Cover Cropping–Double Fencing

To maintain soil fertility, organic gardeners rely on crop rotation and cover cropping. On our farm we aim to grow two cover crops for every crop we harvest. The cover crops are plowed back into the soil as “green manure,” a natural source of organic matter and biomass.

But that system doesn’t work so well when the cover crops end up leaving the garden in deer bellies instead.

This fall we’ve used a double fence method that has been successful in keeping the deer out of the gardens producing food crops. But the gardens planted in cover crops aren’t fenced, and the deer have kept them mowed to the ground. While we’re getting the benefit of the plant roots, which hold the soil in place and encourage earthworms and other beneficial subterranean organisms, we’re not getting the above-ground growth that we need for green manure.

Here’s a picture that illustrates the situation. The strip between the two fences is what the entire garden to the left should look like. There is a rich growth of a mixture of beneficial plants. But outside the fence there’s just a hint of green. That’s because deer have eaten the plants right down to the ground.

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Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli to the right. The area between the fences is part of a cover-cropped garden. The area to the left was sowed with the same cover crops.

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A closer look at the ground. It looks like the deer held a square dance in the garden.

We’re accustomed to losing our cover crops, so I’m not losing any sleep over it. On the bright side, I’m very pleased that our food crops have survived this fall. Next year I intend to use a modified version of the double-fence around all of our gardens.

Postscript: WordPress tells me that is my 2,500th blog post. I’ve been posting nearly every day (with only a couple of breaks) for 9 1/2 years. Thanks to all who read. It’s nice to know I’m not just talking to myself.

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34 comments on “Cover Cropping–Double Fencing

  1. shoreacres says:

    Well, hooray for the double fencing. And hooray for you, and all that perseverance. I can’t even imagine daily posting, but I’m surely glad you can: and do. You’ve got a knack for making all this interesting even to someone whose full complement of earth is about 80 pounds of organic soil in pots.

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks Linda. I posted for years without ever commenting or responding to comments. I learned to enjoy the comments section from your blog. Now I often enjoy the comment dialog as much as doing the posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The first year on this place it was Becky vs. the deer. The deer won, hands down. They started with the jalepeno peppers, and moved right through the garden! That winter, we had a tall fence put in–Rob vs. the deer, and Rob won! For your place, it looks like a lot of fencing required, though. Good luck with that!

    Congratulations on your 2,500th post. I’m very new to blogging, so I’m mind-boggled by that amount of posting. I have enjoyed reading your blog for a short time now, and enjoy it.

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks y’all. Glad you’re enjoying the blog. I keep thinking I’m going to run out of things to write about, but it hasn’t happened yet!

      We have 16 gardens scattered around the farm, so a permanent fence isn’t a solution for us. If I ever have to concede most of the farm to them, we’ll retreat to a smaller area and fence it off. But if that happens we’ll likely have to give up trying to make a living from the farm and just go back to being homesteaders. I’m not ready to surrender just yet. I have high hopes for the new fencing strategy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. BeeHappee says:

    Wow, Bill, every day for 9 1/2 years.. That is some will power!!! Congratulations. And I enjoyed the old family photos.

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    • Bill says:

      I did take a couple of breaks during that time, but eventually resumed the daily routine. I enjoy blogging. It’s a hobby. If it ever starts to feel like a chore, then I’ll take another break. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow 9 1/2 years, that’s amazing! ❤
    Diana xo

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  5. JB says:

    Could you share the details on the fencing that you are using, maybe a website? Thanks.

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    • Bill says:

      Hey JB. We use a electric net fencing from Premier1. Here’s the link: https://www.premier1supplies.com/detail.php?prod_id=127192&species_id=ALL&criteria=versanet

      But we use the standard VersaNet which they may not offer anymore. We energize the fence with solar powered chargers that are also sold by Premier.

      Note though that we started using this kind of fence when we only had one garden. We’re growing on nearly 2 acres now, spread across 16 gardens on different parts of our farm. Using this kind of fencing for deer exclusion is too expensive in my opinion and not entirely dependable. Deer can easily jump the fences. Most of the time they avoid the fence, but every now and then a brave deer will jump it and destroy the gardens. The double fencing seems to help because (I’m told) deer don’t have good depth perception.

      Next year we’re going to try a different system. We’ll still use the net fencing around the garden perimeter, but we’ll also run a strand of electrified polywire about 3 feet off the ground, about 3 feet from the inside fence. We’ll charge that wire and bait it with apple scent or peanut butter. You can buy little cups to put the bait in that attach to the fence, or make them out of wine bottle caps or aluminum foil. The idea is that the deer will come to the bait, lick it, and become afraid of the fence after being shocked. I’ve heard this works as long as you keep a good charge on the fence and bait it every couple of weeks. If they learn the they can jump it, then it becomes useless.

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  6. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, those pesky deer are well fed. The ones that go in the freezer should be quite tasty after all the organic food they consumed. So the double fence method works, huh. I have read about it but never actually known anyone who used it. It’s a never ending battle against nature’s ways to grow something of value. My wild animals think that I grow my garden just for them. I wouldn’t mind if they weren’t so greedy. They try their best to eat it all. I know you have struggled with deer all year long. I’ve had my battle with deer as well. We both have taken steps toward keeping the deer damage down and hopefully we will continue to win some battles even if we don’t totally win the war. It is discouraging when hard work and expectant income is eaten by wild life. I’m glad to see that you at least are saving some of the greens that have survived this long.

    Have a great double fence garden saving day.

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    • Bill says:

      Doubling the fence this way works (so far) but isn’t practical or even necessary (I hope) for the whole farm. As I mentioned to JB above, I’m going to try using just a strand of polywire and push in posts, about 3 feet out from the net fencing. We’ll bait the electrified polywire to give them some fear of the fence. We’ll see how it works. I don’t think I’ll be able to do the resting gardens though so we’ll still keep losing our cover crops.

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  7. EllaDee says:

    Well done on the blogging… it’s been 4 years for me, from 3 initial blogs to one, and posting on average weekly. I don’t always comment but I’m always interested in what you have to share. I enjoy learning about how you & Cherie approaching farming & life. Despite the difference in our locations and lifestyles we do share some common ground.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      As much as I enjoy reading and responding to comments, I’m bad about not commenting much on other people’s blogs. I’ve enjoyed your blog over the years as well as you comments here. Being able to connect with people on the other side of the planet is one of the great things the internet permits.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dearest Bill,
    Congrats on your successful publication of 2,500 posts! You are doing excellent in writing as it is always entertaining in a way that one gets a very nice message and often some personal wisdom out of it. Love to come here.
    Myself I am only 1,398 and in good 6 years with lots of months that I hardly wrote while I got paralyzed in January of 2010.
    Yes, the intention for cover-cropping is good but the deer act like mowing ‘John Deeres’ it looks like, keeping any growth under control. And according to the hoofs, there are huge numbers of them.
    But as years go by, we do wise up and become inventive and next year you will manage better with your double fencing.
    Your Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli look very healthy!
    Enjoy your weekend and sending you blessings.
    Mariette

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks Mariette. We have large herds of deer here and they come out in force at night. It’s almost impossible to grow food outside without multiple deer exclusion tactics. I’m pleased with how we’ve done this fall, but every morning I wake up wondering if we have anything left!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. avwalters says:

    Congratulations on the long blogging run. I feel like such a loafer!

    I have no solution to the cover crop losses. I may have the same next year when we start seeding in clover and wildflowers for the bees. The area we cleared for the septic appears to be in their territory. Based on the tracks, I’d say they were square dancing.

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    • Bill says:

      One good thing about clover in the cold weather is that it hugs the ground so the deer can’t eat it all. The roots are still fixing nitrogen even if we’re not getting the above ground biomass. In the past I would have recommended planting things deer don’t eat, but based on my experience lately I’m not sure any such thing exists.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a difference where the deer are and aren’t. You must have a lot of deer in the area. I’ve heard about the double fence idea before. Nice to see it helping you. Yea on all the blogging. Nice to check in with you and share our worlds. Be well!

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    • Bill says:

      We’re practically overrun with deer here. And as others have remarked, they are well fed on our farm. The area between the fences nicely illustrates what they’re doing. We had a resting garden that was within our fenced area this summer and it produced the most abundant lush cover crop we’ve ever grown. Made me realize what we’re missing.

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  11. Sue says:

    Congrats on all the posts, Bill. Time flies when you’re having fun!
    Glad the double fencing works for you. If I ever win the lottery, there’s gonna be a whole lotta fencing going on around here………..

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    • Bill says:

      LOL Sue. I hear you. I sometimes fantasize about an unlimited budget for deer exclusion. Your post reminds me of the time someone asked a farmer what he would do if he won a million dollars. “Keep farming a few more years,” he answered.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Joanna says:

    Are you able to hedge fields? We are thinking of doing that by using trees that are already there. They maybe fairly mature, but they usually send up new roots from either felled branches or the root stock anyway. It could be a work in progress. It also looks like the opportunity to do it maybe lost as the snow has started and we have only just finished the sheep fence today. At least they can move to their winter quarters tomorrow.

    As you know our fences have to keep out wild boar. We have deer but they don’t seem to be as much of a problem as your’s are. I hope our’s keep their distance. I do wonder though about the baiting of the fence. It might be worth doing a lower one for the wild boar, or we just wait to find out if they have succumbed to African Swine Fever instead 🙂

    Congratulations on your 2500th post. A mighty achievement indeed

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I like the idea of hedge fences, but aside from being a very long term project, they’re not suitable to the way we’re doing our gardens now. If we ever have to surrender to the deer, we’ll retreat to a small area and change our rotation patterns. Still hoping we can work it out without having to do that.

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  13. Leigh says:

    Ah yes, deer bellies. That’s a problem for us too and nothing I’ve tried has worked so far. Of course, you’re on a much larger scale which means a much larger problem.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I don’t think there is anything we haven’t tried, other than a permanent 8 foot fence. Deer are our biggest problem here and obstacle to success. By far.

      Like

  14. 2500 posts Bill. The deer don’t have a chance against your persistence. I’ve been at it for five years and it seems like forever. The deer should just give up now. –Curt

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  15. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Goodness, although I knew you had deer problems, I had no idea they were quite so prolific! I need to take a picture of the market farm down the road, they use the double fencing method, except they only use a double strand of wire as the outer perimeter (electrified). Like you mentioned, the theory for the double fence is taking advantage of the deer’s lack of depth perception. They probably have 2-3 acres fenced, and tell me they rarely have deer inside. We considered the double fence method, but our garden is so small, we use high fencing and so far they have left it alone.

    I can’t imagine dealing with the daily frustration you experience.

    Congratulations on your posts!

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I saw a demo of the double fence like your neighbors have at the Carolina Farm Stewardship conference this year. The guys doing it insisted that as long as you keep the fence hot and baited it will work. That’s our plan for 2016.

      Like

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