Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How to Coexist with Wildlife in the Edible Garden

From the bean of Green Bean.

Squirrels sure are cute, aren't they?  With their bushy, swishy tails and their little leaps. Until they denude your persimmon tree or eat all the tomatoes ... before they are even ripe!!!

Likewise, deer are awesome. Spotting them while hiking is always a special treat. Ditto for rabbits, raccoons and so on. They are not, however, as welcome in the edible garden. There, wildlife can become pests.

Just because an animal is a pest in your garden does not mean you need to phone the exterminator or bring out the traps. A little patience and forethought can go along way to preserving (most of) your harvest while allowing you to continue enjoying the antics of wildlife in your garden.

Bird netting on my new peach tree.
Bird Netting: I have tried all kinds of things to keep the fruit on my fruit trees. A big scary plastic owl. Nylon stockings over each piece of fruit. Streamers. CDs. You name it. The most success I have had is wrapping the base of the tree, the bottom few branches and any branches that squirrels could jump on with bird netting.  To deter birds, you will need to wrap the entire tree.

Beware that birds and other small mammals can occasionally be caught in bird netting. I have never had this happen but have heard about it from friends. It is best to check your netting regularly to free anyone who gets caught in it.

Barriers: When none of my fava beans or peas came up last fall, I could not figure out what the problem was.  I replanted them a few times but still, nothing happened.  I figured out that some small mammal - squirrel, mouse or rat (less excited about that last one) - was eating the legumes as soon as they sprouted. I covered the planting area with bird netting or other barriers and, viola, I have beans and peas. In all instances, I have been able to remove the netting once the beans are a couple of inches tall.

A plastic net over my scarlet runner beans.
These scarlet runner beans had netting over them until they were a couple of inches tall.  No casualties! 
Similarly, when deer made short work of my young squash seedlings, I crafted some chicken wire cages to cover them until they were bigger.  Probably because the leaves were tougher, the deer then left the squash plants alone.

Plant Extra: The less you have, the more you notice it missing. When my fruit trees have a banner year or I have a bumper crop of tomatoes, I hardly notice those nabbed by squirrels. When things are not going so well, I cherish every cherry tomato and panic over every pecked plums. As a result, I try to plant just a little more. An extra pepper plant (because, yes, those little buggers will eat hot peppers!!) or additional cucumbers can help. In addition, I try to worry less over new trees which are only producing a few fruits. I net them and know that I may lose some this year but next year, the tree will be older, more mature and more bountiful.

Aromatic Distractors: Companion planting is not just effective in deterring insect pests.  Surround young seedlings with heavily scented plants, like garlic, onions, borage, sage, lavender and rosemary to turn away deer and other foragers.

Appetizing Distractors: Line the perimeter of your edible garden with things animals like to eat but about which you are not too concerned. Sunflowers will keep the birds and squirrels occupied. Existing fruit trees of less preferred fruit (Sorry, figs, but I cannot stand you!) can be left for wildlife.  Letting flowers go to seed also distracts wildlife from your bounty. In the worst case scenario, you can put out peanuts at harvest time to keep squirrels out of your raised beds.

Who knew borage was such a wildlife attractor? I have always used it for pollinators but turns out that
squirrels love to eat the small blue flowers and seeds.
Less Appetizing Edibles: If all else fails, invest in edibles that are less attractive to your neighborhood critters. Citrus is generally ignored as are artichokes, rhubarb and leafy greens. Carrots and potatoes are generally safe as well. Garlic, onions and most herbs are not just ignored; they actually repel animals with their strong scent.

For more ideas, check out the book, The Wildlife Friendly Vegetable Garden: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature, a beautifully illustrated tale of growing food alongside wildlife.  Likewise, Can Vegetable Gardens Be Wildlife Friendly is a valuable article focusing on pests of the insect variety.

I hope that I have convinced you to not give up your garden and also to give native wildlife a pass.  S plant your edibles and enjoy them too.

This post is part of the Tuesday Garden PartyMaple Hill Hop and Green Thumb Thursday.


Shelly Olson said...

The squirrels have been getting into my strawberries. They take off with green ones, eat half of it and then drop it to the ground. I already feed them, but they still get into the garden. One tried to break through our screen a while back. They can be just a little nutty. Thanks for linking up at the Tuesday Garden Party.

Mindful Momma said...

That squirrel is SO busted! Great photo capture - and great tips too! I'm worried the rabbits will discover my lettuce but so far they haven't.

daisy g said...

Great ideas for a pesticide-free way of dealing with hungry critters. Thanks for sharing this wonderful outdoor post on The Maple Hill Hop this week!

Tiffany said...

Deer are constantly eating my garden. I am scared to plant fruit trees!

Green Bean said...

@Shelly - That is my pet peeve. When they take a non-ripe fruit, eat half of it and spit it out. So rude!! At least eat the whole thing.

@Mindful Momma - Fingers crossed for your lettuce!!

@daisy - Thank you so much for the comment.

@Tiffany - I worried about that when I had a front yard edible garden visited by deer. They left my pomegranate and citrus alone as well as the grapes. I also had a pear out front and planted a bunch of borage and lavender in front of it. They did not bother that one either. Our old neighborhood did not have heavy deer traffic though. It was sort of so so.

jerri said...

We've had problems with hares. Seems they like everything from greens in the garden to low-hanging branches on our fruit trees. We've taken to evening walks to scare the out of the orchard and give the young trees a chance to grow.

Green Bean said...

@jerri - Well, it sounds like the evening walks work. Maybe a barrier around the trees? I have some chicken wire cages around some trees that my chickens have access to. Chickens aren't anything like hares, of course, but they sure can be destructive.


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