Remember how Peter Rabbit snatched food out of Mr. McGregor's garden in Beatrix Potter's classic stories, and how perhaps you rooted for that little bunny? That all changed when you planted a garden, didn't it? You may have suddenly felt for the poor man whose carrots and lettuces got lifted by those little paws. Those of us who garden have many tales to tell about not just rabbits, but birds, deer, gophers, chipmunks, squirrels or any number of other critters who snag our juiciest tomato or ripest fig, or dig up seeds before they even get a chance to germinate. Although I try to take a holistic view of gardening and recognize that I am just a tiny part of a larger ecosystem (and I'm comfortable paying a small "nature tax" to other species), I do have to admit I want at least some of what I planted to end up on my dinner table.
There is a long list of creative deterrents that farmers and gardeners have tried with varying success to save their harvests from a wide range of critters. These include human hair, fox urine, shiny compact discs dangling from stakes, traps, sprays, fake owls, and, of course, scare crows. Here are some tried-and-true ways to foil the feathered and furry (or at least to keep them laughing on the sidelines as they watch you and take notes):
1. If rabbits are eating your garden. Plant clover. This is the number one tip I've heard about keeping rabbits away from your other delectibles. They simply love clover and will choose to eat it over just about everything else. Swing by the Farmer D Organics store for your fall clover cover crops and toss some of these in all your beds to give your backyard wildlife something to nosh on instead of your fall greens and carrots. Another simple strategy is to create your garden in raised beds and surround them with chicken wire, remembering to bury the wire a foot or so underground and point it out to deter rabbits from digging under.
2. If deer think you are their personal salad bar provider. Deer are another story--they'll eat almost anything, and to add insult to injury, they'll look at you with those big eyes and bring up all the Bambi guilt. I have met more people who have simply thrown in the gardening towel who give me this simple reason why: "I have deer in my backyard." I have news for you--yes, you can have a garden even if you have deer. Bite the bullet and install a deer fence (make it eight feet tall as deer can jump anything shorter than that). This does mean having your vegetable garden all in one place rather than scattered around your property, but the effect can be very charming if you add some wood posts and a country-cottage gate. You can then plant flowers that deer (and rabbits) typically don't eat such as rudbeckia, daisies, and echinacea around the outside border to soften the appearance of the fence (and attract lots of welcome pollinators).
3. If chipmunks, squirrels, birds (and everything else under the sun) treat your garden as their one-stop shop for snacks. A simple solution to a wide range of critters is to put a row cover over your crops (but be sure to uncover once their flowers appear if they are crops that need pollination) or to cover them with mesh netting. Those sunflowers and beans just need to make it to a certain size before the critters will leave them alone. If burrowing animals are your challenge, attach chicken wire to the underside of raised beds to keep them out. If you've gone hog-wild with the deer fence, you may want to consider adding chicken wire around the base so that small critters can't crawl through, and a chicken wire top to it to eliminate aerial attacks.
Organic gardening is more than simply growing healthy food. It also means creating your own personal ecosystem where nature works with you--and, likewise, you work with nature. Barriers and deterrents can help you reduce critter theft and increase your bounty, of course, but giving nature time to work things out can help, too. For instance, an abundance of chipmunks attracts those majestic red-tailed hawks that can help keep supply-and-demand in balance. Oh, and never underestimate the value of a good hunting cat.
Stop by Farmer D Organics on Briarcliff Road or visit our website for a wide range of solutions that even Mr. McGregor would approve.