Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Green Thumb - Tales of a West Coast Gardener - Spring 2011

This article is now published in the Barkley Sound Community Journal - The West Island Quarterly
     The face of gardening has been changing all through Canada in recent years, with a more diverse group of people growing their own food & in more and more interesting ways.
      Here in Bamfield, many of us are using our own special techniques & dealing with problems in unique ways, but the most recent addition to our way of life as been the return of deer populations.
      We all have a soft spot in our hearts for deer (those found along the Pacific Coast are Black-Tailed Deer - either Columbian (ours) or the Sitka (northern)). But they are wreaking havoc on our attempts to grow vegetables & fruits.
      I have just finished reading an excellent book called Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden’ by Rhonda Massingham Hart. It is a broad scoping book, covering all of North America, but shares a lot of information that helps gardeners understand what the issue is & how to deal with it. Basically, though, there is no sure-fired way of deer-proofing our gardens other than buying a very large dog & installing 8 foot fencing all around our properties. I don’t think we’ll be doing that any time soon.
      There are easier ways to fool the deer & allow less stressful gardening sessions. Remember: even on your worst day, you are still smarter than the deer. I keep telling myself that in the hopes that one day I will believe it.
      The easiest way is to alter the plants we use in our landscaping. I want to introduce you to the concept of ‘Deer Resistant Plants’ - again - nothing is sure-fire deer proof, but finding alternatives to discourage or fool the deer is much simpler than the fencing method.

If it’s smelly, spiky, fuzzy or sappy, deer won’t like it as much as you do.
For example:
1) Pick plants that have texture: fuzzy lamb’s ear or rose Campion or mulleins. Ornamental grasses offer a texture that deer won’t like & the spiky flowers of coneflower, globe thistle & zinnias will cause them to move on.
2) Aromatic plants such as yarrow, rosemary, chives, sage, oregano, bee balm will confuse them with their strong scents, so lining a flower bed edge with them could allow you to grow your prize ‘tender’ plants behind.
3) Peonies, spurge (Euphorbia) and butterfly weed (Asclepius) produce a milky sap that will give the deer an upset tummy.
4) Other plants that don’t taste so good are: daffodils, snow drops, foxglove, monkshood & hellebore.
5) Shrubs (once they are large enough) that will not feel good in deer mouths include thorny barberry, boxwood, Daphne, smoke bush and spruce.

Basically, deer like a diet of bland, juicy plants: our vegetables & tender annuals.

Other things you might want to make use of to discourage deer browsing include:
1) Foul smells: soap on a rope, hair, plants, sprays, predator urine, blood meal
2) Bad tastes: hot pepper spray, rotten eggs, soap, chemicals
3) Startling sights: moving gizmos, white flapping flags, motion detector
4) Offensive sounds: rattling pie plates, boomers, radio, ultrasound, dog
5) Touch: monofilament (fish line), sprinklers (motion or timed).

The key to using strategies is: use several deterrent tactics, rotate them throughout the season, change tactics before the deer get used to them, take advantage of all the deer’s senses.

* note from author *
I am making use of fishing net around all my raised beds, berry bushes & small shrubs this year. I’m not keen on purchasing chemicals to apply as a deterrent but will use the homemade smelly remedies as they worked (sort of ) last year. Good luck & let me know what works for you!

I attended a Seedy Saturday this year at Qualicum Beach on February 5th. What a great way to start the spring season - even if February brought more snow than sunshine.

What is a Seedy Saturday?
A Seedy Saturday is a time to see food and flowering plants and seeds that will grow in your area and to get ideas from experts in all aspects of gardening.  
The SEED SWAP is where you can share your saved seeds with other local gardeners or buy seeds they have saved locally. 
NURSERIES from the region are well represented with lots of specimens for you to choose from or just to admire.  
Expert SPEAKERS discuss many aspects of gardening. 
 MASTER GARDENERS are on hand to help with your gardening problems.  SEED CATALOGUES are available. 
Local garden related VENDORS and ARTISANS have their goods for sale.

We sat in on Linda Gilkeson’s seminar to learn a few things about successful coastal gardening.
1) Don’t plant too early - here on the coast the ‘last frost date’ really doesn’t apply, it’s more about soil temperature. Also, vernalization (when small plants bolt) means that you’ve planted seeds or seedlings too early.
2) Soil Management - use lots of mulch, leaves and straw to protect your soil, stop digging deep & reduce hoeing - plant strategically & multi-layered, use cover crops to boost nutrients & add organic matter, test your pH as some veggies like acidic but most  prefer neutral.
3) Stock your Outdoor Refrigerator - learn year-round gardening & make use of protective covers.

July 1st - everyone should plant carrot seeds for winter eating!!

Maybe Bamfield gardeners can one day have a Seedy Saturday event...

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