DEALING WITH WILDLIFE IN THE GARDEN
For as long as I can remember I've always had to deal with some form of wildlife destroying the garden and the crops. Growing up in Salmon Idaho my biggest problem was Jack Rabbits but they weren't that big of an issue. Moving to Careywood, Idaho for the three years I was there it was a constant struggle dealing with deer and pocket gophers. The deer seemed to be more like a herd as opposed to an occasional problem even a 10 foot fence wouldn't keep them out. Most of my time I bought different types of row cover to keep on crops or grew crops in plastic tunnels to keep the deer from destroying them. They would eat anything and everything. One of them finally got its just dessert because it ate off of 50 ft row of tomatoes and it was a dead deer at the end of the tomato row. It was most certainly not because they were lacking food they just preferred to eat garden vegetables. What the deer didn’t eat from above the gophers got below ground. After trying to garden with no soil in Salmon to finally have soil the results weren’t much better. Moving to Lenore,Idaho I dealt with rattlesnakes, pocket gophers and pheasants that would destroy all the corn seed. Moving to Iowa provided some new challenges my biggest issues here on the farm are rabbits, deer, opossums, voles and it used to be pocket gophers but I pretty much have those under control. I must not forget raccoons who have a fondness for corn. So no matter where you live you're probably going to have to deal with something. I was too young and not experienced enough to know how to deal with some of the problems I had when I was growing up in Idaho but here I've had over 35 years to figure out how to cope with what I have to deal with. You're probably wondering now why the picture for this article as it is an Ornate Box turtle. They are a very rare species and we have them living here on the farm because I have at least four acres that never gets cultivated and so they have a place to survive. I found this little guy the other day as I was weeding along a row and they are no problem in the garden. I usually see them in the Fall when I'm seeding out tomatoes because I will notice their trademark. It is a bite here and a bite there out of a tomato never doing that much damage. I used to take a marker with me and mark on their back the date to see if I'd find the same one more than once. There have been years when I haven't seen any of them. This little guy I picked up and took off to the side of the garden next to the hillside so that he would not get caught in the tines of the tractor when I went through cultivating. They are one of the easiest things to deal with as far as wildlife. Earlier I mentioned pocket gophers used to be a real problem here nature took care of itself as I've increased the number of bull snakes that live on the farm. While they still startle me at first when I see them because I grew up with rattlesnakes and they do try to imitate them I know they are my best buddy in the garden as they will go down the rows finding the gopher holes and the voles and taking care of them much better than any poison or other way. Earlier this spring I uncovered several of the large bull snakes breeding under some down boards where they had gone into a mouse colony and had taken care of some field mice. When I first moved to the farm I also had a family of great horned owls that nested in the trees on the top of the hill. They're rather spooky on a moon lit night to hear them and they also take their toll on poultry if you leave the poultry out too late. They were particularly fond of call ducks but as long as I had the owls the rabbit population was manageable. Some of the people in the neighborhood didn't like owls and eventually the owls all disappeared and as ecology dictates without a predator the rabbit population has soared. Rabbits are so destructive, they may look cute but they cost thousands of dollars of damage. I can't tell you how many fruit trees they've debarked above the tree protectors when we have deep snow in the winter. How many thousands of plants they've eaten off. It's very typical for them to go along a row and just clip off the tomato plants that we've set out and pepper plants even though they don't eat them. You find them just bitten off and laying on the ground. Frankly even though they're cute I can't stand them. One of the purposes I have of writing this article is I just stumbled on something this year to help control them now that their population is skyrocketing. I was setting out sweet potato plants this spring and it appeared that the next day most of them that I'd set out the day before we're already eaten off overnight. It was so bad a few years ago I had to put row cover over top of the plants until they got to a certain size but not having any help this summer I didn't have the time to put row cover over over 5,000 foot of row of sweet potato plants. Linda was looking on the internet about rabbit control and found that something that works is sprays that contain rotten eggs. Well this year with the heat the ducks were laying a lot of infertile eggs so I had buckets of eggs that I candled out of the incubator. What I did do was I took a five gallon bucket and a strainer, crushed the eggs up and went down the row sprinkling a little bit of rotten egg residue on the black plastic next to the young plants. Bingo next day no more new damage and it worked very well with 100% success. While I was dealing with that crisis I didn't realize all my cucumber patches in isolation were being destroyed by the deer. They had grown up and we're just starting to get ready to vine and I told Linda well at least we'll have a lot of cucumber seed this year. I went back and discovered our local herd of deer had been feasting on them. I thought why not try the eggs . I did that and it seemed to work as well. While that works well for me not everybody has access to large amounts of rotting eggs so we did buy some professional rabbit and deer repellent which smells awful and next year I will do a comparison trial as I set out plants to see if it works and report back so that those who don't have access to rotten eggs perhaps can find some control for rabbits. I tried all kinds of things to control deer when I lived in Idaho. They used to recommend blood meal but it doesn't always work.
Each of us has our own wildlife to deal with and each of us has to try to find a system to work with the creatures to prevent total destruction of our crops. I will constantly try to share what I learn here to help as many as I can.