Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Attack on the Home Front

From the bean of Green Bean.

It was a rainy spring morning. The cold spell wasn't good for my burgeoning watermelon and cucumber seedlings but, that's okay. I'm not one to complain about rain. California needs the rain. My water bill likes the rain. Heck, I like the rain. The dark dots on the sidewalks, the rich brown color the earth turns when soaked, the bright green of the plants and seedlings that stand in contrast.

I opened the shutters and gazed out happily at my front yard vegetable patch - the "Victory Garden" that I've planned and slowly carved out of lawn and bland bushes. Despite the weather, the grape vine continued its slow ascent up the trellis. The petite leaves of the pomegranate winked at me from the corner fence. Tomatoes stretched and peppers peeked. Ah, it was wonderful. Exactly what I imagined it would be.

The collard greens were emerald green in the rain and growing bushy and beautiful nibbled to the ground!

I threw on my shoes and slammed the front door behind me. What the heck!!! The collards had been bushy and beautiful, just yesterday. I had admired. Had knelt down to get a better look. Had even planned a menu around them! Now all but one of them were a shell of their former selves. Mere stalks remained, poking out of the ground like headless soldiers.

I knew immediately who the culprit was. The deer!!! The deer who wander through my very densely populated, close to down town front yard a couple times a year. The self-same perpetrators who devoured my pumpkin and sunflower seedlings last year. Who forced me to resort to covering the vegetable seedlings with chicken wire that I would run out and remove every morning. The ones who gnawed on the morning glory swinging up my porch post two years prior.


Like an good garden warrior, I had strategized in advance. I'd paid close attention to my opponents' habits. They stayed away from the flower bed with lavender on the edge. They disliked borage and had no taste for Shasta daisies or foxglove. I'd paid something more too. Money to an edible landscaping consultant who suggested the fence and arbor we built as well as the placement of the pomegranate and other deer resistant plants along the edge. Together, we'd set forth our plan of defense. With interplanting and some physical barriers, well, those deer just might pass by my garden this year.

A glimpse at the sidewalk strip - the tomatoes and sunflowers nibbled to the ground - confirmed that my defense hadn't been enough. I hadn't outsmarted my wily opponents . . . yet.

After the first attack, I regrouped. I called upon the weapons on the modern warrior - Facebook and Twitter - seeking advice for defeating these wily plant predators. I doubled up on "aromatic distractors" as one Facebook friend called them - posting lavender, rosemary and sage throughout the garden. I scanned the Internet and brought in the reinforcements (e.g., plants that deer supposedly do not like. Note to self: deer actually do like cat mint. Straight out of the black plastic nursery pot, thank you very much.). I even went on the offense - meaning weapons that are offensive to my enemy. After plopping down $15 for one smelly deer repellent, though, I learned (via a lopped off sunflower, the only plant I didn't spray), that I should have tried a different deer repellent. Or so my friend, who has successfully outmaneuvered deer on far more treacherous terrain informed me.

I'm all about planting vegetables in the front yard. First, that's where my sun is. Second, I think there is something beautiful, poignant even about the edible front yard. The one that stands out from the lawn and daisies. That boasts cherry tomatoes and bright yellow peppers. The one where pumpkins lounge and sunflowers stretch and potatoes pop out from flower beds.

But gardening out in the open presents new and different challenges. Sure, every organic gardener has been on a search and destroy mission: stalking and stomping snails and slugs by flashlight at midnight. Every such gardener has found undercover agents - worms that mask themselves as caterpillars, baby earwigs the devour radish seedlings, finches that shred mustard greens with the efficiency of a black ops team. Every such gardener is prepared, to a degree, to pivot on a stepping step. To switch tactics, pinch the diseased leaves off of a tomato plant or insert companion warriors beside her most treasured plants.

But even the most seasoned organic gardeners might not be prepared for the onslaught that a front yard vegetable garden presents. The deer, for one. And two, and three, for that matter. The dog poop next to the tomatoes or amongst the sunflower seedlings. The errant skateboarder who wheels through the struggling cucumber seedlings. The cute but very large dog who paws obliviously through the squash seedlings poking their way through the soil. The litter that blows into the tomato bushes and hides out under the squash vines or the plastic juice box straws and milk carton lids that get mixed into the lasagna'ed soil.

Such gardeners, those brave enough to plant out front, learn quickly why we call front yard edible gardens "Victory Gardens". It has nothing to do with World War I or II or the battle against Climate Change. No. It only means that one has not only survived, but harvested, after an attack on the home front.

This is the Green Phone Booth's submission for the Green Moms Carnival for May. The topic is gardening and it will be held at Green and Clean Mom. Please check it out after May 18th!


Joyce said...

Ah, yes, the memories...I was eventually defeated by squirrels, rabbits, crows, and bean leaf beetles. Good luck with this.

Heather @ SGF said...

I considered doing a edible front yard, but went with our fenced in back yard for this reason. I didn't want to fight nature. I hope you have more luck in the future. I can't even imagine how frustrating that must be... :(

Julie Artz said...

So I've never tried this, but I've read about two mechanical means of repelling deer that are supposed to work. The first is a motion sensor that sprays water at them (you'd have to be judicious with this for fear of soaking the paper boy, of course...) and the second is a bamboo fountain--the water actually moves through a large bamboo pipe and dumps into a fountain, but the key is that the bamboo is on a see-saw of sorts and when the bamboo pivots, it makes a clacking sound that allegedly scares the deer away. Good luck to you!

kale for sale said...

I've often wondered how farmers deal with critters in the fields. One CSA farmer I know has two big gorgeous dogs that are supposed to keep the deer out. Read, supposed to. I think they made friends instead. But what about racoons, possums and field mice? Good job on the victory garden and thanks for the new meaning of victory.

JessTrev said...

The WaPo just wrote about how deer are flourishing in the burbs: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2009/04/23/DI2009042303454.html -- good luck to you! I have to admit, the ongoing dog battle would cow me more than the deer onslaught. Deer you maybe can figure out. Dogs have humans attached that are particularly hard to train. ;)

Best of luck to you! I've often commented about our community garden plot that it's a good thing we don't really need to rely on it for us to survive (my personal nemesis is neighborhood squirrels, sigh)....

JessTrev said...

Also? I share a garden plot with a buddy and she recently tied aluminum pie pans to a pole with screws dangling down from string? Noisy, for sure. Dunno if they are effective, yet. Nor if they'd wake your kids up at night!

Donna said...

Been there, done that, put up the fence. Sorry, I've found no easy answers. Deer eat all the plants the books say they won't and the repellent never did much. They didn't stop eating my garden until my husband put in a gate on one end and the trees grew on the other end so the deer stopped jumping the fence. Sorry to be so discouraging. At least at your house they don't come every day. Maybe you can enclose part of your garden with bird netting on a frame. That worked for us for a while.

Melinda said...

: ( I'm sorry - how disheartening! Push on to victory, GB! Your garden looks beautiful in the front yard, other than the nibbles of course.

June said...

That hurts! I hate destroyed potential! We have an infestation of voracious ground hogs here, so our garden is a tangle of chicken wire -- but it's way out of sight. Our favorite orchard guy dangles little bars of soap off all his apple trees. Tufts of human hair scattered around are supposed to help. My grandpa mixes red pepper with soap water and sprays it on everything, and I have had some luck with that. And I've known people, I'm not saying who, who have sent their children out to "water" the roses most beloved by the deer -- but of course that kind of "watering" really wouldn't work in the FRONT yard. Good luck!

scifichick said...

Good luck! This is a wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading it though I'm sure it's not fun dealing with this.

nika said...

Those were some mighty handsome plants! I had the same problems when I tried to garden like I did in the midwest - right in the ground. That wasnt a problem in Iowa (beautiful black soil) but impossible here in MA.

We have plenty of deer (and moles and chipmunks and a thriving rabbit colony living out by our septic field)

I have been able to by pass ALL of this by using tall deep raised beds (2 feet deep with wire mesh at the bottom - this link for how we made them http://www.humblegarden.com/2007/05/17/raised-bed/)

I also stop bug predators (even flea beetles) by using floating row covers - works like a charm!

I wish you better luck!

Beany said...

I read your post (on twitter?) about the dog poopy issues. That's terrible, and this deer issue is even worse. Are there any hungry coyotes or mountain lions in the area who need some deer meat?

I love your yard and it's a shame that it's getting decimated like this.

Green Bean said...

Joyce: They're merciless, aren't they?

Heather: I hear ya. We tried the back yard last year and I do have some fruit trees, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries back there. But it's just not enough sun or room for the kids and, what can I say? I got greedy.

Julie: Now the bamboo pipe thing actually sounds attractive on top of being a deterrent. I'll have to check it out.

Katrina: Whew. You just saved me from getting two big dogs to rescue my garden.

Jess: Boy are they ever flourishing. Drove a kid home who lives in the hills. It was a 5 minute drive and we passed 6 deer in the middle of the afternoon. And I so agree. I love gardening but couldn't even hope to survive on what I harvest . . . yet.

Donna: I've regrouped and moved all the veggies to the area behind the fence and away from the street. Maybe I could do the netting there. Thank you.

Melinda: Thank you! I am undeterred!

June: "Destroyed potential." Is that ever right. Thank you for all the suggestions.

SciFiChick: Thank you! :)

Nika: Thanks for the suggestions. I've not yet done row covers for our other ahem issue. I may give those a try.

Beany: Um, unfortunately too urban even for coyotes or mountain lions . . . or pooping dogs.

Ditto said...

My partner is a landscaper, so she deals with these issues all the time. If you can, just design your landscape so it is less tasty than the neighbors.

That doesn't work for vegetables though. For that, I much prefer some unobtrusive technology to wind chimes made of pots and pans. The scarecrow sprinkler mentioned above is good, and there is also a tiny black box (solar powered) that flashes like a predator eye and scares them off. This place has the solar Nite Guard and some other solutions.

Green Bean said...

Ditto: The predator's eye! I like! Thank you for the tip.

Mary Hunt said...

Back when I was living in Minneapolis, we referred to them as hoofed rats. Hot pepper and hot "lead" (22) was the only thing that sent them scampering.

Kudos to the front yard garden. You brought back a lot of memories.

mcmilker said...

There is always something that will eat your garden, unfortunately - that's why they invented greenhouses I bet - not for the cold- for the wildlife :-)

mother earth aka karen hanrahan said...

You share wonderfully what so many gardeners face, it's one thing the idea of an edible garden, let alone one in your front yard, the reality of which is seemingly different. Am ever so curious to hear more

Anonymous said...

WOW! Great writing, terrible problem! I love how you finished tho, such bravado, such flare!! Only the strong survive indeed!!!


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