Sunday, July 21, 2013

This Year's Garden Speaks

I am going to take a few minutes out of painting on the current two large hex signs to reflect on what the garden has told me the last week or so.

This has been a strange year in the weather. Wet, cold then suddenly hot and dry, then hot and wet. It has been a challenge to figure out when to plant.

  • We had a surprising crop failure -- zucchini! 
  • The first planting of peas came on like gangbusters, but the gang of deer won... for the time being. More on that thought in a bit. 
  • Here, late mid-July, several of the first plantings of lettuce are all bolting, at least some of the plants, and the succession got messed up so likely we will have a hiatus until the current round of seedlings gets big enough to transplant and mature. 
  • Broccoli has been better this year than usual; the sprouting version just keeps dribbling in and the heading variety has done better than usual. I am planning to put this crop -- and the cauliflower, which did better this year than ever before -- in an area in which we will deposit some of the huge pile of manure. I think they need more to "eat."
  •  Cabbages, on the other hand, seem to have loved the weather and the remarkable lack of cabbage butterflies this year. No idea why they are scarce, but I have only seen a handful thus far, rather than the more typical handful each day. 
  • Supported and non-supported tomato rows
  • The jury is still out on the use of the Florida Weave to support tomatoes, but it looks like I will have a "test row" and at least one "control row," to put a scientific spin on the lack of infrastructure and current cash flow issue. 
  • It seems that the first (early) planting of carrots came on well; the second really badly. And I didn't plant nearly enough of them. Next year: at least a single long row planted "early" and maybe a double one.
  • Spinach was another crop failure. Next year it WILL go in a section that will be heavily manured this fall. 
  • First cuke picking; 4 days later, 1/4 bu. more
  • And man oh man the CUCUMBERS! Do not let 4 days go between pickings!! I am going to try every other day.  
  • I have pretty much decided to order 18" wide heavy brown paper in quantity and plant every crop that I transplant in rows where I have laid down the paper. It saves enough weeding work that it is worth it. Lettuces, celery and possibly peppers will be done as offset double rows; tomatoes, brassica and vine crops as single rows.
Close up of deer fence "baited" with peanut butter
And now about those deer! We just completed what we call our "deer moat," two electric fences, each with two strands of wire set approximately 3 feet apart. To make sure the deer find and learn about the fence, I baited the corner they most often frequent (where they were doing the most damage, both to the pea crop and to the previous fishing line fence and to the electric one, as it was being installed) with peanut butter applied to aluminum foil strips folded over and crimped to the wire. I have read that they like peanut butter as much as mice do; when they attempt to get it, they will get a good "zap" to sensitive parts. Not enough to damage them, but hopefully enough to convince them to east elsewhere. The fence has been up a few days now. I guess it's time to test its effectiveness by weeding the second planting of peas! And time to get the west garden electrified as well; I know the deer love green beans, too!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Deer and Loathing in Semi-Rural Maine

No, I don't loathe deer, not in general. They are fun to watch (at someone else's house or at camp) and delicious to eat. Actually, I prefer deer meat (venison, for those who do not know) to beef.  However, when they defeat my deer fencing, get into my garden, decimate my pea crop and even "prune" my tomato plants -- a veggie they are not especially know to like -- and when I was silly enough to buy land in a semi-rural setting, with not enough space between me and the neighbors that I can have a
"delicious solution" to the problem... well, then, loathing does seem to enter the picture.

In the war of us vs deer, we have finally had to escalate.

I have read it many times: almost anything will keep deer at bay for "a while. " "While" is not an exact measurement of time. My strands of monofilament fishing line worked several years with three strands. Then it didn't. Last year I lost all the peas and had predation all year long.

This year I added several strands of the fishing line and it worked... for a while. Just about the time the pea crop really started coming on, so did the deer. They have barged in, jumped out (while we watched) and generally played havoc.  Time to up the ante.

We had on hand some electric fence wire, left over from a fiasco of a few years back, in which we attempted to help someone we thought was a friend. The story, which will remain untold at the moment, involved 7 large draft horses, not enough fencing materials and a large expenditure on our part and ended with one less "friend" and lots of left over material. The animals are back in PA; the fence posts have been reuused and re used and the wire... well... it's getting re used now.

We decided to put in a double, two-strand electric fence. Two fences, 3' apart. Theory is that the deer won't jump the two and the electric gives them more incentive to stay away. I am also planning to "bait" the outer fence with tabs of aluminum foil coated in peanut butter. I have read that deer cannot resist the peanut butter (who would have guessed! I know it is often used to bait mouse traps, but deer "traps?" ) and the good jolt they get when they taste helps keep them away.

I know our deer has been coming in the south east corner of the east garden (at this point, they have not yet found the beans in the west garden, "protected" only by a single fishing line fence.) The fishing line fence has been damaged there and last night, the electric fence wire -- not yet complete and therefore not charged -- took damage as well.

We have the inside line of posts up and part of the wire deployed and hope to get the balance completed tomorrow.  Reports and pix will follow.