entirely) DM

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve spent a lot of money on deer fencing already. Until recently I only needed to fence out the things they especially like, such as peas, beans and sweet potatoes. But these days they eat any and every thing. Last year they even ate my peppers. I can’t sell enough vegetables to be able to afford to fence in every garden. Especially knowing that they can jump the fence if they like. These days it feels like its the deers’ world and sometimes they let us live in it.

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  2. Augh. The deer seem particularly brazen this year. Just yesterday afternoon I was standing in the kitchen and noticed one come walking out of the woods between my neighbors’ houses and into the cul-de-sac at 2 in the afternoon. I don’t know what would have happened to my hosta plants (I don’t know what the plural of hosta is) if I hadn’t been there to stand my ground.

    I’m sorry about your watermelon. But, yay, zucchini!

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    • Bill says:

      I spent most of the afternoon working in the sweet potato gardens, including putting up deer fences and spraying them with deer repellent. Just after supper I went out to get something and a deer was standing at the fence, checking out the plants. Every night there is a danger that the gardens will be destroyed. A neighbor told me today that he was just a few days from harvesting his green beans this week before deer got in his fenced garden and ate them all to the ground. It’s extremely frustrating. Fortunately they don’t like zucchini plants much, though they do sometimes eat them.

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  3. Martha Caldwell-Young says:

    I’m just a flower gardener, but I do live in deer territory. Several years ago, I heard that deer find the smell/taste of Irish Spring bar soap off-putting, so I started making a soapy mix and spraying plants (like hosta) to keep the deer at bay. It sure seems to work! The downside is I spray most every evening, unless it’s raining or going to rain. Not a solution for large crop farms but a possible for solution where manageable.

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Bill, but happy to know other crops have been spared. 🙂 Sounds like the only outdoor solution is a fence tall enough the deer can’t jump?

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    • Bill says:

      Because of the way we rotate our crops and because our gardens are spread around the farm, we’d need a lot of those fences. For our scale of farming they’re cost prohibitive. We just can’t afford to spend that kind of money on fences. If this continues we’ll just need to rethink our model.

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  4. valbjerke says:

    Deer fencing and lots of it. Lots and lots of it. I feel for you – very discouraging to come out and see that kind of damage. I lived in orchard country for many years. Deer love orchards – and deer fencing is a must if you expect to harvest anything.
    On the flip side – perhaps you should get into the ‘organically raised’ venison steak business 😊

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    • Bill says:

      I’d love to be able to sell venison, but it’s illegal. Selling factory-raised meat laced with hormones and antibiotic resistant bacteria is, on the other hand, perfectly legal.

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      • valbjerke says:

        I hear you on that – there is something truly wrong with the food system altogether.
        The solution for your garden is going to take some thinking though ….. But don’t give up.

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  5. df says:

    That’s truly heartbreaking Bill, and I can imagine the scale of your frustration. We just lost a row of new pumpkin seedlings (one left!), and now I really don’t have time to start again this year. I love wildlife, but they make everything to do with growing food a challenge.

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    • Bill says:

      Maybe Monsanto is creating genetically modified deer to destroy all the home gardens. Grrr…

      You shouldn’t have to protect pumpkin seedlings. It’s just impossible that the deer are that hungry. Shaking my head. But we’ve had them eat squash plants. Hard to believe. It’s getting worse here every year. These days I have to assume that they’ll eat anything we plant.

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  6. Oh my, that is beyond frustrating. Hope they don’t do too much more damage in the rest of your burgeoning crops.

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    • Bill says:

      I’d estimate they took out about 75% of the watermelons. The plants are all alive, but the parts that make the melons are largely gone. Such a waste. It reminds me of the stories about buffalo hunters killing buffalo only to take the tongue.

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  7. Eumaeus says:

    Don’t know about your state, but in Indiana if you can get a depredation permit then you can shoot the deer with an AK-47. If you don’t have an AK then you can use a RPG. That’d make you feel better.

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    • Bill says:

      I felt a seething hatred of them when I saw what they’d done. I did imagine myself killing them in various ways. I know it’s not good to think that way, but I’ve worked hard on that garden and hate to see it ruined like that.

      I’ll probably get the permit this year. But my neighbor got one last year and killed over 20 of them and lost virtually all of his crops anyway. He told me that a soybean farmer in the county killed over 200 and it didn’t seem to help. Today at the market I asked a large-scale vegetable farmer who lives near here how they keep the deer out and she said they get the permit and shoot them. Our overpopulation problem is so bad I just don’t think a farmer can protect his crops by shooting them. There’s just too many of them and we do have to sleep sometimes.

      My understanding is that if you get the permit, then here too all the usual rules are off. You can spotlight them, use high capacity magazines, etc. I’m thinking of land mines.

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  8. bobraxton says:

    friends (one a school principal) hunt using crossbow(s). Don’t know if deer is in season, though. I feel sick, knowing how back-breaking such work is for you (all). We have been watching General Assembly (in Detroit) streaming video (Live).

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    • Bill says:

      I’m not interested in bow hunting. I don’t hunt for sport. In the fall I take what I need for the next year and a rifle is the best way for me to do that. If I have to kill them to keep them out of the gardens then I’ll use a rifle for that too.

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  9. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, so sorry to hear about the devastation of your watermelon patch. Each year I raise sweet corn with the intention of beating the critters to it. They have no decency to share with others and just when the corn is a couple days away from perfection they will strip it clean in one weekend. I’m not sure what kind of critter it is but I’d put my money on raccoons. It’s why I’m in the process of building a six foot high wooden fence around the main garden area with four foot of chicken wire tacked around the bottom inside part of the fence. Deer are not too much of a problem in an urban environment but I have seen deer in the woods close to the garden so they are a possibility as well. If the wood fence and chicken wire don’t work I may have to resort to a portable electric fence around the outside. Then there’s the aerial assault of the wild turkeys. I’d really like to grow some black berries but those would have to be entirely enclosed in chicken wire. It would be an outside chicken wire room. But that’s for another year.

    Have a great day in the rest of the garden.

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    • Bill says:

      Last year I got only 3 ears of corn out of our sweet corn garden. Coons/groundhogs/deer ate all the rest. All that work for nothing. My neighbor had six acres of it and it was the principal source of his farm income. He didn’t harvest a single ear. Wildlife ate every bit of it. And unlike the industrial commodity farmers there is no subsidized crop insurance for us. When the deer eat us out of business, that’s all on us, not the taxpayers.

      Good luck with your gardens. I think I need to quit complaining so much and be grateful that our protective measures are generally working.

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  10. EllaDee says:

    Oh bloody bloody hell, I feel for you. Having all that deliberate, successful work undone by opportunist deer. Who are just doing their thing and not meaning intentional harm. So you don’t even have the satisfaction of being able to blame them. Just be plain old mad.

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    • Bill says:

      Yeah this one especially hurts because after the flooding I seriously considering plowing up that garden, but decided instead to try to rehab it instead. That was a good decision and a great success. I was very pleased with how it turned out. It’s such a pity and waste to have it ruined this way. Sigh.

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  11. shoreacres says:

    A few years ago in San Antonio, a friend’s neighborhood was decimated by deer. All of the “oh, aren’t they cute?” crowd suddenly found themselves confronting hordes of whitetails that were carefully eating tens of thousands of dollars of landscaping plants right down to the ground.

    Here in Texas, we were having a terrible time with feral hogs and javelinas, and some changes in state law, the institution of bounties, and so on were necessary before they could begin to get even the slightest edge on the critters. I’m not sure how things are now, but I haven’t heard anything in the news about it for a year or so. Maybe there’s progress.

    It seems to me that must be part of your problem, too. Overpopulation can’t be dealt with on a farm by farm basis, but how to go about getting a grip on it is beyond me. Short term (getting some crops to harvest) and long term (reducing the population) have to go hand in hand.

    It’s too bad you don’t have two or three strapping young men around there who could work the night shift. Have you thought about paid assassins?

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    • Bill says:

      Nature is out of balance. We humans create ideal environments for deer by clear cutting timber and by keeping their natural predators away. And we add to the problem by neglecting our natural role as a predator of deer. We have increasing numbers of coyotes now, and they may eventually bring the deer population under control (with associated harms). This problem wouldn’t exist though, in my humble opinion, if most of us didn’t rely on Walmart to provide our food. We have great organic free-range meat running wild all around us, but we go the grocery store and buy the meat of tortured animals instead. (Bill now steps off his soapbox and feels his blood pressure starting to return to normal)

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  12. Ground squirrels are our major problem here. I catch them and turn them loose on BLM land where they have to fend for themselves. I think we have finally squirrel proofed our garden.

    As for deer, maybe it is time the laws were changed in regard to deer hunting and have it become deer harvesting. Allow herds to be thinned to the point that they are healthy and not such a nuisance while at the same time developing a legal market for venison. –Curt

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    • Bill says:

      The hunting subculture here is part of the problem. By and large they aren’t hunting to feed their families but rather for “sport.” They want trophies and they don’t want to go to the trouble of cleaning and dressing the deer. And they want to hunt from inside a pickup truck. Every year folks who live here are terrorized by idiots who call themselves hunters, and the deer population continues to explode.

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      • One of my best friends lives in Mississippi. Your hunters sound like the same type of hunters he describes. I think that the bottom line is we have to come up with humane ways of thinning deer herds. Deer are animals of opportunity and will eat almost anything that won’t poison them. Too many in an area means they clean out what they naturally brouse on. Our gardens are next, unfortunately. –Curt

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  13. Helen says:

    I recently moved from a place where I had a garden on a 1/2 acre plot of land for probably ten years to an apartment where I am learning to grow herbs. Your posts are bringing back many memories of all that is good and frustrating. Thank you for sharing your garden experiences.

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    • Bill says:

      It makes me feel good to know that there are people who enjoy reading the posts, such as they are. I’m sure your memories, like mine, are more positive than frustrating. But frustration is a natural part of gardening, isn’t it? My wife is the herbalist in our house but she enjoys growing them and I enjoy what she does with them. Good luck with them!

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  14. valbjerke says:

    You hit the nail on the head with the comment that nature is out of balance. Really – by turning large tracts of land over to food, we are creating an environment for deer that is ideal. They get awesome food, there are no droughts or tough years for them that would generally keep the population in check. Lack of predation is another huge issue. In many areas up here – wolves are being reintroduced for that very reason.

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  15. avwalters says:

    No big-eyed Bambi in this scenario. Fences, big fences.

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    • Bill says:

      I can’t fence out our entire farm. Today I discovered that they’ve ruined our cantaloupes too. This will be the second year with no cantaloupes (unless we manage a late crop) thanks to them.

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