Encouraged and Frustrated

The momentum of the food movement here in our community continues to grow in exciting ways. We’re coming off the farm’s best sales week ever, we have some beautiful gardens producing lots of great food and we’re picking up lots of new customers.  There is much to find encouraging.

But we continue to be plagued by the menace that threatens to ruin it all–deer.  Coming home last night about 8:30 we saw 13 of them just from the time we crossed our property line to the time we reached our house, including 3 eating the buckwheat cover crop in one of our gardens.

A few days ago I discovered that they had destroyed our okra crop.  They had just walked down the rows and eaten the buds out of all the plants.  We’d worked hard to establish that garden, the biggest on our farm.  I had high hopes for the okra and was optimistic that it would sell well.  But, alas, there will be no okra on White Flint Farm this year.  I plowed up the ruined plants they’d left behind.

Then Friday night they destroyed much of our winter squash.  That was another punch in the gut and another large garden and important crop down the drain.

The remnants of a spaghetti squash

The remnants of a spaghetti squash

Sometimes they only take a couple of bites, just enough to ruin the squash

Sometimes they only take a couple of bites, just enough to ruin the squash

These are crops that historically the deer haven’t bothered.  They were things we could count on even if we lost other gardens.  Google it and you’ll find many websites (including extension service sites) saying deer don’t eat watermelon plants, cantaloupe plants, cucumber plants, okra, squash, peppers, etc. (all of which have been heavily damaged by deer on our farm the last two years). Now it seems that nothing is safe from them.

We’re near our wits end.  My neighbor, a large scale conventional vegetable farmer, folded his tent last year, concluding that it is just impossible to grow food here anymore.

Demand for good food is growing here, as we have been hoping it would.  But unless we can figure out a solution to the deer issue, we aren’t going to be able to meet the demand we’ve been trying to help generate.  Very frustrating.

Advertisements

39 comments on “Encouraged and Frustrated

  1. An electric fence. Perhaps too costly, but my neighbor’s, who grow all their own food, found it to be the only way. I can only imagine how beyond frustrating this must be.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      We can grow enough food for ourselves, keeping the deer out with fences and a combination of other tactics. But we’re trying to make a living growing enough food to feed lots of other people. That’s what the deer are making difficult if not impossible. To keep them out a fence will have to be 7 or 8 feet high. It’s cost-prohibitive to put in a fence like that on a farm our size.

      Like

      • C.C. says:

        You addressed my first question here. The other thought I had was to have a section planted in a cheap crop just for them as a border. Conundrum!

        Like

  2. DM says:

    The first year we planted our orchard (40 trees as I recall) they were 4 to 5 feet high, lush with new growth…then june (or July?) hit and within 2 nights the deer had completely decimated the trees, stripped them down to bare sticks. I was sick, angry and grasping for answers. Did the electric fence gig for several years ( less costly than the traditional 7-8 ft barrier( and it worked moderately well..Here’s a link to that one : http://www.premier1supplies.com/fencing.php?mode=detail&fence_id=31 but 2 years ago, finally put up the 7 ft fence with netting, 10 ft rerod, and occasional 4 by 4 post…about $1,00 a foot.
    what if you passed the word/ passed the hat with your customers..laid it on the line and asked for “sponsors”…ie donate X amount of $ for X number of feet of deer fence. I’m betting you have several people who if faced with the choice of not being able to buy your produce or helping sponsor a deer fence would pony up. (and make it a work day, where they could also come out and help build it…might not be able to fence the whole thing in a year, but begin to protect various sections… I also thought of having guard dogs (wireless boarders), or motion sensors that triggered lights (and sirens) when they tripped it…I know deer are creatures of habit and Bill, I totally feel for you on this one. Just watching beautiful crops getting decimated by a predator is so frustrating. I spotted our first Japanese beetles the other day…am gearing up for another battle with them,..they have been a plague here the past 2 years.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      We’re using the Premier electrified net fencing now. It’s been working for us, but only because they’re afraid of it. The could easily hop over it, as they hop over my electrified high tensile pasture fences. We bought enough of the Premier fencing to fence out all the things deer are supposed to eat. We didn’t count on them developing an appetite for okra and squash. It’s just crazy. We’ll probably buy more of the Premier fencing but as you know it is expensive and I worry that they’ll start ignoring it, and then we’ll have wasted a lot of money.

      The Japanese beetles haven’t bothered us much the last few years but they’re back in full force here too. They’re doing a lot of damage, but nothing like what the deer are doing.

      Like

  3. DM says:

    (that is $1.00 a foot/ not $1,00) 😉

    Like

  4. Steve says:

    Beagles?

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Beagles love to chase deer, but they’re not territorial. We had one for years and he’d stay gone for days at a time chasing deer around the county.

      A better solution for us would be a guard dog whose instincts are to protect his turf. There are some significant disadvantages to that for us, but we’re considering it.

      Like

  5. shoreacres says:

    I confess I laughed at “Beagles.” Then, I thought for a minute about the young pair that have moved into my neighborhood. Good gosh — they can sound like the Hounds of Hell when they get going, and they’ll get going at the slightest provocation. Baby ducks set them off.Cats. Squirrels.

    That idea of crowd-sourcing a fence isn’t such a bad one. And, if I may say so, even folks who aren’t customers but who support what you’re trying to do probably would pitch in. Shoot, I’d even go dig in the sofa for some spare change. 😉

    Like

    • Bill says:

      There are some significant downsides to a permanent fence, considering that crop rotation and frequent rest are important parts of our farming model. Temporary moveable fences have worked for us in the past but I worry they won’t continue to be effective.

      We’re weighing our options. If we go with a permanent barrier fence, we’ll have to change some of our methods, which is something Cherie has been advocating anyway. We have a large farm and I like using it. The alternative system would be to farm a much smaller area intensively. I don’t like that as much as what we do now, but it would have the advantage of making the area we need to protect much smaller.

      Like

  6. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, my heart sinks every time I hear about deer damage in your garden. All the effort that you put into your garden lost in a single night. I don’t have an answer for large scale gardens like yours. Any thing that works would indeed be just too costly. I saw evidence that a deer had been in my garden and nibbled off every single bean plant. At least that what I think happened. Either that or not a single one germinated. That would be next to impossible with beans. I’m working on totally closing in my small garden of 60 X 60 feet. If it weren’t for the free fencing even that small area would be too costly to animal proof. Even with the seven foot wooden fence with the bottom four foot of fence covered on the inside with chicken wire, extra protection over the crops will have to be put in place to keep the wild turkeys from picking at the corn crop when their little sprouts.

    Any kind of berries, which I do want, will have to be inside a totally wired in caged area. It’s allot of work to grow a garden these days. I don’t remember it being this hard when I watched mom grow one during my youth years.

    Have the best garden day that you can.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Dave. I shouldn’t have made things sound so dire. Losing crops is just part of farming/gardening. Last year we lost our corn to raccoons. Stuff happens. Most of our gardens are doing wonderfully this year. I picked probably a hundred pounds or more of absolutely beautiful tomatoes today. Last year we lost our entire crop to blight. I shouldn’t be complaining. We’ll figure the deer thing out eventually (or more likely Mother Nature will solve the problem for us). A friend of ours has taken to gardening inside a dog kennel. That’s one way to keep the garden safe. 🙂

      Like

  7. Jeff says:

    Wolves.

    Like

    • C.C. says:

      Yup, hafta say that predators are the ticket. Humans, too. Venison for sale.

      Like

    • Bill says:

      Ding ding ding. We have a winner!

      The deer population is exploding because deer predators aren’t doing their job. As the deer population has boomed here, so has the coyote population. But it’s not enough. Humans have by and large abandoned their roles as natural predators of deer, in favor of eating beef from feed lots. That’s why things are out of balance now.

      Like

  8. valbjerke says:

    As I’ve followed you along this gardening season – seems to me the dollar value of the produce you are losing, might actually be surpassing the dollars needed to put up deer fencing – especially if you add up the losses you suffer each year the deer remain loyal to your garden.
    Ultimately you already know there are no cheap and easy answers to keeping them out. Culling seems next to useless considering it sounds as though there are more deer than you have bullets and time.
    Perhaps consider what they don’t eat and concentrate on fencing off what they do eat? Maybe there are others in your area with the same problem that would join in on a bulk purchase of fencing that would lower the cost? Not sure about where you live – but up here – farmers can get loans for low to no interest for farm improvements …..
    The idea of crowd funding is a good one – make up a quick pamphlet with pictures of the damage and take it to the market with you along with a donation jar. I know if you were at the market where I live, I’d donate in a heartbeat – as would anybody that patronizes the market. 😊

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks. I appreciate the concern you and others are showing.

      It’s a complicated situation. We can buy more of the electrified net fencing we’re using now. But I fear that won’t be a permanent solution. To put in 7-8 foot tall permanent fencing and still keep the rotation plan we’re using would be very expensive. I’d have to sell a lot of kale to pay for it. But we have it under consideration.

      Concentrating on fencing in what they eat is what we’ve always done. But over the past couple of years they seem to have developed a taste for things we never had to fence in before. Maybe these are genetically modified deer released by Monsanto to drive folks like us out of business.

      Like

      • valbjerke says:

        Haha – that wouldn’t surprise me.
        Deer are by nature browsers – they tend to move along sampling as they go. Goats – are more closely related to deer than anything else. My goats eat darn near anything resembling produce – they got out once through an unlatched gate – I came home from work to discover my back lawn nicely trimmed, all of the garlic chives devoured, several fir tree starters I had in pots completely stripped of their needles, a large peony shrub eaten right to the ground. Thankfully my garden beds are covered in wire mesh.
        They get all the excess from my garden in the fall anyway, and I’ve yet to find anything they won’t eat. I’m thinking deer are pretty much the same. 😊

        Like

  9. Eumaeus says:

    sorry to hear this , bill. I wish I had a solution for you, for your farm but I can only tell you what works on our farm where we have an over population of deer and likely smaller gardens than you. our house is at the center of the universe so to speak. it is surrounded by our gardens and orchards. around those are the pastures in rotational grazing and beyond them is the woods. you walk out of our fence in to our yard. go through another fence/gate to the orchard and go through another fence/gate to the pasture and another to the woods. so it is w/in this framework, also on the rise of a little hill that it is all centered. but on top that hill sit our most significant deer deterrent and those are 2 large dogs that have never spent a second of life (aside from having their reproductive parts removed) indoors. they are dirty. they are happy. they sleep most of the day. they sometimes chase cars. but they have changed the deer movement patterns around our farm, neighboring hunters have told us so. our great Pyrenees especially goes after them. a few years back, before we had her, i watched a different two of ours take down a fawn with a mother snorting near by. i believe that the dogs have been our salvation in regards to predator and deer problems, and rabbit and squirrel and woodchuck too. but it has come at a price of a certain social berating where people come and expect to see our dogs watching tv on the couch with us and nestled by a fire. anyway, that is how we keep the deer away on our place. our dogs do the work for us. farm layout and dogs. but even amazing dogs might not be able to solve a problem if the farm layout makes deer access easy… good luck. also remember – depredation permit then cluster bombs…

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the helpful comment. We’re thinking about getting a Great Pyr. We had one in the goat pasture for years and he did a great job keeping the coyotes away. He was an extraordinarily gentle dog around people, but took no prisoners if alien creatures came into the pasture. I found him gnawing on the remnants of a fawn he caught, so I know he didn’t tolerate deer.

      There are some significant downsides to us adding another dog, but it’s definitely one of the options we’re considering. Depredation permit also. That will almost certainly happen.

      Like

  10. Deer are a huge problem here too. The commercial farmers especially are suffering. And there’s no hunting permitted on this part of the Island. One farmer quipped last year that the only predator for those deer is the automobile, and he’s right. Two have shut down their outdoor veg production, and kept up only with their hot house operations. The others seem to have moved to using floating row cover, which I always thought was just for frost protection, but apparently not, see this link: http://www.groworganic.com/agribon-ag-15-9-83-x-2000-early-buy-special.html . The locals seem to remove it once the plants are mature (with corn, the plants are about 18″ high when they take it off), which also seems to be when the deer are less interested in the shoots. The locals reuse the row cover for a few years, I see them rolling it up again as they remove it. I can see a downside would be having to get rid of it after a few seasons – that’s a lot of plastic. Can you raise the crop to the ready to harvest stage under this stuff? No idea…

    Like

    • Bill says:

      The row covers would work for the okra, but not the squash. We’ve avoided plasticulture so far, but I suppose we can’t rule it out under the circumstances.

      When I was a boy it was very unusual to see a deer here. They were rare. A generation earlier there were no deer in this county. These days they seem as common as birds. I’ve seen probably ten today, and they’re nocturnal. It’s just insane. Sorry to hear that you’re having the same problem on your side of the continent.

      Like

  11. ain't for city gals says:

    that would be frustrating….I think that is why we buy from our little farmers market instead of growing our own. Deer is not a problem for us in Arizona but it is the pack rats….We only have two small raised beds (about 3 feet off the ground) and if we don’t keep them covered with wire the pack rats would wipe it out in one fell swoop….

    Like

    • Bill says:

      If we were only homesteading and not trying to earn income from the farm, I’d raise our food in raised beds with wire covers. We’d produce plenty for ourselves and wouldn’t have to share any of it with the deer.

      Like

  12. Leslie McConachie Miami, Fl says:

    Can you shoot the deer? Or someone else who would like the venison?

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Yes. But to do it legally a special permit is necessary, since deer season is in the fall and early winter. For some crazy reason a condition of the out-of-season permit is that you’re not allowed to eat the deer. I hate the wastefulness of that and I suppose it is a prime candidate for a law that could be civilly disobeyed. Another downside of shooting them now is that they have fawns now. As much as I want them gone, I don’t like the idea of killing a nursing mother.

      Like

  13. Oh, what a shame! I hear you.

    Like

  14. EllaDee says:

    Truly frustrating but there is merit in putting it out there so others can comment on their experiences, actions and suggestions. I like the idea of dogs; once the deer realise the pickings are not as convenient they will be inclined to look elsewhere.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Dogs have been a good solution for some people, but not for others. Our Lab used to chase the deer off at night but now she sleeps through their attacks. It’s not a problem that can be easily solved.

      Like

  15. Gwen Wells says:

    Bill, I just scanned through comments very quickly (I should actually be doing some paperwork– your blog is one of my favorite distractions) so may have missed if this was suggested– hunters?? I know my son and friends of his with bows would be THRILLED to come take out your deer problem– there could be some partnership with the meat– share cost of processing, share out the meat, sell the rest? (to me!) I know deer season isn’t open right now, but could there be some “varmint permit” for them?

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Gwen. If only it were that easy, then we wouldn’t have a deer problem. My neighbor got a predation permit last year and he and his son shot over 20 of them and they still wiped out everything he grew. And unfortunately the law requires that any deer shot out of season with the permit have to be buried and can’t be eaten. It’s a ridiculous law of course.

      Like

  16. Gwen Wells says:

    Oh wow. I had no idea. Mind blown. 20? Have to bury? *eye roll* They could be donated to Hunters for the Hungry!

    Like

  17. Ann Wood says:

    Lord God, is there nothing simple anymore? Was there ever such a thing? Was that belief delusion on my part that allowed trust in the purity and balance of living off the land? Ha ha, Lord, You allow us to see both side of the coin so often we realize there is nothing simple about farming or life…yet sometimes we are taught more than we want to learn!! Give us ears to hear and hearts ready to learn. Father God, please bless Bill and Cherie and White Flint Farm…despite the deer and pest…for You are good and Your mercy endures forever! You are our Provider and our All-in-All! Amen PS We love you guys and God loves you much more!

    Like

  18. Martha Caldwell-Young says:

    Your deer problem continues to be on my mind, so I asked another farmer/blogger from Oregon how they handle the challenges of rural farming among wildlife. Below is her reply. I think someone else replied to you with a simpler suggestion to consider dogs. Not sure if this is an option for you, but I feel compelled to pass this along. 🙂

    http://matronofhusbandry.wordpress.com
    July 15, 2014 8:37 am
    Martha, farming in the midst of wildlife is a issue. Dogs are my answer, and barrier methods like covering some of my root crops that overwinter, and growing some of our winter crops in high tunnels. Without dogs, an 8′ or 9′ fence is the answer. A clowder of barn cats solves the small rodent and rabbit problem. As for big predators like cougars, we have moved our calving season later in the year. We have to live with these animals as the fine voters of Oregon have decreed. We don’t call the cops when we see a coyote or cougar. And we don’t shoot them either.
    http://www.kgw.com/news/Three-more-cougar-sightings-reported-in-Portland-265831621.html

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Martha. An 8 or 9 foot fence is no answer on our farm, unless we give up the idea of making a living at it and just go back to growing a garden for our own use. Dogs work for some people and not for others. Ours has gotten old and sleeps through their visits most of the time. I suppose we could buy a dog or two and hope for the best, but if we do we’ve made a lifetime commitment to the animal(s). It’s something we’d really prefer not to do but it is under consideration.

      Like

  19. […] busiest day of the year was July 13, when I posted Encouraged and Frustrated, which was mainly me griping about deer eating our gardens.  Deer were a very popular (or […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s