Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Our animal friends: Deer

deer poopThe deer and I have begun another round of that age-old dance between gardener and nature. The dance where they eat everything in sight and then poop on the lawn.

I used to think we could all live in harmony. That there was plenty for me and the critters. I live in the city, after all — it's not like we have real wildlife around. Sure, you heard occasional stories of a deer coming down the hill from Tilden, but how often did that really happen? I'd grow a little extra, and we could all share! When I planted, I hummed the old rhyme:

One for the bird, one for the mouse,
one for the field, and one for the house.

Now, I come out in the mornings and the garden is filled with little hoof prints. Seedlings are nipped down to the soil, and larger plants have been raggedly bitten apart halfway up the stem. Not-quite-ripe tomatoes are knocked off the vines and smashed on the ground. Each time this happens, I get a little closer to becoming Bill Murray battling the gopher in Caddyshack.

(Think I'm making too big a deal out of it? Even Michael Pollan couldn't just live and let live when it came to his own garden. In his book Second Nature, Pollan describes a campaign against a woodchuck that ended with Pollan pumping a gallon of gasoline into the woodchuck's burrow and striking a match.)

I'm still hoping I can find a less extreme solution, so I've been asking around. It turns out the way to keep deer out of your garden is with eight foot high perimeter fences. This is fine when the garden is a patch in the middle of your acreage, but my veggie garden is a long, narrow strip, eight feet deep and forty feet wide, bordered on its long sides by the sidewalk and the house. An eight foot tall fence presents a number of practical, aesthetic, and city permitting department challenges, so I'm exploring other options.

According to a nice lady at Berkeley Hort, deer don't like strongly scented plants. She suggested a tall hedge of rosemary might discourage them. Now, there's rosemary growing all around the garden already, but perhaps they're avoiding it by just walking down the sidewalk.

So now I'm breaking branches off the woody herbs in my herb garden, and sticking them in the ground among the sprouts. Branches of rosemary, pineapple sage, marjoram, and mint stand sentry above the tender little fava bean sprouts, the newly sprouted sugar peas, and the succulent baby lettuces. In theory, any deer leaning down for a snack will instead get poked in the nose with a pointy, smelly branch and decide to lunch elsewhere.

Other suggestions welcome — leave 'em in the comments field or email claire (at) hivequeen (dot) com.

rosemary and lettuce

pineapple sage, marjoram, fava sprouts