A Deer in the Garden

I have a deer problem. It’s not a bad one and for now it’s small, but it’s a problem nonetheless. I suspected deer were exploring my gardens late last year when I detected some tree damage (see my blog, “Not Sheep, Sherlock“). A few months ago I startled a solitary deer grazing on my grass when I opened the back door; he leapt over the fence and disappeared quickly through the neighbor’s trees. There have been a few tattletale piles of droppings in far-off sections of the property in the past, but no signs of imminent garden threat. Until now.

Yesterday there were tracks. In my garden. Smack dab in the middle of it.

The proof

The damage was limited to a single corn stalk, and a few of the peas. Many more tasty plants were left untouched. At least for now.

The corn victim

Many of my gardener friends have serious deer issues. They are unable to garden with any freedom because all plants they wish to keep for more than a few days must be fully enclosed by fencing or plastic covers. The deer walk openly through the neighborhoods blatantly destroying the vegetation in their path. There is little that can be done about it.

I garden by the “big neighborhood” theory. Our deer aren’t corralled into an urban valley like in many of those neighborhoods. Our deer have miles of open space around my beds and the theory holds that there will be another meal some place else that is easier to acquire. We have dogs and fences and lights and a deer has to be hesitant when venturing near.

The theory also holds that an early morning grazing by a solitary animal is a random occurrence and one that is unlikely to repeat itself often. I’m putting the future of my gardens at risk by relying on such a theory.

Valid or not, I think there is natural support for it. I understand that deer and the many other wild animals in our environment must feed regularly. I also understand that most of them have a fear or mistrust of humans. So they feed in the dark and in areas devoid of human interference. Most of the time it’s deep in the trees and away from houses.

But this year was drier than usual. We had very little measurable precipitation in April, May, and June. The normally green fields and forests were reduced to brown landscapes. Deer were forced to journey from their safe havens into the realm of people in search of food. This is a normal trend during drought years. My gardens offered little to entice them then because they were very small oases surrounded by vast expanses of dryness as I struggled with the same weather issues.

This month has been wet. We have enjoyed above normal rainfall levels as almost every day drops some monsoonal moisture. It’s green everywhere. The meandering foraging rewards the deer with every step. They don’t have to search for food, they just have to bend down and open their mouths.

That’s why I’m not too worried about my “big neighborhood” theory and the prints of a single animal. I choose to believe that he was walking through our backyard and was just eating what was in front of him. Some grass, a few wildflowers, a corn stalk, a couple of pea shoots, some more wildflowers, more grass, and the cycle continued as he walked to another neighbor’s yard. I’m hoping there was nothing special about what he tasted in my garden. There is a lot of fresh, young grass out there.

However, it may be time to have some concern. That solitary deer may be lying in the shade of a tall pine tree thinking: Now where was that tasty morsel I enjoyed yesterday; I must find it again. And if a single animal finds a topnotch restaurant you know his friends will want to try it too.

So preparation of potential safeguards is nigh. My new garden beds are in the open. They should be fenced before my plants become the culinary delight of the nearby herds. I’m a big believer in decoy plants. If I continue to see signs of deer, next year I’ll plant some succulent annuals far away from my treasured vegetables and fruits. If they insist on attending my banquet, let them eat the cheap stuff.

I’m not at the point of trying any deer deterrents, because few of them work effectively and because I don’t think it’s necessary yet. Part of me thinks that deer are pretty smart and they’ve learned to identify the so-called deterrents. Somewhere there’s a deer thinking: So what are they trying to hide with that wolf urine? I should check it out.

My guard is up. I’ll keep looking for more signs of deer as I plan to build that fence. I’ll do some more research on deer-preferred plants as I plan next year’s garden. I’m not losing any sleep over potential losses of this year’s crops. It hasn’t happened and I don’t expect it. This is a big neighborhood after all.

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