Monday, 15 February 2010

Chronicles of a new garden: the beginning

by Francesca

This year I have to start a brand new garden. I had a hard time wrapping my head around this fact, but it's necessary: last year all but a few of our crops were devoured or stomped on by deer, which were introduced in the area some years back, and have reproduced at an astonishing rate (I posted about this here, and here). Previously, the only four-legged threat to gardens, orchards and vineyards in this area was wild boars, so we'd surrounded our vegetable garden with a 1-meter-high fence: wild boars don't jump. Deer, however, jump magnificently – a lot higher than 1 meter. After much consideration, we decided that building a new 3-or-more-meter anti-deer barrier on our rented land didn't make much sense. So the only solution is to relocate the garden, and start all over again.

The plot I've chosen is a thin strip of terraced land directly behind our house. It's naturally protected on three sides by steep drywall terrace walls and thick vegetation, and will only require fencing on one small side. Hopefully it will be close enough to the house to keep the deer at bay.

The primary requirements for a garden are water, good sun exposure and adequate size (soil quality and drainage can be improved with some work).

I mention water first because using drinking water to water fields and vegetable gardens (lawns are virtually unknown hereabouts) is frowned upon. Fortunately, it isn't necessary: there's an old irrigation system that supplies spring and rainwater to much of the hillside, and I'll be able to water our future garden by running a hose from the nearest spout.


Sun exposure, however, is more problematic. An ideal garden should be oriented east-west and have a southern exposure. Our terrace is oriented east-west, but it's just north of the house, and lies in its shade for the better part of the winter. Not ideal. The good news is that I'm a wimp when it comes to gardening in cold and windy winter weather, anyway, so I won't lose much gardening time. But, I wonder whether my beloved perennial herbs will survive the winter in the cold shade. We'll just have to wait and see.

Adequate size is the real problem. The terrace is, in fact, just a fraction of what we've had until now. Well, less for the deer to eat, I tell myself, should they find some clever way of breaking and entering. But I am hoping that, despite the radically reduced dimensions of our garden, I'll be able to bring more vegetables to our table this summer than I did the previous one.

I'm starting the work on this new garden now. Although it's a little too early in the year to work the soil, there are a lot of preliminary chores to take care of, so that when the time comes to start hoeing, everything else will be ready.

I'll be chronicling the progress of setting up and tending a new garden in this space.


Tree Huggin Momma said...

Its never to early as planning is a big part of gardening.

risa said...

Deer have always been a factor around here, and we knew of a small tame herd about two miles south of us, but for over fifteen years they never came our way. Then three years ago, they simply exploded onto us.

We've built fences around the entire garden and orchard/poultry run, or about half an acre, seven feet in height and topped with wind-sensitive flagging, the standard practice here.

It does seem to work. The deer are slaughtering the ornamentals along the driveway, but have never hopped the fence. Not that it would be much of an obstacle, but there must be a laziness factor -- so far.

thesimplepoppy said...

I'll be looking forward to following your new garden, I'm planting a tiny garden too, full of challenges! Luckily we don't have any deer to contend with, though.

Sadge said...

I'm going to be re-working my garden layout this Spring too. I need to make the planting beds easier to net off from the quail. Plus, the fence needs to be redone, with L-shaped piece buried all around to deter digging ground squirrels and bunnies.

I've seen lots of deer tracks just above us in the canyon - they usually don't come down this close. So far, none have jumped our outermost fence. Maybe having the dog patrol the fenceline helps, and the guineas making such a racket when anything strange comes near.

Amber said...

Good luck! I am fortunate not to have deer in my neighbourhood, but I know many people who do, and they are quite a menace. I hope that your new location is more successful and less deer-ridden.

Eric said...

A dog, even borrowed from a neighbor for a few days can do wonders in deer prevention.

Or,I plant a garden for the deer outside my deer fence. They are pretty lazy, and they don't jump the fence if they have some food ready outside.

A third option, camping in your garden. Don't laugh, it can be a lot of fun.

Geomom said...

Using metal T-posts and deer netting can be a good option. Deer netting is a fine black mesh that's virtually invisible from a short distance away. It's done a good job of keeping the deer at bay around here.
It's not terribly expensive, and the posts and netting are portable if you leave. Do a search for the netting online to see what I mean.

Kathleen said...

Wonderful! I look forward to learning from your process! (And have been really enjoying your blog, after discovering it through this co-op, for about a month now.)

A colleague recommended propping up old mirrors (the longer the better, apparently those from abandoned old wardrobes are the best!) on shady garden perimeters, angled to reflect sunlight onto the plot. It revolutionised a friend's shady backyard.

I wonder if that would work for you - and perhaps even frighten away marauding animals?!

hydroponics said...

Well, plants were really something that you are expecting on your garden because they give a good purpose.I must say gardens were really a nice topic to discuss.

Hill Country Hippie said...

OOH, I'm so excited! I liked your blog already, but now it seems we are setting out on the same path (putting in new terraced beds on the side of a hill, near the house, not enough sun, too many deer), at the same time, and chronicling the endeavor here on our blogs. Two small differences: You're in Italy and I'm in Texas; you're an experienced food grower, and I'm NOT! I am sooo looking forward to following along in your footsteps.

denise said...

F - I know what you mean! I garden in a narrow strip between two houses, no full sun, shaded by one or the other house at any time, poor soil, close to the road and in Wisconsin we get a short growing season...yes, I get an amazing amount of food out of our small urban garden though. We eat, dehydrate, can, freeze, you name it! I'm in planning mode right now too, as well as starting seeds. We just try to expand every year and try something new every year. Push the limits! Can't wait to see how yours turns out.

Shawna said...

oh, i look forward to following your story! i, too, am starting a brand new garden this year and haven't decided exactly what i'll do with the grass. i have the same sun issues as you so i've been watching the light as best i can and have picked out about 6 places to put various plants and one main spot for the garden. it's been a verrrry mild winter so i feel like jumping right in, but i know the sun won't be out for a few more months and there's no point just yet. good luck with yours!

nicola@which name? said...

francesca, we will be expanding our garden into less ideal spaces we have avoided previously. glad to know i will have company!

swedishcowboy said...

A dog is what you need. Preferably two. Our dogs have kept the deer away for years while my neighbors' gardens have been decimated.

Venison tastes pretty good also.