Editor's note: organic methods for animal control in the garden.

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by Mort Mather

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 fence.

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 frost—lettuce, 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 seaweed—make that "rotting seaweed." A dog would love to get into some perfume like that, I thought. But a dog would have made a bigger mess.

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 Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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