deer, garden deer, deer in the garden, forest deer, white-tailed deer, deer garden, Quebec deer

Snow White is Vexed

By Catherine Winter

I love nature. I do. I wouldn’t live in the forest if I didn’t, and I am immensely grateful for the rapport I have developed with various animal friends over the years. All I need to do is step out onto my porch and call out “babies!!” and chickadees will swoop down from the aspens to eat from my hands, and both squirrels and chipmunks will pop out of nowhere to twine around my ankles for seeds and cuddles. They know that my home is a place of safety: they find food here, and are protected from predators, as has been demonstrated when I’ve chased off feral cats and shrieked at kestrels to get away from my bird friends.

red squirrel, squirrel, Quebec squirrel, squirrel in the garden, squirrels
“Oh hai! Thanks for growing all that salad for me!”

The downside to having one’s home known as an Inn of Solace is that the little buggers also feel that my garden is their personal buffet. They devour my plants with impunity, secure in the knowledge that although I might yell a bit and chase them off, they’re not in any real danger. I mentioned the marmot that I found in my potager garden, stuffing sorrel into her face… well, little red squirrels have eaten almost all of my squash plants, deer have mowed my lettuces to the quick, and slugs have had a field day on my beans.

Related Post: When Goals Meet Opposition 

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An Ounce of Prevention

Since I have neither the space, nor the bank account, to cover my land in greenhouses, the best I can do is take some preventative measures to keep my plants from being totally obliterated:

  • To keep squirrels and other rodents out of my medicinal herb bed, I’ve constructed a mesh mini-fence around its perimeter. It’s only 2 feet high, but it has bird-proof mesh draped over it as well, so I’m hoping that helps to keep critters out.
  • The slugs are being battled with a 50/50 mixture of cayenne pepper and sea salt, which I have sprinkled in liberal lines around my bean bed.
  • I’ve sprayed several leafy greens with a diluted castile soap solution, which may render them less palatable to my hooved friends. We shall see.

garden fence, chicken wire, chicken wire fence, chicken wire garden fence, garden fencing

Creating a chicken wire fence or cover is often enough to keep most critters out of your garden beds, and a perimeter of cayenne pepper or chili powder can help as well. Planting calendula or alliums (like onions, leeks, garlic, or chives) around your garden will repel deer and rabbits, and if you’re feeling really innovative, you can go to your local wildlife centre and ask them for some wolf or coyote poop: scattering some of that around will make herbivores think that there are large predators around, and they’ll keep their distance.

…that last one is hypothetical. There are plenty of coyotes and foxes around here, and I still find marmots eating my lettuce. If you go this route, do let us know whether you’ve had any success.

What are your tried-and-true methods for natural animal control?

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Permaculture Principles: Observe Your Land Before You Plant Anything

By Catherine Winter

One of the first lessons in sustainable permaculture is to observe your land for at least a year before planting anything in the ground. You can plant anything you like in pots and containers as you can move those around easily, but plunking seeds, bushes, or trees into your land requires a whole lot of research and awareness first. Many of us get reallyreally excited as soon as we have a plot of land to play with—we go nuts with planning and ordering seeds and planting all kinds of stuff, and end up sabotaging our vegetable gardening attempts with our impatience.

I’m just as guilty of this as many others have been before me, and although it’s been a pain in the arse to sort out and I’ve kicked myself for my stupidity, I’ve also learned from my mistakes. Hopefully you can learn from them too.

raised beds, raised garden beds, garden beds

Royal Screw-Ups

Case in point: when I moved into this house in 2013, I was delighted to see a beautiful little flat patch of earth on the NE side. I promptly squeed myself and plopped two raised beds onto it, filling those beds with herbs, lettuces, and brassicas. Well, fast forward a month and those beds were completely shaded once the trees’ foliage filled out completely. The beds were also under constant onslaught from the fuzzy poplar catkins that fell from above, so I was weeding and cleaning the soil every day just to keep up.

This is exactly why it is of vital importance to observe your property during all four seasons before committing to any permanent structure or long-term investment like nut trees or berry bushes.

I have raspberries, blueberries, serviceberries, and blackberries in a nice acidic patch of soil in one corner of my property, and I’m happy that I really observed and took note of the changes in that area before planting anything. See, it’s on a rather steep slope of the mountainside that my home is perched upon, and winter’s meltwater takes a very specific path through that very berry patch and into the stream below. If I hadn’t taken note of the water’s course in late winter/early spring, I might have planted some bushes right in that pathway: the plants would have died and I would have gotten screamy.

cabbage, green cabbage, savoy cabbage, brassica, brassicas

As frustrating as it is to be patient, it’s even more frustrating to regret hasty actions… especially since seeds and plants can be a costly investment. I can’t tell you how many plants I’ve lost thanks to sudden May heat waves, crazy July frosts, and local wildlife discovering what a lovely buffet I’ve provided for them.

Take Photos, Make Notes

Seriously, take pictures of your property every couple of weeks throughout the year so you can see how changes take place over time, and get out there so you can experience things firsthand. Make notes about everything from little microclimates you may discover to dips and hills: you can use these to full advantage when planning your garden, such as keeping water-loving plants in the dips, and those that need better drainage in the raised areas.

rabbit, wild rabbit, rabbit in the garden, rabbit eating plants, bunny, garden bunny

Keep an eye on the animals and insects that visit your property, and determine whether they need to be attended to. These are just a few aspects that should be monitored:

  • Are there a lot of bees and other pollinators? Or will you need to entice some to your land with indigenous flowers?
  • Do squirrels, rabbits, deer, or other herbivores stop by often? Take note of which species visit so you can sort out an action plan for dealing with them humanely so they don’t eat all of your plants.
  • Does a lot of snow fall on your property? Where does the meltwater go?
  • Does your region have a history of inclement weather such as droughts or summer hailstorms?
  • Which areas get the most sun throughout the year? Which get the most shade?

Once you have a really clear idea of all of these facets, you’ll be able to make well-informed decisions about the types of plants that will work best for the space you have to work with. Remember how we talked about working with your land rather than against it? It really is in your best interest to determine what would work best, and then go that route rather than dreaming up what you’d like and then trying to force Mother Nature to comply with your wishes.

…don’t even try, because she always wins.

If you have any questions about which plants would work best for your zone and the space you have available, please don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments section: chances are someone on our team will have answers for you.

 

Photos by Local Food Initiative and Nathan Anderson via Flickr Creative Commons and UnSplash.