Gruesome Garden Mystery: The Deer Fence Let a Dead One In

So yesterday I put up the deer fence around the garden. I didn’t get around to pegging the bottom of the netting to the soil, but did bravely transplant my broccoli.

This morning when I went to check on my baby brassicas, I was very surprised to see the leg and hoof of a deer lying next to my tender greens!

Deer leg and broccoli
The leg of a deer in my garden, next to the broccoli.

There was no sign of damage, and no clear tracks that would help me identify who brought in this offering. It obviously wasn’t a vegetarian, as there had been no nibbling on the luscious leaves. And it couldn’t have been a very large animal.

What an ironic reminder that despite my efforts, I’m not totally in charge here, and the deer will get into my garden one way or another, dead or alive!

Update: I found a tear in the netting on the other side of the rhubarb that could have been from the stress of a raccoon, perhaps, pushing its bulk under the netting by the broccoli. There has also been a fox around, who may have wanted to bury the leg, and was attracted by the freshly-dug earth.  I should think that a raccoon would have done more damage.

The potatoes are planted

garden partly planted
4 rows of potatoes in the foreground half of the garden

The Victoria Day weekend is coming up, traditionally the time you can expect it to be safe to get your garden planted – though I wouldn’t put out the tomatoes just yet.  But the potatoes are now happily buried in the new part of my growing vegetable garden.

This area of so-called lawn (“so-called” because there was no grass growing there, only weeds and wild strawberries) was forest a decade ago. The previous owner cleared it and apparently got gypped on the topsoil – there isn’t any, really. A lot of rocks, though. Last year I covered another section with seaweed, manure, about 10 layers of newspaper and 2 layers of black plastic, held down with big rocks dug up in the older part of the garden. This year I removed the plastic and rototilled it with my grandfather’s old tiller, picking out rocks as I went. Lots of rocks. They made the tiller kick like a wild horse. I’m still recovering.

I don’t expect a lot from this new section of the garden this year. I’ve put in potatoes and will add bush beans between the rows when it warms up, as they are good companion plants for potatoes.  All the digging and redigging, and the opportunities to remove more stones, will get the soil in better shape for future years.

Here is the tool I desire: the Lee Valley rock rake. (I wish they had an affiliate program so I could make enough money from that link to buy one!)

Will the deer fence hold?

Thin, almost invisible netting separates my garden from this deer.
Thin netting separates my garden from this deer.

I’m determined to develop a garden on this corner of our property. Grass won’t even grow there, just weeds and wild strawberries. Over the 5 years that we’ve lived here, I’ve cleared a 15’x15′ patch and tried growing things like beans, potatoes and broccoli. But deer, and maybe rabbits, have munched whatever managed to grow – even potato plants, which surprised me as potato leaves are rather toxic.

This year, however, the recession and the spike in oil prices last year have got many of us thinking more about growing our own food. So I’m getting more serious with the garden. It’s time to learn to grow food!

The soil is terribly poor. Over the years, I’ve added a bit of seaweed and compost, but finally this year I paid for a load of manure. That was the first firm step of commitment.

The second step: a fence. But I needed to do it cheaply, using mostly materials at hand.

The only thing I actually had to buy was 100 ft of 7′ high “deer fence” – black plastic netting – from Lee Valley for about $27 plus shipping. For the support posts, I had some 8-foot lengths of old aluminum tubing from a shed structure which had collapsed in a winter storm some years ago, and some leftover copper pipe which happened to fit just inside the aluminum tubes.

To erect the support posts, I pounded 4′ lengths of the copper tubing halfway into the ground with a sledge hammer, then used a plumber’s pipe-cutting tool to cut off the top bit that had got mashed by the force of the sledge. The aluminum tubing slid over the copper and another foot or so into the ground. Hopefully it will be strong enough at the level of the ground to withstand bending forces. In fact, I haven’t had to run guy lines or construct inside props to support my fence posts.

Then I attached the deer netting to the posts, which have boltholes at the top and halfway down, with plastic ties. I cut pegs from twigs and hammered them through the netting into the ground to keep the rabbits out, although there are a few gaps which concern me where the netting doesn’t reach the ground.

The black netting is practically invisible from a distance, so I’ve run plastic flagging tape around the perimeter halfway up for the deer to see. Deer can jump up to seven feet high, so I need to finish the job by running more tape all the way around the top. Another thing to buy.

So far so good. But with the weather we’ve had, the garden is growing slowly, so the temptation may not yet be very great. The wild strawberries are much more interesting to grazers (me included). Stay tuned.  [Update on the deer fence, July 3, 2010]

Novice gardener with deep roots

My Danish grandfather at 83, cheerfully digging up a nice lawn to grow vegetables.
My Danish grandfather at 83, cheerfully digging up a nice lawn to grow vegetables.

I consider myself a novice gardener with a strong inclination – even compulsion – to dig and plant. It’s got to be genetic.

Both my grandfathers grew things for a living.  They were European immigrants to Canada in the 1920s, and, well, that’s what you did in those days.  One died too soon from the effects of farm chemicals.  The other carried his passion long into retirement, and tore up a Dartmouth backyard into a huge vegetable garden which my father inherited and dutifully maintained.

My dad checking out the new pile of manure
My dad checking out the new pile of manure

I now have my grandfather’s rototiller and hand tools, and his elderly son still takes a keen interest, although he’s too feeble now to dig.

My mother and her (second) husband grow a showpiece garden in Mahone Bay. It’s her passion. Her other passion is flower arranging and decorating, an obvious match for gardening. Oh – and photography. I can’t wait until she gets her blog going!

Two coneflowers: Rudbeckia and Echinaecea. Photo J. Maginley
Two coneflowers: Rudbeckia and Echinaecea. Photo J. Maginley

I’ve lived in many places and worked in other people’s gardens, and am glad to finally have my own.

Rising fuel prices suggest that learning to grow your own food and building up the fertility of your own soil are good things to do.  I feel I have a lot of learning to do as I build the soil.  I cannot claim the competence that my grandparents have, and as long as I build websites for a living, my learning is limited by my time.

Flowers and photo by my mother, June Maginley

However, gardening is the perfect antidote to sitting in front of a computer. So I will surely continue to grow as a gardener. My parents are still around to give advice, if I will take it, and my grandparents are smiling down on me. Stay tuned.

Beautiful morning

The sweet smell of spring
The sweet smell of spring

I wish I could post the perfumed air that caressed my nostrils when I opened the door this morning so that you could smell it too. These guys on the right may have contributed to it, but the main source is probably all the dandelions that suddenly opened up this morning.

This is my favourite week of the year, when the trees leaf out and the world is transformed.

Where we live, on a tidal inlet on Mahone Bay, it all happens a little later than just up the road, half a mile inland.

The picture below expresses, to me anyway, some of the softness of this morning.

Soft lighting at high tide
Soft lighting at high tide