Friday, 8 June 2012


The ravening hoards are at the gate!
by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
They say the most beautiful garden, the most wonderous landscape, is to be seen in the dead of winter. That's the one you see in your mind's eye, sitting inside by the fire looking over the seed catalogs and other dream books.

But now, here it is, late spring flowing into early summer. Most of the seeds and plants are finally in the dirt; the fruit trees all have leaves and what fruit the capricious whims of weather have allowed to set are starting to swell. Let the battle begin!

Since I'm an organic gardener, most weapons of mass destruction aren't available to me. No scorched earth policies allowed in my yard. Although, I must admit, I'm not above introducing a species-specific disease. Nosema locustae was my last resort against a veritable plague of grasshoppers - used once and forever after their numbers have been reduced to tolerable levels.

Insects, for the most part, I can deal with. Thorough clean-up and composting in the fall can reduce many villians, and my chickens do a pretty good job eliminating others, "on the wing" so to speak. Strong blasts of water are an effective weapon against others, and vigilant patrolling of the grounds allows the removal of many others before their numbers can swell to devastating levels. I also employ decoys and guardians - interspersing herbs and other companion plants within susceptible populations. One last weapon is my mindset. I don't have to have market-perfect specimens in my kitchen. I don't mind a bit of trimming or judicious scrubbing in the preparation of my produce. It just means more goodies for the chickens.

I'm at war with the bigger fauna. And if I'm to taste any of the fruit of my labors, I must resort to fortifying my defenses and trickery (magic, if you will).

Last summer, deer discovered my garden. We wired rebar to the fence posts and added five more feet to the height of the fence. So far, no more deer in the garden. They've moved on to the orchard. The leaves have been stripped from the lower limbs of my fruit trees, but as long as they leave the mid-level limbs for me we're ok.

The robins and bluejays get the fruit on the upper limbs. They can clean-pick the top third of my cherry tree in a day - usually half a week before the cherries are suitable to my taste. Flapping shiny tape tied to the outer branches, and a few mirrors and junk CD's hung within can usually buy me enough time to get some of that mid-level harvest.

Since I prune my grapevine annually and it's supported by the sturdy fence of the dog run, it's of a manageable size to net. I have to wait until the vines have grown out quite a bit though, so they'll hold the netting away from the grape clusters within. I might have to wait a bit longer to get the netting up this year, however. Last week, the vines on the lower branches were stripped back to only stems and fruit clusters. It appears Bambi likes grape leaves too. I laid a mat of hog wire underneath the vine, and it seems to be working. The deer are too afraid of a hoof being snared, and the vines are now putting out plenty of new leaves.

Out in the vegetable garden, it's the sparrows and quail. I wouldn't mind sharing. But they just don't understand the concept. With *them* it's all or nothing. So I do my best to make sure it's nothing. Meh - sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. They've learned that little germinating leaves mean a tasty sprouted seed below - pulling up my corn and peas as soon as they break ground. So I plant those crops in trenches, arching chicken wire over the top. Filling in the trenches as the plants grow gives me the bonus of cooler roots for the peas, thus extending my harvest season, and a better grip by the feeder roots of the corn, so it's better able to withstand our afternoon winds. By the time the plants are big enough to be growing through the wire, they're usually strong and tall enough to survive.

Other seeded crops get wire boxes over them until they're big enough, and some I just plant thicker so the bird depredation provides the necessary thinning. I've saved up some little plastic berry boxes to put over the cucumber seedlings; and use the bigger plastic trays from the now rapidly emptying cellar over the winter squash and zucchini. Once a plant has 3 - 4 leaves, it's ok to uncover it. It was snowing here the last week of May, so the frost-tender plants stay stay warm and protected within their Wall-o-Waters until July. By then, they usually have enough leaves to hide the fruit so damage to those crops is minimal.

Another problem, later in the summer, is one no one else seems to have. When the corn sends up the top tassels - the pollen-bearing ones that fertilize the silks of the ears down below - the sparrows attack! They try to eat those tops, and in doing so their weight is enough to break them. Broken tops don't provide enough pollen, my ears of corn have no kernels. I've found hanging mirrors from a couple of shepherds hooks, so they can swing and turn in the wind, helps chase away those little vermin. After seeing robins hopping about in the strawberry bed, I need to gather up some small rocks and red paint. I'm hoping pecking at rocks now will deter them once the real thing shows up. Can't hurt, anyway.

I'm worried about the beans though. Last summer, they were up and doing well, and then just before they started to flower, I came out and found a forest of bare stalks. The birds had stripped every leaf! I'm thinking I'll have to make a bigger box or rig some kind of arching cover for them - something bird-proof yet also that won't turn into a sail in the wind. Stay tuned.