Saturday, March 27, 2010

How to Garden While Being Stalked by a Deer - Part 2: Defensive Stragey

Ok, so I've decided to tackle the deer issue with deterents that should not leave an impact on the environment of my gardens.

I've had many people offer up wonderful suggestions & I don't mean to offend anyone by scoffing at the idea of spreading human or dog hair around the yard, or having my husband & his friends pee outside all the time, but the idea of buying bars of soap to hang outside just seems silly & a bit of a waste.

One suggestion that keeps popping up is the use of blood meal.
Deer have excellent sniffers & apparently will stay away from places that smell of death, rot & decay. (hmm, sounds a bit like my compost tumbler...) So, I will try using blood meal this year. Just a sprinkle around my 'vulnerable' garden areas during the dry weather should do the trick, plus, it's also a very mild fertilizer that lasts for a few months.

Next in my arsenal is this spray called Plantskydd - I've not fully read the instructions or the ingredient list, but the manager at the garden center I bought it from says that it's a diluted form of blood meal. Just a couple sprays on the bush or tree & it should keep the deer away. My concern was spraying it on or around my edibles - she told me to just rinse off the berries well. We shall see about this one too because it was bloody expensive!! (no pun intended). For this 1 litre bottle, it cost me $35.00!! That's much more investment than I had anticipated...

This here is called Meat Meal - I'm still laughing at it. No ingredients listed on the container either!! But it's for use in the garden...

So, I just checked it out on Wikipedia & learned a few things... Blood meal has a high concentration of nitrogen, while bone meal has a high concentration of phosphorus. I'm going to assume that meat meal is more like blood meal than bone meal. (if your plants have yellow leaves, giving them a small amount of blood meal will bring the green back to the leaves)

I'm sure it will repell the deer, but since I opened up the container to see what it looked like, I'm wondering if the smell will attract bears & raccoons??!!

So, the theme seems to be deterring the deer by using scent. I had thought that I would purchase some cat or tiger urine, as I was told by some local gardeners that this would keep the deer away for sure if she thought that a cougar was in the neighbourhood, but I didn't actually see any in the garden centers. I did see some wolf (or coyote) urine but didn't investigate that further as I think it was in pellet form & I knew that would wash away or be buried or picked up possibly by a wandering dog. Just what I don't want - random dogs pooping on my yard... I don't care if that keeps deer away - it's just nasty!!

I also have some netting that I will use when I put in my peas. I used to have bird netting to keep the brids off the currant bushes, but after watching several robins become entangled in the netting, I decided that I wouldn't use it over top the bushes any more. I didn't mind sharing the currants with the robins - the bushes produced much more than I was able to deal with anyway! I actually use the birds as an indication of when the berries are ripe - the robins like the red currants & the pigeons like the red elderberries. We share them just fine. But my idea for the netting now is to wrap it around some poles to deter the deer from eating the berry bushes or getting in on my peas. It's a green colour, so it won't be too visible to both the deer & me, so I'm sure I won't be offended by my own protection measures. I like looking at my plants!

Now to just wait for a dry day to try some of this out!

ps - just received some photos from my neighbour up the hill of the nasty little deer. I wish he would be a collar & leash on them as they are more like his pets than pests...
There are 2 instead of just one & I've heard rumours that there actually might be one more... 
What a nightmare!!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Potting Shed Essentials - Part 2

Ok - remember the 'little' list of essential items needed for your garden shed? I had lamented the fact that I always go through multiple pairs of gloves each year, my pruners (by Fiskars) in general, did not meet the standards I require & that I had just broken my pitch fork & rake...
Well, I've rectified the situation & this year, you will see me with a pair (or 2) of PINK pruners sticking out of my back pocket. I cannot believe I bought pink tools!! They will not be 'lost' in the garden like other tools have been & they will not be 'borrowed' by some neighbour-friend in a desperate moment of need. I'm not sure what it is about the colour pink this year, but I now own more pink shirts than any other colour & am actually contemplating buying a proper garden hat - whose colours are either beige, purple or pink... 
At least the gloves I received as a Christmas present are red & black!! Wonderful! I've actually not tried them out yet this spring - have used some cheap pairs of gloves that came with a jar of mayonnaise we bought last year. There are a lot of those gloves floating around town & I can't remember why they were included with the mayonnaise...

After much searching this weekend at every store imaginable, I finally found a pitch fork with a shaft made out of fiber glass - not wood. Wood has a bad habit of rotting & breaking out here - especially if the pitch fork is left in the compost pile over the entire winter... (oops, my bad...). The rake also has a metal shaft & hopefully I'll remember that this is NOT a heavy duty tool to use when burning huge piles of brush & brambles...

Now, the only other thing on my 'Potting Shed Essential' list is an actual potting shed...!!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring has Arrived!

I don't have photos yet, but today I heard the first hummingbird in Bamfield zipping around the salmonberry bushes across the road!

Many people consider the arrival of robins to herald the beginning of spring, but for us on the coast, it's the hummingbirds...we might still get hit with some last minute 'winter' storms (such as the one blowing in right now), but it's time to dust off the feeders & get ready in a few weeks for the hummingbird wars!

(I know I have photos & a video of that from last year somewhere on the computer....)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gladiola - Part 2

It is also time to revisit yet another 'Garden Experiment' I under took this winter. What to do with gladiola during the winter? Pull up all the corms or let them be?
Well, I did both - left all of them in one flower bed (west facing) & pulled up as many as I could out of a rather shallow deck box.

This spring as I was cleaning up my flower beds, I thought I would dig around to see what was going on in the soil with those glad corms.
This is one of the corms I dug up out of that west flower bed... It's HUGE!! I carefully buried it back down again & went in search of others in the deck box (which has now been moved off the deck)

While I was surprised in the fall at the size of the corms I was pulling out, I was even more pleased to see these coming out of the shallow deck box. There is no rot on them plus there are signs of growth activity already!

The one on the left has growth on the top & this one on the right has root activity. When I moved that deck box off the deck & down beside the stairs, I dug everything out of the soil & found 10 very large & healthy looking gladiola. I repositioned them along with a whole bunch of other plants (daffodil, heather, fall crocus, Oriental lily, lupin, and a few others) from my 'Save my Lilies' project. A little bit more work is needed around this box & then we shall see what these glads will do for me this year!

Now, I had a bunch of baby corms come up with the ones I pulled up in the fall & I have the feeling it might take these ones a year or 2 to grow before they flower. So, I put them into a pot with some sterile seed starting soil & plopped it in my front window. It looks like they are starting to grow already! (the other green plant in the pot is just a spider plant baby that I thought I'd get going too - they will be fillers in my hanging baskets & treated as annuals this year).

So, the gladiola experiment continues this summer as I will see how well they flower from being left in the ground over winter or being planted later on in the spring. And maybe I'll remember to tie them back early enough so that they bloom straight & tall...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Overwintering Geraniums - Part 2

Well, it's time to revisit one of my 'Garden Experiments' that I challenged myself with this winter. My geraniums...

This is what I started with in October, possibly 18 or 20 cuttings. I had 6 or 7 'adult' plants that I had removed from the soil, pruned back & dried off/out & put into a paper bag. 
Back in December I set up my 2 little mini grow-lights on a timer & arranged my poor, pathetic cuttings underneath. I watered them well & then we left on a month-long vacation in search of sunshine. By this time, I had already lost half the cuttings.
We are now into March & I've got 7 very healthy looking cuttings sitting in my front window. I still haven't really figured out the whole watering thing & I have given them a small shot of fish fertilizer, but I think they will make it through to the replanting stage sometime in April. I'm just now contemplating whether or not to put them into larger pots for the next couple of months, or let them be...
So, those were the cuttings from October. The 'adult' plants didn't fare so well - they completely died. Shriveled, rotten, dried up sticks with wirey bits of root... I did manage to find 2 plants with a very small bit of 'green' on them, so I potted them up & it looks like only 1 is managing to sprout some leaves. This one requires some serious TLC... Funny thing though, one of my hanging baskets did not get emptied in the fall - I just managed to haul it inside in December before we left on vacation & it had 2 geranium plants in it, as well as 2 small fushia plants that I thought I'd see what they'd do.
These are the fushias - doing very well after a small prune back in January. I had planted the other hanging basket fushias outside in October into a half barrel & just in an open spot in a new flower bed because they were still flowering. I checked on them a couple weeks ago - gave them a prune & it looks like they too are sprouting green shoots!! Wow - overwintering fushias?? And these are not the wild, hardy fushia bushes that also have growing around here. I wonder if these will flower again this year??
This is the geranium that remained in the hanging basket all winter. The soil is incredibly water logged & rather cold. I've just hauled it upstairs so that it will warm up & get some proper sunlight, as  those mini-grow lights just aren't doing good things for my seedlings. As you can see, the plant looks rather rotten. The other plant in the basket looks worse, so I'll probably just dig it up & toss it.
I have 3 lovely scented geraniums that I left in their pots this winter. I tried to take some cuttings, but that ended in disaster (too much water I think) & we've (the plants & I) been battling out survival all winter. They were downstairs on top of my berry freezer, in the dark for the most part, til January. I then decided to introduce water to them with a bit of fish fertilizer & gave them another hair cut. They kept putting out really leggy shoots all winter long, not strong enough for cuttings, but just enough to let me know they were still living.
This is one of the scented geraniums that did really well - it's in a smaller pot. So, this has gotten me thinking that if I want to overwinter my 'adult' plants again, I will put them into smaller pots & just reduce the watering during the winter months.
All in all - the geranium experiment was successful in that my scented geraniums survived as well as a few cuttings off the red geraniums.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How to Garden While Being Stalked by a Deer - Part 1: My Dilema

This may sound silly to many of you, but we (the community of Bamfield & anyone who tries to grow anything outside here) have a deer problem. Apparently, there has not been a deer (or a population of deer) in the actual town site (well, at least the west side) for many, many years. I'd go so far to say even decades! And we've learned how to live with bears wandering through our gardens - they can be destructive in their own way, but will generally go for only the ripe fruit - so if it's ripe, pick it before the bear finds it!

But deer are grazers & they will treat your gardens as a buffet throughout the whole summer.

I first noticed the deer in 2008 - saw her walking down the road just opposite our new house. The word was spread quickly & at first we were all amazed & in awe of this beautiful little creature. Yes, the deer out here are tiny compared to the mosters I saw in my sister's back yard this past winter.

Then the gardening season of 2009 came around.
This picture of the deer was taken in mid July. She is standing in my berry patch - raspberries behind her, black currant on the right (our right) & blueberries on the left (our left).  After she left - very casually down & across a bridge installed to cross the deep ditch in that corner of the yard, I went down & saw that she ATE all my unripe blueberries. 

Seriously, she ate the blueberries. There were none on the ground around the bush & the bears don't eat them til they are ripe. She didn't nibble on any of the other plants around there, but she was back the next week - same spot - then went over to my lily bed & nibbled on a decorative tree...

A neighbour up the hill behind me sent out a photo that showed her walking back down the hill towards my place followed by twins. I freaked out! She had munched my peas down to nubs that spring & while the rest of my gardens weren't in such great shape, I started to imagine the damage she would cause to everything so late in the season - plus all the bad habits she was going to teach those 2 little babies!!

I don't have photographic evidence yet this year to show you, but a few weeks ago while I was cleaning up my flower beds, I noticed some of the tulip bulbs had been pulled out. I immediately blamed the birds - specficially the crows, who are such curious creatures - for pulling out the bulbs because they noticed the ground had been dug up a bit. The next day I saw them pulled up again, but this time, the tops of the leaves were missing. Deer munching!!

 I also noticed hoof prints through my raised veggie beds & my newly divided & transplanted sorrell had been munched & pulled out. Over the last few weeks, she's eaten my crocus flowers, tipped all my wandering onion tops & has even munched on my hydrangea shrubs (thus removing the flower buds which I needed to see this year to find out if I have pink or blue hydrangeas!!).

I do have to laugh at my situation though. I had decided to take a more scientific approach to growing vegetables & herbs this year - I scoured all my reference books, bought more, did internet research and created my own 'how to' gardening binder where I will keep accurate information on my procedures. I cannot control Mother Nature's choice on weather either, so I will have to learn how to use a greenhouse. But this monkey wrench she's thrown into the mix this year just doesn't seem fair. 

I don't own a dog & it seems like I would be making a bad decision to get a dog just to keep the deer from munching on my peas & flowers... But I do have plans (a few years down the road mind you) of having a rabbit or 2 & even investing in a chicken coop with some lovely birds... Those choices will require that something be done for protection. 

That means either a dog or a fence. But I don't like the idea of a fence either. To live out here - the wildness, the remoteness, the closeness to Nature... just seems that I would be fencing myself IN & removing myself from all that I want to be surrounded by. And I'm not talking about a decorative fence either - none of that split cedar rail stuff. I would have to go with a chain link fence about 8 feet tall! A great vertical growing medium for ivy or honeysuckle or wisteria or some other climbing vine - but that's one heck of an investment!!

So, darling deer - will you have twins again this year? Will you attract a cougar to the area in search of a tastey treat? Will you linger in my neck of the woods or will you have a bigger appetit that takes you to everyone's yard? Will everyone else invest in electric fencing & put their dogs out at night?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Things to do in the March garden

'Earth's crammed with Heaven
And every common bush
Afire with God'
From Aurora Leigh, Book vii by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), British poet

  • Complete the pruning of fruit trees.
  • Divide crowded perennials and overgrown rhubarb clumps. Replant only the outermost, young sections of perennial clumps in replenished soil (compost, manure & a slow release fertilizer such as a bit of bone meal). Discard the old, woody centre. {I usually divide my perennials in the fall as they generally start to emerge in February & I don't want them to suffer transplant shock}
  • Trim back woody herbs such as lavender, rosemary, and sage for compact new growth (but don't cut back into the actual woody part of the plant or else the plant might not recover). If necessary, replace these herbs every 5 years as they become 'tired'. Cut rue plants down close to ground level for bushy plants this year. {Compost the rue as it apparently stimulates earthworm activity & will give your mulch a boost when applied to the gardens}
  • Plant trees, shrubs, hedges, flowering vines, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries this month so that the plants can establish new roots in the garden before the arrival of very warm weather. Feed the berry bushes & mulch around them with shredded paper or grass clippings (if you have any left). In most areas hardy perennials can be planted in March.
  • Mulch rhubarb plants with a layer of compost and/or composted manure. Place a bucket/tote upside down over top one plant to get an earlier & sweeter harvest.
  • Finish pruning roses early in the month.
  • Trim faded flowers from winter heather.
  • Surround lettuce and other vulnerable plants with crushed egg shells or diatomaceous earth as a barrier to slugs or try the copper mesh found at Lee Valley.
  • Weed, clean & fertilize perennial and shrub beds. A top dressing of compost over the fertilizer boosts the health and beauty of ornamental plantings. {I will wait before applying too much fertilizer or compost on my beds as the spring rains will just wash it all down & away. If the weather is clear for a number of days, a small amount of granular fertilizer is definately most appreciated by the early plants}
  • As long as the soil is not sodden (too wet) prepare vegetable & flower beds for planting. Add compost or composted manure and fertilizer to the soil, and a little lime except where potatoes, strawberries and other plants preferring acid soil conditions are to be located. {there is usually some left-over vegetable matter from the previous year in the beds when I prepare them, so this is turned under for immediate compost - I add other compost a little later on after the spring rains slow down}
  • Seed indoors eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. Many annual flowers can be sown indoors in March -- impatiens, nemesia, petunia, salpiglossis, portulaca, lobelia, coleus, salvia, dahlia, celosia, alyssum, asters, lavatera and cosmos among them. Transplant outdoors in the warmth of May. {I started my tomatoes on Valentine's day & while they look a little leggy right now, I'm sure they'll leaf up with a bit more sunshine}
  • Where soils are no longer wet and cold seed hardy vegetables & flowers outdoors -- broad beans, lettuce, radish, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, carrots, bok choy, kohlrabi, parsley and Chinese cabbage, calendula, sweet peas and poppies. Protect from deer & birds with fine mesh, plastic or row covers.
  • Begin fertilizing house plants again with a mild liquid fertilizer solution.
  • Plant asparagus this month. Set the crowns four to six inches (10 to 15 cm) beneath the soil surface in a deeply dug, humus-rich, fertile soil that drains efficiently. Mulch established plants with compost or aged manure.