9 Natural Ways We Protect Our Garden From Deer, Rabbits, and Insects
Here in the seemingly semi-tropical lands of West Virginia, plants and animals thrive in the heat and humidity, including our garden crops and livestock. For every crop, though, there is a wild animal or insect that that thinks it is just as absolutely delicious as we do.
Our main dinner guests include deer, rabbits, cabbage worms, flea beetles, potato beetles, aphids, and occasionally even our own dogs. Now, I don't like to call these creatures "pests" as they have as much right to eat and reproduce and exist on this earth as we do. Remember that before this land was a wild place long before it was a garden. But, the reality of gardening and farming is that you can only afford give so much to the critters. Here are some of the methods that we use as deterrents, without spending too much money, spreading poisonous chemicals on our land, or using guns or traps.
Monofilament Fishing Line
This is a very widespread method for keeping deer out on the internet, but there's a reason for that- it works great! We recently had a full blown deer invasion. In a matter of a couple of nights, our beans were massacred, the sunflowers didn't look like they were going to make it, the beet greens were gnashed down to the ground, the asparagus was mowed, and even the tomatoes got hit pretty hard. I usually don't mind if the deer have a nibble or two but this was like a drunk person had run all through the garden with a weed wacker with their eyes shut! Our first thought was to simply use our presence as humans to scare them off. So we figured out that they were mostly getting into the gardens just as the sun was rising in the morning. We went our in the wee hours of the morning and sure enough, there they were chewing away. We yelled and waved and threw small rocks, but they merely stood and stared at us with no more fear than if we were chattering squirrels. It was time to take action. We knew that what we really needed was a fence, but deer proof fencing is expensive and time consuming to install, especially around a garden as large as our and we simply couldn't afford it. But what we could afford was a couple of spools of monofilament fishing line and an armful of t-posts that we had laying around. We simply pounded a stake about ever 20 ft, maybe even more, around the garden and then ran the line around it at three different levels. The idea here is that the deer can't see the thin line, especially at night, so they just run into it. When they do, they can feel it but can't see it so it scares the bajesus out of them and they head for the hills never to return- that's the idea at least. In the gardens that we surrounded in our filament fence, we have not had any breeches yet! Although this three or four day feast had set our garden back by weeks, it is now safe to recover undisturbed.
Although this method works great to keep the ungulates out, it does have some downfalls. First of all, you cant make a gate in fishing line so you either have to leave a small section unprotected or simply crawl through it every time you want to get into the garden. It's a hassle at first but we quickly got used to it. The other issue is that small animals, like rabbits and dogs, tend to just go under the bottom line with no issue at all. Which brings me to my third point, which is that sometimes you will have to repair it because the line will get broken at some point. The reason that this is related to the previous issue is that the only creature that has broken the line yet has been an old, mostly blind dog, that really didn't care and just kept walking, more interested in digging up a tomato plant to lay in the cool soil beneath.
This is a great method because it works for rabbits, deer, and insects! Most creatures do not like the smell or taste of raw eggs. You can either creature a barrier or broken eggs around the garden or you can spray them directly on the plants. The first method takes a lot of eggs and is quite messy, but doesn't require a backpack sprayer. To spray them directly on the plants, simply crack two or three eggs into a 4 gallon backpack sprayer and fill with water, mixing the eggs in as it fills (If you have a decent size garden, I would really recommend getting one of these). You will need to spray it on the plants after each rainfall. After the egg water dries on the leaves in the sun, you will notice that it does smell quite eggy around your plants, so this may not be the best method if that bugs you.
I will share the one instance in which the barrier method worked. We had a couple of our hens and ducks die this year and were feeling like we weren't getting as many eggs as we would like. But we did have one hen that had been broody before so we decided to let her sit on some eggs and see if they would hatch. We had this little igloo that we let her nest in and she took to it, well, like a hen sitting on eggs. She did such a good job that all of the chickens (and some of the ducks) started laying all of there eggs in there. Soon, there were so many eggs, that another hen started to get broody and sat there right next to her. We let them sit for the alloted time (more like they wouldnt let us get anywhere close to those eggs, not even to candle them), but none of them hatched. So we decided it was time to try and borrow an incubator and try again. We cleaned out all of the straw and eggs in the igloo into a wheel barrow and it was putrid!! Not only did the eggs not hatch, but they were so rotten that they were exploding. I dumped the wheel barrow of putrescence around an area of beans that was getting eaten by rabbits and spread it out, trying not to wretch the whole time. It worked great! Turns out the rabbits thought it was as gag worthy as I did and completely left the beans alone! At least one of the dogs, on the other hand, did not agree and rolled it. So we got ourselves a very, very stinky dog, but at least my beans were saved from decimation.
Doctor Bronner's Peppermint Soap
On the bottle, it says that Dr. Bronners has 18 different uses, but I think that I'd argue there are even more! I swear by Dr. Bronners (especially the peppermint) for everything from dishes, to laundry, to keeping mice out of the house. It's also a great organic way to keep critters from tasting the plants. To keep away deer, rabbits, AND insects, simply mix in a couple tablespoons of Doctor Bronner's peppermint soap with 4 gallons of water in your backpack sprayer and spray the affected plants. You can add eggs, too, for an extra potent mix. The only downside to this method is that you have to spray again every time it rains.
I know, I know, nobody likes to pick off cabbage worms by hand and those beetles are just so darn hard to catch, but hand picking insects of plants is a tried and true tradition that is effective on a small scale. We do this on our brassicas, which are like an all you can eat buffet for cabbage worms. We pick off the eggs and the caterpillers and put them all in a dish and they then get fed to the chickens. After we've gone through every plant, they we spray them with soap to deter future inhabitation.
Cabbage Moth Decoys
Okay, so I haven't actually tried this yet, but I saw it the other day and am hellbent to do so! I guess cabbage moths are very territorial so if they see another moth on a plant, they will leave it alone. The Good Seed Company published an article discussing how this can work to our advantage. Basically, you print out these little paper cabbage moths, cut them out, and tie them to a stake near your plants by a string and it keeps the real moths away. I think I am going to laminate mine so that they dont get ruined in the rain. Even if this doesn't work, who doesn't like a good craft?
Plant More Than We Need
We anticipate that some of our crops will get eaten and simply plant more than we need to make sure we still get enough. It may seem like a waste of space, resources, and energy to some, but for us, it is a better option than using methods that expose us and our food to poisonous chemicals. This method works especially well for plantng inexpensive seeds. For example, we can buy a big bag of black oil suflower seeds pretty cheaply. So, we plant them very thick and the deer eat a lot of them when they are small. Once they reach a certain size, though, the deer leave them alone and they have been thinned enough that they can thrive without competing with one another.
Pee Around Your Garden
Oh my! How shocking! Okay, maybe don't do this if you have an urban homestead, but if you live out in the country, this is another tried and true method. Animals are scared of humans and their scent becaues we shoot them, trap them, run them over with our cars, and poison them so there's nothing like a little wee to send them running. Simply take your early morning leak around the outside of your garden and rotate where you go. This may not be the most effective method, but you'll save some water and have a meditative break from the world with a better view than your bathroom wall.
We planted our first experimental patches of buckwheat as a cover crop this summer and they are doing great things! Buckwheat restores soil fertility, smothers all other weeds, and is healthy and delicious. It also attracts many beneficial insects to the garden, such as parasitic wasps, ladybugs, tachinid and hover flies, and lacewings! These beneficial insects prevent other insects from damaging our crops. We've really noticed a huge increase in parasitic wasps attacking our cabbage worms! Plus, at $4 per pound of organic buckwheat seed, it is very inexpensive, too!
Plant a Three Sisters Style Garden
A three sisters garden is a traditional gardening method used by many different Native American groups in which multiple crops are planted together in the same field, generally corn, pole beans, and squash. The corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, while the beans provide nitrogen for the corn, and the squash protects it all from animals and weeds. We planted our first three sisters garden this year and saw much different results from our other gardens. Even though my big patch of beans was not more than 15 ft away from the three sisters garden, the beans without the squash protecting them got decimated by deer and rabbits. The beans in the three sisters garden on the other hand, barely had a nibble! Plus, I've barely had to weed in there at all! The only downside is that the squash does not protect the beans from the bugs and it is hard to get in there to spray if needed.
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