A Drag

We’re enjoying lots of great produce this summer, but as with all summers, it has had its challenges.

Weeds and pests have taken their usual (but manageable) tolls. We expect some losses from them and we willingly pay that price.

But once again it is the deer that are hurting us the most this year. I wouldn’t have expected things to get worse than they were last year, but they have.

This year our deer have expanded their diets to include tomato and pepper plants–plants that I had understood were toxic to deer. Evidently I was wrong about that.  Our tomato production has been decimated.

2 foot tall heirloom tomato plants that should be 6 feet tall and loaded with tomatoes. We have hundreds like this.

2 foot tall heirloom tomato plants that should be 6 feet tall and loaded with tomatoes. We have hundreds of plants like this.

The pepper plants were severely pruned but the verdict is still out on whether they will be productive.

Cayenne pepper plant, stripped

Cayenne pepper plant eaten by deer

The parts of the pepper plants they spared are still producing peppers.

The parts of the bell pepper plants they spared (notice how they’ve bitten off the top of the plant) are still producing peppers.

And sadly some enterprising deer jumped our fences and destroyed our spaghetti and butternut squash. Luckily they don’t seem to like acorn squash.

This is what the butternut squash garden looks like. The squash is gone, and the plants are trampled.

This is what the butternut squash garden looks like. The squash is gone, and the plants are trampled.

They also ate the peas and they’ve been munching on the watermelons.

Purple hull pea remains

Purple hull pea remains

A deer took a bite out of the melon, making it unsaleable. They also ate the runners, so that no more fruit will set.

A deer took a bite out of the melon, making it unsaleable. They also ate the runners, so that no more fruit will set.

And our cover crops? Not happening. They mow down the buckwheat as soon as it starts coming up.

Our production this year will be a fraction of what it should have been.  That’s a drag.

Hopefully next year we’ll come up with a solution.

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64 comments on “A Drag

  1. Annie says:

    Woe. This makes our bunny problem look trivial. So sad after such hard work.

    Like

  2. smcasson says:

    That’s incredible. Sorry to see that. Have you gotten/gotten to use your out of season permit?

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Yes, I will continue to do so. I think it’s the only solution, but so far it’s just been a drop in the bucket.

      Liked by 1 person

      • smcasson says:

        Hope you’re able to eat the meat. I have heard of places that won’t let you use the carcass from an out-of season kill. Doubly wasteful.
        Maybe another income stream would be to lease hunting acreage to well-referenced hunters this winter. Just a thought. Hope your day gets brighter! Keep looking up 🙂

        Like

      • Bill says:

        When I looked into it a few years ago the law didn’t allow the meat to be used. That was a stupid and wasteful law. Now the landowner can keep the meat or donate it to charity (our local food bank). I’ll be doing both this summer. I hunt in the fall and we have friends who I allow to hunt. The deer are smart enough to make themselves scarce once hunting season comes around. And hunters barely make a dent in the deer population.

        Like

  3. Joanna says:

    I sympathise entirely. We are going to be putting in an electric fence soon, since we seem to have little choice. The only other option is repeated applications of a spray that smells like wolf urine and that will get expensive, especially in a wet summer

    Like

    • Joanna says:

      Although our issue is not deer, but wild boar (wild hogs). We have deer and elk but not so destructive obviously

      Like

      • BeeHappee says:

        Wild hogs used to dig up our potatoes in Lithuania. I am glad to see though that they are still around.

        Like

      • Joanna says:

        Still around and absolutely thriving. Between 1995 (after an epidemic of Classical Swine Fever) and 2015 the population has increased over 4x from around 15,000 to 60,000. Which effectively means in some areas if anyone is to get potatoes they have to fence the area off and that is not the way the traditional fields are managed in Latvia

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      For the first time ever, they’ve started jumping our electric net fences. And I apply repellent nearly every night (an expensive proposition). It’s very difficult to deter a determined deer.

      Like

      • Joanna says:

        Except on the point of a gun I guess. I think that proves the point that the head of the State Forest Service made to me when I was doing some research on the issue of wild boar damage in our region. He basically said “If a species is totally protected from generation to generation, they change their behaviour, they lose their fear of people, they come to human settlements more and more and potentially they are doing more damage. But if a species is moderately hunted, it somehow keeps the difference in animals and wildlife and humans.” I know you do hunt at certain times of the year, but animals have a tendency to know that (epigentics? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_epigenetics 😀 )

        Liked by 1 person

  4. avwalters says:

    Once we got the deer under control (with the electrified and upwardly extended uber fence) the bunnies came. The went after the peppers, too. Oddly–mostly after the hot peppers (and some low lying tomato branches.) We put chicken wire cages around the peppers and from here, we’ll just wait and see. Good thing most of our stuff is in buckets, because it turns out we have gophers, too. They’re eating up the unprotected pumpkins. I’m lucky that this enriches our lives, but isn’t “our living.” I don’t know how you do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Woody says:

    Rats with hooves.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      We’ve been through that transition experienced by so many rural people. When we first started establishing the farm we said it would be a wildlife preserve–no hunting allowed. It didn’t take long before the deer weren’t so cute any more. Now I often feel myself literally hating them.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. BeeHappee says:

    Oh deer…. Incredible, cayenne peppers? Some deer with some exquisite tastes. Will make some nice spicy venison sticks now that you fattened them up.
    How can you tell watermelon was chewed by deer and not some other critter? Do you guys have dogs? Do dogs not get them at night? Need a fierce garden predator, personal lion perhaps.

    Like

  7. Buffy says:

    Oh yes a lion! That is so heart breaking to work so hard and have it all stole away while you sleep!

    Like

  8. 6:50 AM 7/21/2015
    Bill, I still see evidence that the deer are in Terra Nova Gardens but after the devastation of the strawberries they have done minimal damage. They nibble around the cucumbers but don’t seem to care enough for them to eat more than a leaf or two each day. The rough fuzzy leaves must keep them away. I wonder if the pioneers had this trouble when they first came to Nebraska. Of course back then the trouble some wild life were just eaten. Here in Nebraska the balance of nature has been upset with the eradication of the Mountain Lion and timber wolves. Without a natural predator, deer population exploded even with the hunting tag increase.

    I am surprised that the deer are eating tomatoes and, seriously, watermelon? I’ve never heard of deer trying to eat watermelon before. I’m going to work on my wooden fence at Terra Nova Gardens again today. I’m hopeful to get four of the eight panels left installed. That will be a big help to keep deer out of the garden area.

    Have the best day that you can with market gardening.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      They ate our cucumber plants to the ground, but we were able to fence them in and replant and we’re starting to get some now. As for watermelon, they will stomp on the melons to break them open and eat them, but I’ve never seen them bite into the rind until this year.

      I’m convinced that the deer population explosion (amazingly, there are 100 times more deer in the U.S. today than there were a century ago) is due to the loss of the deer’s primary predator. But that predator isn’t extinct–in fact it is more populous that ever. But the species that has historically kept the deer population in check now refuses the food that nature is providing, preferring instead to buy the flesh of tortured cattle sold in grocery store freezers and at fast food restaurants.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. UGH! Do you have dogs to help patrol?

    Like

  10. Laurie@hinterlands.me says:

    So sorry! How discouraging. And, yes, dogs might help. They are not called man’s best friend for nothing.

    Like

  11. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Sounds like the deer were making salsa…

    This must feel incredibly frustrating Bill. I understand what you mean about planning and allowing for some losses, but this…?

    What options do you have? Invest more in fencing? Would a livestock guardian dog work for deer? Are they so overpopulated that they are driven to your food (or do they just have exquisite tastes as Bee suggested?)

    My heart goes out to you.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      We live on a lush 183 acre farm and we’re surrounded by lush farms with no one living on them. There is more than enough forage here to feed all the deer in Virginia probably. We’re only growing vegetables on a very small fraction of our land. They just like eating them.

      There are solutions that would secure a garden for our personal use. To secure the land we’re using to try to make a living is much more problematic.

      Like

  12. Sue says:

    Hmmmm—I see a TALL FENCE in your future!!

    Like

    • Bill says:

      We use 21 different gardens, using rotation, cover cropping and long periods of rest to enable us to farm without chemicals. I could put a tall permanent fence around a garden, and learn to live with the eyesore we created, but I would have to abandon our farming philosophy.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. You know we feel your pain. After trying everything else we will be putting up deer height fencing around the fields where it makes sense. The cost is enormous in time and cash. I would be happy to “eat the problem” but honestly it is only one or two individuals from the horde.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Best of luck to you. We do what we have to do. That’s just not feasible for us. Maybe we’ll just have to go to a different method of farming, or find some other way to create the necessary income stream. I have a neighbor who is a large-scale conventional vegetable farmer and he uses no fences, dogs or any other kind of deterrent. He relies entirely on shooting them and says that if you disrupt their patterns that way they will learn to forage elsewhere. That may be the best solution. But that makes really long summer days even longer. Doesn’t leave a lot of time for rest.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Yeah, I see fence as the only real solution as well – it’s expensive, but consider how much you’ve already last this year and last year in revenue. It’s true what the others are saying too, of course, if you stem the flow of deer, you’ll have rabbits or gophers…kind of makes me think of The Cat in the Hat getting rid of the spot…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      As I mentioned in a comment above, we use 21 gardens spread out over our farm. We rely on covercropping and rest to keep the soil fertile without using chemicals or off-farm inputs. If we put up a permanent fence it might pay for itself over time, but we would have to abandon this method of farming.

      Like

  15. ain't for city gals says:

    I have no answers but this is heartbreaking on so many levels….the biggest vendor at our farmer market is Rabbit Run….they sell at three different farmer markets on different days. I do believe they use covered greenhouses…they are chemical free…no gmo..etc. You might look at there site….Rabbit Run in Skull Valley Arizona.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      We’ve considered putting in a hoop house. I really prefer gardening outside, but as a neighbor who is a conventional vegetable farmer told me recently, it’s not possible to grow food outside any more.

      Like

  16. Man that sucks – reminds me of how we “donated” all our blueberries this year to the local bluejays and crows. Bugger!!! Well rest assured those deer who ate your cayenne pepper had a bad case of the runs afterwards… 🙂

    Like

  17. allisonmohr says:

    Can you sell venison at the market? Could you have a hunting lodge on the property? We’re currently in a very urban area, and the deer are everywhere. Forget having a flower bed, they eat everything, especially hostas. The city of Bellevue put in a lovely hiking trail system in the woods, the deer use them as game trails. They need to be culled, but that won’t happen here, ever.

    Like

  18. I wonder, as I toil away in our own garden beds, how our pioneering ancestors lived through the winter. Probably a better predator balance. The forest behind us and corn fields next to us keep the deer fed, but rabbits are flourishing on our vegetables. In fact it’s rare to walk outside without seeing rabbits here and there. I blame a guy one street over who has been killing coyotes and proudly nailing their pelts to a fence.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Whenever they saw a deer, they killed and ate it. Deer have been a primary source of human food on this continent for thousands of years. Nowadays the laws are designed for the benefit of the “sportsmen” and the hunting industry. We definitely have an out of balance ecosystem.

      Like

  19. I’ve also read that the scent of a predator’s urine is enough to scare away deer. So……. any man who is a meat eater could just, um, relieve himself around the perimeter of the gardens on a regular basis. No more flushing for you sir!

    Like

  20. shoreacres says:

    Oh, Bill. This is just heartbreaking. I’m going to send an email to “my farmers” and see how they handle it. They are really large producers, with huge fields. They have to have some answer, because they’re in prime deer country, and they grow all the things you do.

    I went looking and found that the Catholics consider St. Isidore the patron of farms and large gardens. An intercession or two couldn’t hurt. 🙂

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Linda. I’d love to know what they tell you. The farmers I’ve talked to here have only found two solutions that work–concentrating the crops into a small area surrounded by a tall fence and shooting the deer.

      Like

  21. Aggie says:

    I so wish that I could help, so I’ll offer this, though you must already know it. There are those who use the same beds repeatedly by a) applying compost every time they replant, or b) mulching every time they replant. You could mulch with the cover crops you grow. Emilia Hazelip style.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      We do that too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aggie says:

        In Texas you can get a hardship permit if deer are destroying your property, at least my husband says so. Shooting them sounds worth a try.

        Like

      • Bill says:

        I have one and I’m using it. Hopefully it will make a difference eventually but it won’t overnight.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aggie says:

        Ah, yes, I remember in other comments – how do you work all day and stay awake all night to shoot deer? Best wishes.

        Like

      • Aggie says:

        Lou made a living as a trapper in the AZ wilderness back in the 70s. I’m going to volunteer his ideas. He say that deer are difficult to trap. We don’t know how large your property and how spread out your gardens, but he guesses that they come in at one point as part of their normal route and exit at another point. He suggests finding where they come in and watching for them every 2-3 days for a month, or putting in a deer plot with a three-sided enclosure near their entry point to make it easier. FWIW.

        Like

  22. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    How much Venison can you eat (“harvest”)?

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I usually take two deer a year for myself. Venison is the only red meat I eat, but I don’t eat a lot of meat and Cherie is vegetarian. This year I’ll probably take more, because I do like having summer sausage for snack food. I’ll be donating some to the local food bank too.

      Like

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