Deer In The Cottage Garden

In my last Cottage Chronicles post I told you how to get mice out of your cottage and keep them out. Tonight I have moved on to big game, whitetail deer.

There is nothing quite like waking up at the cottage early Saturday morning in the spring and looking out the window to see two whitetail deer standing on the lakeshore having a drink.

There is also nothing quite like arriving at the cottage on a Saturday morning in mid July and finding your little cottage vegetable garden destroyed as the plant tops have been eaten and the remainder trampled. A quick check of the soft garden earth tells you what happened. Those beautiful whitetail deer that you so enjoy have been back, this time for more than just a drink of water. Hoofprints and little piles of deer droppings have been left behind.

Deer are lovely animals, there is no doubt about that, but too many deer, or deer that are used to living in close proximity to humans can be a problem. Between flower and vegetable gardens destroyed, and expensive young apple trees nibbled off a cottager’s love of deer can quickly change to intolerance.

Now, let me start by saying this, the deer were there first, you moved into their woods and forests and built a cottage, they do have some claim to the place….

Now that is out of the way, let’s talk about what you can do to well, manage the beautiful animals and still have a garden.

First of all, you need to understand a little about deer. Deer thrive on the edge, and I don’t mean of extinction.

They thrive around forest “edges.” Areas around small forestry clearcuts, fields, farmland and yes, even rural homes. Contrary to some beliefs they are not way back in the forest, they are more likely to be out around the edges of clearings and fields. On top of that, they are very adaptable to circumstances and food opportunities, and once they learn of a good place to get something they like, such as carrot tops, they will likely return, again and again, until there are no more carrots…then they might move over to your ornamental garden and browse on the flowers…what can I say, they like a little variety…

Scaring deer is not hard, as they are jumpy, but their memories are short, because if you have what they want, they will come back. Noise makers like tin plates hanging together to bang in the wind only work for a little while, and of course, only when there is wind. Besides, the deer get conditioned over time and a couple of banging aluminum pie plates might just turn out to be a call for dinner for them.

Here is a motion detector that connects to your garden hose, if it doesn’t work on the deer at least your garden gets a little watering….

I know one of my neighbors who had a small hobby farm who tried everything he could to discourage them and nothing, absolutely nothing worked, unless you want to count staying up all night and scaring them out of the garden. He had dark circles under his eyes by the end of the first week of trying that, and the deer still kept coming.

Over the years all kinds of devices have been invented to try and discourage whitetail deer from gardens. Realistic human looking scarecrows, (kind of creepy to see at night if you ask me)noisemakers, radios going all night long, (they like jazz music and some talk shows…) commercial repellants, as well as hundreds of home remedies like mothballs, human hair clippings hanging in cheesecloth bags, creosote, any number of chemicals that have a strong odor, human clothes, and more.

Like everything, these work somewhat, or for a little while, however, if you time their use to when the garden plants are young and most venerable, they will probably keep the deer away, one thing about them, they are the least obtrusive. Here is one Deer Repellents, Set of 8type that might be useful.
They also can get kind of pricy if you go for the commercial repellants and have to use a lot of it. Don’t forget, rain will wash some of it away and the sun will dry some of it up, so it has to be replaced frequently. One final consideration about commercial products, you have to wonder what it might be doing to the environment, including your water supply.

Ask any biologist or forest ranger how to keep deer out of a garden and they will all invariably tell you to build a fence. But not just any fence, it has to be a deer proof fence. That means either a chain link fence that is at least 8 feet high, and mesh, or perhaps an electric fence. The material used for snow fences is a good alternative to chainlink and cheaper, but it still has to be the minimum height or they will jump over.

I am not crazy about an electric fence because of my little dog and other dogs and kids who might get a shock from it as it would have to be armed all the time, including when I am not at the cottage.

Back in the 1980’s when the deer’s population exploded around here, we built a fence around our cottage vegetable garden. We used vinyl covered chain link from a fence that we had torn down at home. It was only about 4 or 5 feet high, but it did a pretty good job keeping the deer out. They still occasionally jumped it, but not very often, probably because the garden was small and they would feel caged in once they jumped inside of the fence.

Eventually some of the posts rotted off and I decided it had to go, so I tore it down, leaving the garden at the mercy of the deer. I haven’t rebuild it yet, instead, I have taken a kinder, gentler, stance on the whole deer in the garden thing….now one of the first things I do upon arriving at the cottage, is look for deer tracks in the garden. If I have been lucky enough to have a deer visitor, I look at the tracks and try to guess how big he is, then I look around the forest bordering the property and wonder if he is standing just inside the edge, watching me.

I also plant lots of greens like swiss chard and carrots just for them, and I have been known to throw a bag or two of apples around my little non-producing apple tree just for them.

The deer population around our place isn’t what it used to be back in th
e 80’s, infact, a deer sighting has become a little bit of an “event” of late. I keep hoping that an easy winter or two will help build up the herd again, because to tell you the truth, I miss the critters…and a nowadays deer in the cottage garden is kind of nice….I can get my carrots at the grocery store….

Of course, much like the mice in the cottage, there is another solution….

…I’m just kidding…..

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