How to Outsmart Critters in Your Veggie Garden

 Front of  fall garden showing inside fences photo

Most People believe that wild animals lack intelligence when compared to humans. I have to respect any animal who can outsmart you, and I have never been more challenged than trying to harvest organic vegetables before the wild critters have the opportunity. If you live in the woods like me it takes a while to learn that the native occupants and their ancestors have been here for an eternity compare to you. They are survivors on their own turf and have developed strategies that will take you a long time to circumvent. Your veggie garden is like an extra desert: fair, delicious, and convenient.

One of my first invaders was the lovely doe eyed deer who eat almost everything. Unless you have a garden in the sky your tasty goodies are an oasis in the middle of the difficult to grub a meal forest. I live on twelve acres with only my home and garden cleared so they can invade from any angle. At first when I saw a mother and her twins laying on the grass and basking in the sun it was a catch your breath moment. Then mamma got up and proceeded to strip my just planted rose-bush of flowers and leaves. I opened the kitchen window and yelled. They ran for the woods so I retired thinking that the problem was solved. the next morning I was greeted by a stick instead of a rose-bush. Yes,they also eat the tender branches thorns and all! Deer are sneaky. One year they will take out your roses, camellias, and day lilys. The next year they might remain untouched lulling you into complacency. You never know what their plant de jour will be!

I put up a six-foot high hog wire fence to protect the veggie garden and along the fence line were carefully planted green beans. At one point I became obsessed with them and actually counted each one when they emerged until there were so many that I had to acknowledge my stupidity. One morning I grabbed a basket and headed out because it was time to harvest some of these beauties. Imagine my horror when I saw every plant stripped of beans and leaves over night! But that’s not all: my huge fence turned out to be no challenge when the other veggies got high enough to munch.

My husband used to say ” If you want to get someones goat just watch where he ties it.” I began to watch the deer and noticed that they could jump any fence but did not jump when there was a obstacle on the other side. They will stop, look at it, and reroute to avoid it. How to design a fence that deer will not jump in spite of the deserts inside was the question.

Tomatoes, beans, peppers and other veggies require support like staking. News flash: I could solve two problems at once. Here is what works to banish the deer and to provide plant support. Surround your garden with a very sturdy fence then take metal fence post of the same hight and bury them about six-foot inside of the main fence leaving a walk space on one side. Now attach the same sturdy wire post to post. Continue this same pattern the entire length of your garden. You can plant on either side of the fences and have a walk space in the middle as well. Your veggies can climb and be supported and the deer will not be impaled by jumping the fence. Here’s why: They know where they can safely navigate! I have actually watched from a window while as many as three deer stood looking at the fence, then looking at each other, and finally walking off.

Photo of fall garden side showing inside fences.

To protect your trees and bushes you can fashion a mini version until they are too tall for deer to reach. You only need wire a few feet high and about three feet from the trunk; just enough so that critters cannot reach over but close enough to the trunk to detour deer from jumping. If you use hogwire cut it in widths of about three feet with the cut leaving five inches that you can push into the ground forming a circle around the plant. Works like a charm for armadillos, possums, and home-grown chickens too!

“Good Fences make good neighbors” and I do know what I am fencing out! However, some critters are experts at climbing; for example raccoons and squirrels have no problem at all. Both seem to really enjoy fresh veggies. I started seeing broccoli chewed off at the top and cabbage leaves lying on the ground. The Georgia collards were also a target. It’s a mystery how you can plant all of the onions and garlic that you want because they wont be touched. Makes you wonder why they are so good for us! Anyway, I couldn’t figure out what critters were dining regularly. I looked for prints in the dirt. Nothing! At first raccoons came to mind because they usually find a way to circumvent any obstacle and a fence is a piece of cake. But wait, mixing cayenne pepper and garlic to sprinkle over the flowers and leaves should do the trick. What a total bust; they didn’t mind it at all. Ok, next I sat a armadillo trap inside of the main fence and baited it with a bowl of nuts and fruit. Sure enough even before dawn I heard a racket in the garden. There was a huge raccoon mad as hell and rattling the cage furiously! He had dug up all of the dirt underneath and was alternating between digging and hanging upside down and shaking the dickins out of the cage. When he saw me he began to hiss and growl, reaching his hand out to me like a challenge for me to come near. Of course I was not only a safe distance away but was outside of the main fence. I said “Ok mister tough guy lets see how you feel after a few hours of throwing sand at the wind and wasting your energy.”

Checking on him periodically he seemed to be winding down. Upon the last check this is what I saw: He was sitting on his haunches with his arms down to his side. He had the most wide-eyed, mournful, and repented look on his face that I had to run to the house to fetch the camara. the photo that you see next was the result!

I had to let this sad guy out so grabbing a heavy steel rake I hooked it to the cage handle and slowly pulled him out of garden turning the door to face the woods. It took  me a few minutes to gather the courage because you have to reach over the top of the cage and lift the door by HAND. I like my hands so I fetched a wheelbarrow and placed it over the top then reached over and pulled the door open. Bam! He was out of the cage and hauling butt through the woods in seconds.

I relaxed thinking that the problem was off in the woods never to return. The next morning devastation greeted me again! Time to reflect: It wasn’t the coon and since there were no tracts I began to think about smaller critters like rabbits or squirrels. Rabbits no because they sit and chew; this raider ripped off leaves but only ate the part that humans like. Frustrated I visited the local home supply store and bought a big roll of chicken wire, laid it out on the ground, and cut it into lengths long enough to drape over the inside fences and reach the ground. Then I secured them with pins in the dirt completely enclosing the plants.Do you know how hard it is to weed, water, and harvest when you have to take apart chicken wire cages? It gives you a nagging back ache and many painful scratches from the wire. Still, it mostly worked. Only once in a while I found some limited damage and had to shore up the cages.

After long hours of working in the yard I often overturn a bucket and just sit there admiring the great outdoors. One day I saw some movement in the tall grass near the garden. It might be a snake I thought, and held very still. Guess what? The biggest bushest fattest squirrel was sneaking flat on his belly toward the garden. He reached the fence, scrambled to the top and down the other side. There was the elusive culprit! I yelled and he retreated the same way only faster. Well, what to do about this marauder who in hindsight did not leave tracts and played with the veggies more than he ate them by ripping off leaves for fun. I thought about what I had on hand to thwart his climbing. Rose bushes with long thorns which I had plenty of seemed like a good idea. I had to wear gloves to handle them so squirrel fir would be very venerable. Besides the bushes needed trimming so I spent the entire day strapping them on the top with plastic trimming string.

This turned out to be no deterrent to Fatso and another disappointment for me. Sitting outside again I saw him  sneaking through the grass. But this time he stretched himself  through one of the three by four-inch openings in the fence. Why didn’t I think of that? This occasioned another visit to the home and garden store. I bought the owls with red eyes and a movement sensor that emitted a high-pitched sound that only critters could hear. The service man mentioned an electric fence but it was pricey so I put it on hold. However, when the latest plan failed I dropped the necessary bundle and installed the wire all the way around the outside of the garden twice. There were plastic poles about five foot long placed at intervals with the wire attached. I placed the first wire only three inches from the ground and the second about three inches higher. This would shock any invader trying to navigate through the bottom or trying to climb over the top.The unit is battery operated and works for months without changing them out. Also it has an intermittent hum that assures you its operating. There is also a grounding pole that was a bitch to drive into the ground but anything to stop this guy or girl cold! The best part is that it doesn’t damage the animals; it’s just very unpleasant as my chickens can attest to. If you have never seen a chicken get a slight shock and run squawking across the yard to tell her friends you have missed a laughing moment! They don’t go near it anymore. Who says that chickens are stupid?

I am here to promise you that this system works! I pulled down the chicken wire cages which made working in the garden much more pleasant, and nothing has bothered my veggies since. So the moral of the story is: The RIGHT fences do make good neighbors of the wild critters and the domestic ones!

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About artzent

I am a visual artist and teacher of Fine art working and teaching in all 2D media. You can see images of my work in many categories, view my biography,comment on artwork, see what's on the easel right now, and more when you go to http://www.artzent.com. I will be blogging here about personal true stories and shareing my life and work. I hope that you will comment and share yours with me!
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10 Responses to How to Outsmart Critters in Your Veggie Garden

  1. sojourner says:

    I love the story!

    I see, you have plenty of curious stubborn visitors in your garden daily. I can only imagine because we don’t have those kinds of animals here in the Philippines.

    I suggest you consider to make a little zoo for your smart visitors 🙂 (just kidding), so they can stay with you. Maybe they just like you because they can feel that you are not a threat to them—you don’t kill animals.

    I love nature, so I love both plants and animals. But I don’t know what to do if the animals (as stubborn as your visitors) will destroy my plants!
    🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience June!

  2. artzent says:

    Thanks again for your comments; they encourage me to keep writing! You may not live in this kind of a envirnment but you sure have sympathy for it. I respect that and I so enjoyed your ” just Kidding” How cool to be able to talk to someone so far away! It’s one of the resons that I plan to keep writing. Thank you!

  3. About the only problem critters I have are the gophers. I have container gardens now which makes it extremely difficult for the gophers to get to my best plants.

  4. artzent says:

    The gophers on this yard eat the grass but so do the chickens. I just bitch about it and then let it go. I have twelve acres of beautiful forest and besides the veggie garden that’s what I love. No time for the gophers but lots of time for the garden and chickens. I also paint and draw and now blog in between.

  5. yeloros says:

    I really enjoyed this story. I can relate. Last year the deer ate all the beautiful flowers I had planted around my mail box post. I am not going through that this year. Good Luck!

    • artzent says:

      I now have no problems with the deer or any of the other critters.Now if I could only thint of a fix for the weeds! Thanks for your comment and I will check out your blog

  6. hi! I must apologize because your garden woes, while I truly identify, are hilarious to read! makes me wonder if those NOT living in the sticks have any idea what we’re talking about…:). as for fences, zappers and otherwise, deer fences are my saving grace but only for deer…well, sort of… they still get in til we got monster pup! but the others? they are increasing as I write this, I swear. the undergrounders are by far, the worst tho squirrels are monsters too… even birds take their share!

    what to do? well… not much but grin and bear it…geez I am glad we have no bear here! your chicken wire fence did sound like it would work. the zap fence won’t on the gophers & moles tho… woe are we… I have the sweetest little heirloom tomatoes just coming in so guess who’s coming for dinner? everybody !!!
    ;(

    • artzent says:

      Oh, if you have never live in the sticks you don’t have a clue. But don’t give up. You might get some metal sheets and drive them into the ground where you see their trails at least just to see if that helps. If it does and you are like me you will break the bank to surround your garden with them.Don’t grin and bare just put your thinking cap on. I have chickens so poison in the yard if out and of course in the garden. But keep the faith we will think of something!

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