I never anticipated how hard it would be to garden and landscape in our yard; when we found the house, I was excited to have more property and space to cultivate, but it hadn’t occurred to me how aggressive the deer would be until they devoured hostas awaiting transplant that were sitting in pots literally inside our open garage door. There’s an overwhelming landscaping theme in the neighborhood: pachysandra and myrtle, but very little of anything else due to 1) lots of shade and 2) wildlife.
Everyone has their tried and true deer repellant method (soaps, chilis, hanging vials of scent, dog fur, human hair, boxwoods, all of it), and I’ll get around to trying some of them out over the years, but coming straight from my neighbors, tall fencing’s where it’s at, so it felt most obvious that I should just start there.
Last year’s garden worked fine – it was a trio of three square beds wrapped in a plastic deer netting, and we only grew tomatoes and attempted to protect berries, so it wasn’t a huge undertaking nor was it a lot to tempt the deer. At the end of the season, a big tree took out our gardens, which gave us a reason to rethink and rebuild. As you can see, in a very technical way, I used our ragged out gardening stakes to map out a circle in the desired area, which almost entirely consumes the area I dug up for last year’s 3 garden beds. Fallen tree looks on, everything but the trunk is cleared at this point, but Pete just bought a new chainsaw, so I think we’ll be able to clear out the rest of it pretty easily.
I made the circular garden a diameter of about 20′, using a straight edge shovel to first cut the outer edge, and then a rototiller to chomp on the grass and weeds in the entire center of the circle. Our soil is unbelievably soft and sandy, which makes rototilling straight through pretty easy and fast… in most cases though, you’ll want to remove the grass with a shovel before firing up the tiller.
I pulled the bigger chunks of weeds out of the way once they were loosened by the tiller, but I honestly didn’t give this part of the process too much time or energy. Reason being, is that once I decided I was going to make a bigger garden, I was determined to learn from previous experience and splurge on weed blocking fabric to keep the garden neat, clean, and weed-free (there are lots of products out there, but I went mid-grade, 6-foot wide quality from The Home Depot for about $30). The plants you see poking through are the berries that were saved from the fallen tree and then eaten to stubbies by the deer, now protected and given a chance to be revived in our fenced in area.
The round bed is our second attempt at garden in this yard, but we intentionally kept it pretty simple and only semi-permanent this year (used existing posts that jam into the ground, even though they’re a variety of heights), because we’re still experimenting with the size, and making sure the garden gets enough sunlight to be productive.
I had been looking for a great 8′ fence to no avail, which seems insanely high and excessive, but is what most of the neighboring homes have installed. The deer have been known to leap over “tiny” 48-inchers, but I don’t think they ever made it into ours, probably because there’s still plenty of other vegetation for them to eat this time of year. (Not to mention that any time we prune any tree there’s a 48-hour-all-deer-alert feast on our downed branches… we keep them plenty busy.)
Mid-way through the season, I began to think rabbits or other animals might be squeezing through the fencing, so I did go back around with the leftover plastic mesh from last year, zip tying it to the lower 18″ of the fence to create a second barrier to prevent entry.
I kind of think it’ll get bigger and bigger each year, once we get this down pat. In the future, I’d love to drop in some sunken posts and perhaps a real fence and gate, but for this year, my only investment was the weed block and 48″ metal fence.
I didn’t start anything from seed myself this year; 5 tomato plants were delivered by my parents, pumpkins from Pete’s parents, and I picked up 6 pickling cucumbers, 6 butternut squash, 6 acorn squash, 2 sunflowers from Rochester’s Public Market Flower Days in an attempt to try a few new things. You might be wondering if there’s actually enough space for that many plants in a 20′ circle, and no, it should probably have been a bit bigger to space them out more. I’m sure they all smothered each other a bit, which resulted in less production.
We’ve harvested and pickled all of the cucumbers, are about to harvest the sunflower seeds, have around 2 dozen butternut and acorn squash still on the vines that should last us into the winter months, assorted tomatoes (plum, cherry, currant, fourth of July, and something yellow), and a single, modest pumpkin that is just beginning to turn orange.
The gardening experience, especially with the weed block fabric, has been incredibly low-maintenance this year. We’ve had enough rain to avoid daily watering, cleared overhead branches nearby the garden to allow it a little extra sunlight, and now that we’re in full-on harvest mode, I’m going to attempt to can some tomatoes/sauces for the first year ever. (Favorite recipes for pizza sauce appreciated).