Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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How to Keep Deer out of the Garden

One of the farm’s Facebook friends recently asked about keeping deer out of the garden. I don’t know what kinds of pests you deal with in your neck of the woods, but in Southwest Michigan this is a very poignant question! There are lots of supposedly repellent chemicals and plants you can purchase to protect your plot of veggies from deer. However, most gardeners I’ve spoken with find these don’t do an adequate job of keeping deer at bay. I’ve never personally tried chemical repellents, but have yet to hear a favorable review and am frankly not interested in using them for residual reasons. The problem with deer-resistant plants (such as marigolds) is that a deer’s diet is a fickle thing. There are several plants that deer tend to avoid, but if Bambi’s hungry enough, nearly anything is fair game. Shorter repellant plants such as marigolds and onions might not be eaten but can be easily stepped over to get to the good stuff!

In my personal experience, and that of many other gardeners, the most effective way to keep deer out of the garden is with a barrier. The kind of barrier you used depends on many factors, including space and budget. Here are some chemical-free ideas that should help you out.

For all 11 ideas, including photos and links to additional resources, click here.

DSC03023 768x1024 Keeping Deer out of the Gardengrow it eat it fishing line deer fence Keeping Deer out of the Garden

{Image Credit}
Grow It Eat It

deer netting Keeping Deer out of the Garden

{Image Credit}
Collections Etc

 
 

Potato Experiment Results

Back in April I wrote this post about planting experimental potatoes. They were experimental in that they are:

  1. Planted from spouting (organic) spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. Planted (mostly) in hay.
  3. Planted outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.

Today I spent the better part of the evening digging up these experimental potatoes and I’m pleased to report that they are amazing! Even better than the potatoes planted from official ‘seed potatoes’ in the main garden!

Here’s a quick recap of what I did – along with thoughts on what worked well and what I’ll do differently next year.

First, I started with chitted potatoes – potatoes with eyes growing on them. (Click here to learn how and why to chit potatoes before planting.) Next I dug pits along the outside of the fence which were 10-12” deep. I put the potato pieces (with at least 2 eyes) in the pit and covered them with composted waste hay from the bunny. I didn’t go out of my way to water these at all – occasionally they would get some overspray from watering the garden and they definitely received their fair share of rain! When the plants grew about 6-12 inches above the hay, I added another layer to “hill” them. Unfortunately I ran out of hay before I had hilled them all so I added some compost to two of the sections.

That’s it! No fertilizer, no watering. And here’s what I received…

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Part way through harvesting.

Part way through harvesting.

Amazing!

Planting the potatoes in hay (or you could use straw) really did make it much easier to harvest them. (Trust me… I am WAY over digging for potatoes in the 100% compost bed!). Now that the hay has broken down, the soil in these areas looks quite rich. This should be a good way to add organic matter to the area surrounding the garden.

Also, I originally planted onions and garlic in between sections of potatoes to keep critters (especially deer) away. I’ve seen many deer tracks in that area, starting as early as the week I planted the potatoes. On the face of it, the garlic/onion strategy seems to have worked. However, a friend (who has much more gardening experience than I do) pointed out to me that deer won’t eat potatoes because they have a high amount of a certain acid in them. (I wish I could tell you the name of the acid…) Still, with anecdotal advice I received from the stories of other gardeners (both in the area and online) it seems that the real test of whether or not a deer will eat potato plants is whether or not his belly is full when he finds the potatoes. So whether the garlic kept them at bay, the potato plants are too acidic for their taste or they’ve been feasting elsewhere by the time they get to me, the deer have left my potato plants completely alone.

All things considered, this feels like a pretty successful way to grow my potatoes. The best part is that it frees up space in my raised garden beds (I only have so many!) and makes use of what would otherwise be unused space while still keeping things pretty central to the garden area. In fact, these potatoes are from just one side of the garden. There are two other sides which would be suitable for tater-growing. Giddy-up!

The only downside in this year’s potato-growing endeavor was this: Overgrowth. The pits I planted my potatoes in were simply dug with a shovel. In early spring, this fence-line row of garlic and potatoes looked quite neat. Meanwhile, piles of overturned sod created a bit of a berm to the west of the piles. I kept telling myself I’d “get to moving those piles eventually.” Well, I never did, save for one small section. Because the ground is freakishly uneven there, Ryan won’t mow it. Which means weeds and grass have taken over and are growing quite snuggly in with my potatoes. Next year I’ll till everything up properly and I’ll be sure to level the area so it can be mowed.

overgrown potatoes

Without proper tilling, the potatoes and garlic quickly became overgrown with grass and weeds. Next time I’ll be sure to clear the area and keep the ground level so we can mow.

overgrown potatoes

More overgrown potatoes.

overgrown potatoes

Here’s a view of the west side of the garden where the potatoes and garlic were planted along the fence. There are more potatoes on the south side of the garden as well.

Based on what I’ve learned, I have plans for a new experiment next year. Along the West fence, I’ll plant potatoes just like I did this year. Here are some variations I’m planning for the other two fence lines.

  1. On the South Fence: All potatoes from store-bought organics, but some planted with waste hay and some with grass clippings.
  2. On the East Fence: Using waste hay, I’ll plant some potatoes from ‘seed potatoes’, some from store-bought organic potatoes that have sprouted and some from ‘seed potatoes’ from my own garden.

So there you have it… I’m considering my experimental potatoes to be a smashing success! Anyone else harvesting potatoes? What other things are you harvesting right now?

 
 

Planting Experimental Potatoes

Since it didn’t snow yesterday (yes!) I spent some time planting potatoes and lettuce in the main garden. Lettuce will go in under plastic row covers in some of our narrow beds (2' x 12'), along with spinach which overwintered and is already growing. I’m scheduled to plant lettuce in two additional narrow beds on the hugelkultur side of the garden… the problem is, they’ve not yet been built. (This past December we put in 4' x 12' hugelkultur beds but skipped the 2' x 12's since they were too narrow to dig with the bobcat.) I guess I better grab  my shovel and get on that…

Meanwhile, I cleared a blanket of leaves that have been keeping fall-planted onions sung over the winter.

I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.

I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

I was also able to plant some taters. These are ‘experimental’ potatoes in that:

  1. I’m planting eyes from spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. I’m planting them in hay.
  3. I’m planting them outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.

Planting from Potatoes that Sprout in the Cupboard

From everything I’ve read, the most reliable way to get great potatoes is by buying seed potatoes. That’s because some potatoes you buy at the grocery store have been sprayed with a chemical sprout inhibitor to keep them looking tip-top on the grocery shelf. Despite all of this sound advice, the potatoes we grew in our very first garden came from store-bought potatoes… and they were delicious! We typically buy organic potatoes so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Fortunately twice now I’ve discovered forgotten potatoes in the pantry with some hefty eyes on them. In one case I was able to simply cut the eyes out, store them in a brown paper bag, and use the potatoes for dinner. The other time they were way too far gone to be eaten. This afternoon I planted those whole. No waste here!

Planting Potatoes in Hay

Ever heard of planting potatoes in hay? The benefit is that its easy to “mound” the potatoes with more soil (ok, hay really) and its super easy to dig the potatoes up when they are ready to harvest. The danger in planting with hay (or straw) is that you have to make sure the potatoes stay covered so that no light gets to them. Potatoes exposed to too much sun will go green and become toxic. (Don’t eat green potatoes!) I planted our “experimental” potatoes in 1 foot deep holes outside the Main Garden fence and piled on about 8-10" of composted waste hay from Nacho’s (the bunny) cage. Nacho’s hay (and poo) has been composting all winter in a special bin. I think the recent sunshine has kicked the process into overtime because a good deal of it has already turned into soil.

planting potato in hay

This potato started sprouting in our pantry. Now its growing underneath composted waste hay.

At any rate, here’s a video about how and why to plant potatoes in hay.

Keeping Taters Safe from Critters

I’ve done some research about what deer will and won’t eat. Turns out – during cold weather when plants are scarce – they’ll eat anything green they can get to. During more abundant seasons, there are some things they’ll avoid, including onions and garlic. I’m interested in growing lots of storage potatoes this year but just don’t have the kind of room I need in our raised beds. So I decided to do a little experiment and place a few potato plants between sections of garlic. So now on the west side of the Main Garden I have alternating plantings along the fence – about four feet of garlic (which is coming up beautifully already!) and about four feet of potato plants (1 per square foot).  I plan to direct seed a few scallions in with the potatoes for extra insurance. Here’s hoping these city deer won’t get too curious!

young spring garlic

Our garlic is coming up! It’s going to be a good spring.

Anyone out there have advice on how to best grow potatoes? Have you tried planting in hay or straw? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 

Early Spring 2013 Update

NOTE: Ooops! Somehow I managed to only save this as a draft and did not publish it. This was supposed to be posted on April 1 (no joke). Keep that in mind as you read my "today"s and "yesterday"s. - Farmer Katie


Today’s Headline: No snow… (yet)! Today’s forecast for southwest Michigan was snowy. To be sure, it is cold outside (hovering around 30 degrees as I write this) but the sun is shining brightly. After a sustained string of sunny days, it’s a little hard for me to stomach the idea of snow. The good news is that Wednesday should be sunny and relatively warm (40’s) and then if the Mr. Weatherman is right, there’s no looking back! Farewell, winter – I’m ready for spring!

Our First Hugelkultur Planting

With spring on our doorstep, I’ve been super busy starting seeds. On Good Friday I planted about half of our peas. The most exciting thing about these peas is that they are the very first thing planted in one of our hugelkultur beds! To recap, the beds are comprised of pits (about 3’ deep) filled with rotted logs, branches and fall leaves which have then been topped with the very earth that was removed to make the pits. (For in-depth info on why in the world we would bury logs in our garden – and why you should too – click here.) On Friday I made a mound about 8-10” high with more topsoil and topped that with 6 cubic feet of organic garden soil (purchased from Lowes). My plan was to create the mounded part of the beds with compost but I have not yet ordered the compost. (Just like last year we’ll get it in bulk from a local supplier.) Because I knew a cold snap was coming, I covered the bed with a plastic row cover using our PVC hoops. (I had a fabulous helper!)

hugelkultur bed

This hugel has 3 feet of logs and leave buried beneath it with a 8-10? mound of top soil on top.

hugelkultur bed

Owen is helping me put the hoops in place for our row cover.

hugelkultur bed

What a great little helper!

hugelkultur bed

Hoops are in place. A covering of organic garden soil (from Lowes) tops the bed. This is only 6 cubic feet… I wish I could have added more.

hugelkultur bed

The bed is ready for the row cover.

hugelkultur bed

I covered the bed with plastic held down by logs and large rocks. The let the bed warm for a day before planting the peas.

The row cover will also keep the deer and other critters from digging up my peas since there we do not yet have a fence around this part of the garden.

Seedlings

To date I’ve started onions, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, rhubarb, chard, broccoli, stevia, lettuce, peas and tomatoes. Frankly, this is the part of the season that keeps me on edge. Starting hundreds of seeds at a time while the weather is still touch and go provides lots of challenges.

a pile of newspaper pots

My biggest issue is space. We live in a small house and have a very small greenhouse. Finding an out of the way place for so many seedlings that also has the warmth and light they need is difficult. Second of all, making sure I stick with my planned planting dates is hard for me. Life gets busy and despite the fact that I vowed not to do this again, I’ve already had a couple of days where I look at the calendar at 8:00 PM and think “Oh crap, I’m supposed to plant 200 seeds today!” Right now I’m way off schedule on planting chives, scallions and a few days off on lettuce, spinach and chamomile. The biggest issue is that I haven’t been diligent about making newspaper pots every day. The good news is I think I can go ahead later this week with direct seeding my chives and scallions (they are cool hardy) and I’m thinking of direct-seeding the lettuce and spinach under row covers. The only reason I was going to start chamomile this early is because it takes a while to mature and I wanted to give it a jump start. But since that is not a critical crop for our CSA, I think I will just direct seed it after the last frost date.

In further keeping-it-real news, my onions are not doing well. I planted about 450 seeds and I think about 30% of them are thriving. I think the culprit here is lack of light… they’ve been hanging out in my laundry room and there are so many that some are not in the best-lit places. Also my cauliflower and cabbage have not germinated well because they are in the greenhouse which drops down to about 50* at night despite my space-heater’s best efforts. I replanted cauliflower a couple of days ago and will be bringing those seedlings, along with the cabbage, inside to germinate. The good news is our kale is doing fabulously as well as our chard. Broccoli germinated just fine and the tomatoes are coming along. Once the night temperatures pick up (or I get my hands on a second space heater) we should have no problems.

kale seedling in newspaper pot

Later this week I’m hoping to build shelves for the greenhouse to make better use of space (and get seedlings out of my dimly lit laundry room!)

The Garden Fence

Now that the direct-seed season has arrived (at least for my cool-hardy plants) we need a new fence ASAP. For those of you who are just starting to follow us, you might want to check out this post where I talked about expanding our garden. We’ve doubled the size of the Main Garden by adding 14 new beds – 10 of them are hugelkultur beds. The existing fence is still standing around last year’s garden. Besides needing to be expanded, it also needs to be improved. The posts are loose in several places and there are gaps (like, fawn-sized gaps) in the metal fabric in a couple of places.

Existing fence around main garden

Existing fence around main garden

DSC03841

fawn sized hole in existing main garden fence

Oh look – a fawn-sized hole in the fence… lovely…

Last fall I shared with our CSA members that we could use help in April with building the new fence. Several of them graciously said that they’d be willing to help when the time arrives. (Thank you!) We haven’t set a date yet but will soon. The fence will serve several purposes: Protect veggies from critters (like deer and rabbits), allow sun to reach our crops (by using welded wire fencing), provide a trellis to the north of the garden and create an attractive boundary for the garden. The attractive boundary is a driving force behind our need for some additional help, of the financial variety. Being good neighbors is important to us and since we’re a suburban farm, we want to create a fence that is as aesthetically pleasing (for our neighbors) as it is effective (for our crops). To make a prettier fence, we need a prettier penny. (And since we’re a start-up farm committed to operating debt-free, the budget is tight.)

The good news is that we’ve found a way to make a fence that is relatively low cost while still serving all the purposes listed above. And we’ll be able to make it modular so if we need to expand or move it in the future, all of the dollars invested in our project will not go to waste. All contributions (even $5) will bolster our ability to provide naturally-grown, locally-sold produce to our community. If you’re interested in investing in the naturally-grown, buy-local movement, here’s a great opportunity to make a tangible difference for just a few dollars! If you’d like to contribute, please email me at katie@arcadia-farms.net.  (P.S. We’re giving away some pretty cool rewards to contributors. More details coming within a few days on our very first www.kickstarter.com project!)

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what we’ll be building.

prowell woodworks gate

{Image Credit}
www.prowellwoodworks.com

Garden-Fence-Designs

{Image Credit}
www.onhome.org

wire wood garden fence

{Image Credit}
http://mnkyimages.com

There you have it… a little peak into the world of what we’ve been up to lately. What have you been up to around your homestead? Have you started any seeds indoors? Outdoors? Any other gardening activity? I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 
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