by Eric Soderholm, Organic Transition Coordinator
Deer are undoubtedly one of the most serious pests for farmers here in the Carolinas. There is nothing more aggravating than waking up to find that, in the course of one night, an entire field has been mowed down by a herd of hungry foragers. Although pressure from deer is somewhat unpredictable, a number of factors may cause deer populations to rise including mild winter conditions, reduction of nearby habitat and fewer active hunters or natural predators in the region. To avoid substantial economic loss, there are a number of options to ward off deer and it is worth investigating what works best for your farm or garden before investing in any particular method. Here are few tips I have learned from other farmers and found to be somewhat successful:
- A hungry deer will eat almost anything, but there are particular vegetable crops that are more desirable such as lettuce, greens, legume crops, the tops of root crops, sweet potato leaves, etc. Without significantly disrupting crop rotations, try to plant these more palatable crops further away from wooded edges or fallow, unmanaged areas. It may also be wise to plant a buffer of summer cover crops and less tasty crops on the exterior rows of a field. Additionally, deer will be less likely to browse on crops that are nearer to buildings where there is higher human and vehicular traffic.
- Floating row cover is effective at excluding deer from the crops they like best. Using wire hoops, you can protect crops by covering them during peak deer feeding time: overnight. If you use this method, make it part of your daily routine or designate a member of your family/crew to cover in the evening and uncover first thing in the morning.
- Be creative and experiment with various natural deer repellents. Some farmers make arrangements with local barber shops or dog groomers to pick up discarded hair to spread on the perimeter of fields. Others stick whole bars of soap on rebar posts in and around vulnerable crops. If you slaughter poultry on your farm, it could be useful to collect and dilute blood to pour around your gardens. Before using any repellents, read and research the ingredients to be sure it is not harmful to the environment. If you are certified organic, check with your certifying agent before using any repellents to be sure you are in compliance with NOP regulations.
- If deer pressure is extremely high or unpredictable, fencing in your garden or vegetable fields may be your only option. Depending on which methods you choose, this can be very costly. Keep in mind that deer are excellent jumpers and, if desperate enough, can clear fences unless they are very tall. Many farmers site vulnerable crops inside 10-12’ woven wire or multi-line high tensile fences. However, you might be surprised to find a low positioned, single hot wire is enough to scare off deer. Described below is my take on an innovative single wire system being used by Jimmy Livingston, of Wabi Sabi Farm in South Carolina, to keep a voracious deer population out of his 1-acre garden:
- Mow the perimeter of your garden very low and keep it well groomed to avoid a fence short out. Set your corners on the fence using rebar posts with electric fence insulators at a height of about 10”. Then, cut 2” PVC pipe into 1.5’ sections and pound the pipe sections into the ground at regular intervals (about 8” deep) around the perimeter of the field using a rubber mallet. Drill a ¼” hole near the top of each pipe. Run a light gauge electric wire through each of the pipes and the corners posts and tighten it using a ratchet tensioner, being careful not to over tighten and break the wire. Connect the wire to a plug-in or solar fence changer. Jimmy claims that the deer will tear it down for the first week, and then they will stay clear. Deer tend to either browse into the wire and get popped on the face or they just step into it when emerging from the cover of nearby woods.
> Keeping deer out of productive fields is an ongoing battle. If you have found other methods to be effective in your own garden, please share them with Eric to be added to our growing library of resources in the For Growers section of our new website.
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