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Archive for February, 2012

Repel, expel or fence well. Those are the  three best, non-lethal approaches to preventing varmint damage in any vegetable garden.

Rox and I go into some detail about this in the Veggie CSI presentation we’re giving at the garden shows this year. You can hear the whole spiel, should you catch us on stage at this weekend’s Johnson County Home and Garden Show at the Overland Park Convention Center.

The takeaway: while trapping and using repellents work for awhile,  fencing is the only sure-fire way to keep furry critters from stealing you blind of fresh produce, or making it impossible to even get to the picking stage by nibbling your plants down to the nub.

The type of fence depends on the varmint you’re trying to keep out. Were you to build the most fool-proof all-purpose fence, it would be seven feet high (to keep out the deer) and buried two feet deep, angled out at 45 degrees (to keep out the gophers). It would have chicken wire with holes no bigger than two inches strung around the bottom of the enclosure to keep rabbits from squeezing through the deer fence and there’s be bird netting stretched over the top of it to keep the squirrels from parachuting in.

Oh, yes, and you might want to electrify the whole thing just to be on the safe side.

Guard towers and razor wire just might be overdoing it a bit

Most gardeners are not that maniacal. Nor are most of us plagued with every pest. For instance, we’ve never seen deer approach Mike and Roxie’s Vegetable Paradise. Rabbits and squirrels are more of a concern — and occasionally opossums or raccoons. We’re not sure which went after our squash last year.

So we make do with a rabbit fence that I built several years ago. We have a pretty good sized garden, about 30’x50′. That’s why I went to a little more trouble than simply staking up some poultry netting, aka chicken wire, although that is an option for a small garden patch.

The wire fencing I suggest is 2 feet high and comes in  rolls of varying lengths. I needed a lot of it for our garden, as well as plenty of  framing lumber to create fence panels that can be taken down and stored for winter.

What I do is  staple the steel netting/wire onto  2’x8′ frames constructed from 1″ x 2″ furring strips.

I use nails to attach the tops and bottoms to the sides and a center support piece of the frames. But if you wanted to get fancy you could use screws and brackets.

Some gardeners might also  want to invest in higher grade number than the cheap stuff I use.

That way you might not have to do as much maintenance every year as I do. The bottom rails tend to rot away after a couple of years of contact with the ground, even if you stain the framing. Probably only a year, if you don’t.

The good news is  that the fix is cheap. Home Depot was selling construction-grade 1’x2’s this weekend for 75 cents a piece.

How do I know this? Seeing as how we’re headed for what looks to be an early spring, I spent a good part of this weekend getting our rabbit fence ready for action.

What a mess.  Last fall, when I put the panels away in our barn for the winter, I could see they were in a sorry state. But not until I got them back out on Saturday did I learn how sorry.

I was tempted to toss all of them them out and start over, but that wouldn’t be the Mike and Roxie way of doing things on the cheap. Plus, it would have been wasteful.

So I ended up replacing most of the rotten lumber. Bought 18 of those cheap 8 foot furring strips at HD and wound up with only one extra, and I’ll likely end up using it, too.

It was tedious work, but it will be worth it come spring. My, how the bunnies look so sad as they peer through the fence  at all the greenery they might have eaten, were it not for darn fence.

Posted by: Mike  .

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If you want to find out which species had a good year, just spend a few days at a garden expo, I always say.

Last year, for instance, deer were all anyone wanted to talk about at the Metropolitan Home and Garden show in Kansas City. One visitor after another stepped up to share outrage and even a few tips about staving off the deer.

This year it was moles who apparently went on a breeding frenzy over the summer. I have never–ever–heard so many questions about moles and/or gophers.

I have to admit, we didn’t spend a lot of time studying moles and gophers because to date, we’d never heard anyone around here complain much about them. And we’d never had them in our own garden. So I guess we just figured they’re not so much a problem in this area.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

They are, of course, tricky to get rid of, since you can’t effectively fence them out. They’re too good at tunneling for that.

In our research for the talk, which happened to be on how to identify and deal with animal marauders in the vegetable patch, we’d come across a couple of things, but they seemed a little weak. One source recommended using whirligigs–those little cheap pin wheel things that blow in the wind–planted just outside the mole hill. Apparently they have really sensitive ears and can’t tolerate the sound and vibrations. Then, there was the guy who told us he had good luck pouring used cat litter into their tunnels.

So today I thought I’d look and see what else is out there, commercially, that might help.

The first thing that came up was mole-repellant worms from Liquid Fence, a company known for all types of animal repellents.

You drop the “worms” into every tunnel entrance you can find and the mole eats it. According to the company the ingredients will “disrupt the moles’ normal digestive functions,” forcing it to go somewhere else for food. It is also supposed to be non-harmful to kids and pets.

This is different from poison by degree, I suppose. Instead of killing the moles outright, it apparently makes them sick in ways I don’t like to picture, having just recovered from the flu myself. But I don’t know…how sick does it make them? Can they still move enough to get away from predators and go back to the woods? And why should we assume they will link the sickness with the food source? Are they that gifted? So I guess I have a lot of questions here. But still, if it works, it could be worth a try.

Second up was a site with mole repellent stakes made from garlic oil and something that smells like sulfur the varmints don’t enjoy smelling. You put the stakes into the tunnels and the smell is said to drive them away.

This is a little more traditional, as far as organic controls go. A lot of animals can be driven away by bad smells. Deer are also averse to the smell of rotten eggs and garlic. And this company says they’ll last for up to a year, which would be amazing for something that works on smell.

In our talk, we mentioned that blinking lights can scare away some types of animals, like raccoons or maybe groundhogs (but unfortunately not moles). But, if you really like the whirligig idea against moles, I did find an interesting gadget that combines the windmill with lights. If it works, you’d be ridding yourself of a couple of different varmints at the same time.

It’s the Mathmos Wind Light, which uses the little windmills to power red and blue LEDs, so there are no batteries–not even a solar panel. Now if we could get them to blink…

Elsewhere on that same site is a gadget that scares cats that wander into the area with burst of sound that humans can’t hear. Unfortunately, it isn’t wind powered and needs a battery.

And, as long as I’m off topic for a sec, there’s a Husqvarna robot lawnmower that I’m sure Mike will be dreaming about. It looks kind of similar to those little robot vacuums and works the same way. Instead of walls, you place wire around the edge of your property to tell it where to stop. Although I have to admit the idea of a robot with WHIRLING BLADES loose in the yard is a little unsettling.

Finally, here is a recipe from eHow on making your own mole repellent. It uses a diluted solution of castor oil and dish soap. Here’s the link:

http://www.ehow.com/how_4885016_make-mole-repellent.html

Posted by: Roxie

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The seeds are ordered and have arrived. They’ll be started in the basement soon–some of them.

Ahhh. It’s good to be ahead of the game. But we still have one bit of unfinished garden ordering business to attend to.

The strawberries.

We’ve been struggling with our strawberry bed for the past couple of seasons. We replanted, put in new soil, replanted. Still, the glory days of the first few years, when we’d bring in strawberries by the bagful, never returned. The new plants refused to thrive or send out runners.

So this year we came to a decision. Time to move the strawberries to another spot for a fresh start.

Because strawberries stay through the winter, we’ve kept them in a separate bed where they won’t be tilled or trampled. So this spring, we’ll cut a foot or so of grass from the front edge of the garden for the strawberries. We’ll probably plant beans or something else where the berries were before–mainly because it’s just too much work to tear out the landscaping ties and return it to grass.

So now the question is: What do we plant?

There are three basic categories of strawberries to choose from. June bearing, everbearing and day neutral.

June bearing–These are the plants I had before and probably will again.They produce a lot of strawberries in the late spring (actually it’s more like May in this part of the country). They also send out “runners” from the original plants, which will put down roots to make new plants. The June bearing berries are the largest of the three types, which is one advantage. On the down side, you have to pinch off all the flowers the first year to get the most out of your bed in following seasons. This means no berries this year. (Sniff)

Everbearing–Doesn’t necessarily mean they bear fruit all the time. Strawberries need cooler soil to bear, so you can bet you won’t be seeing them during the brutal peak of late July temperatures. But they’re more likely to produce another fall crop. And yield may be heavier overall. They don’t put out as many runners as June bearers, though, and the berry size is smaller. I planted Alpine strawberries one year, which are more like wild strawberries and very, very small. The flavor was intense–some of the best I’ve ever had. But there was no hope of getting enough for jam. However, I saw some everbearing plants out at Powell Gardens last year that looked mighty appealing, so I’ll probably check them out.

Day neutral–I’d never heard of this type until recently. Day neutral berries are, again, small and don’t put out the runners. Apparently they’re focusing their energy on big harvests right from the very first year. There’s  pretty good rundown of strawberry types by state at Strawberry Plants.org that gives all kinds of information on each berry.

So there’s work to be done. Time to dive back into those garden catalogs and make some decisions.

Posted by: Roxie

 

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