A neighbor stopped by last week to ask if I knew a herd of deer
crossed the road coming out of my garden every morning about 2 AM when he was getting home
from work. I said yes, they had been trampling my garden. After a bit of thought I asked
how recently he had seen them. Just last night, half a dozen of them.
That was news
because there haven't been any fresh tracks in the garden since I put up the electric
I need to go back a bit. First, I believe that wild animals can be trained but my
experimentation has been limited. I can never be sure that what I do has made the
difference or if the animal changed its pattern for some other reason. Deer have annual
patterns, it seems. It took them years to find my asparagus patch, for example, but once
they found it late in my harvest season fortunately, they came back every year about the
same time. Every fall I can count on them to raise havoc with whatever is growing after
the first frostlettuce, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage. Last year I anticipated
their interest and put up an electric fence at deer-nose-height. No damage last fall.
In the spring they usually will wander across the garden once and, finding nothing of
interest, won't wander that way again. This spring I spread some nice fresh seaweed I
gathered at the beach. I usually turn it in right away but not this year. The deer found
it and came back. By the time I realized what was happening they had trampled the garden.
I got the fence up but after about a week the electric charger stopped working. The fence
has been off for a week yet there have been no deer tracks in the garden.
I find it interesting that they continue to come up out of the field and pass very
close by the garden on their way to the woods across the road without crossing the garden.
The seaweed presented another mystery to me. I did not spread it all at first but left
it in the garbage can I used to haul it. A raft of flies hatched out of the stuff and then
proceeded to lay more eggs in it which became maggots. It also smelled pretty interesting,
not at all like an ocean breeze which seaweed on the garden usually calls to mind for us.
Barbara thought the septic system was backing up again.
I buried a couple of handfuls of this ripe stuff next to a tomato plant that was
mulched with black plastic. A day later something had dug through the plastic clearly to
get at the buried seaweed. I could find no tracks and I couldn't think what animal would
be interested in rotted seaweedmake that "rotting seaweed." A dog would
love to get into some perfume like that, I thought. But a dog would have made a bigger
The only animal that digs for food that I could think of was the skunk which digs for
grubs. It would be handy to know what animal I was dealing with so I could set the fence
for the right nose height. There were no tracks.
The animal kept returning. It is also digging up Barbara's transplants in her flower
beds. She wondered if it could be chipmunks? I can't get the fence down that low.
Then, while investigating one of it's fresh digs I got just the faintest whiff of
skunk. I don't know why it is digging up transplants. Perhaps it went after the maggots in
the seaweed and decided that a feast like that might be found under any transplant. The
fence is back on at skunk-nose-height. I expect to be awakened some night to an
overpowering smell of skunk when it discovers the fence.
The deer and skunk are not the only animals learning new things this year. I'll not
leave seaweed lying around on top of the ground or where it can rot again. It will either
get turned in or composted shortly after bringing it home from the beach.
ŠJune 14, 1997
Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For
Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine
in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. You
can eat his organic produce at his son's southern