Sunday, July 27, 2014

Odds 'N Ends - Dottie's Garden

Critter Problem
Our property lies in the heart of the Mississippi River bluffs.   Not many streets in our town are continuous for more than a few blocks due to a network of ravines and "hollers" that are characteristic of river bluffs.  (In fact, rumor has it that Collinsville holds the worlds record for "No Outlet" and "Dead End" road signs.)  The ravines are forested with typical edge cover between peoples yards and the trees -- perfect wild animal habitat.  And living with wildlife is great except when it comes to gardening. Ground hogs, rabbits and deer are the four-legged critters that can be most destructive but can be deterred by a proper fence.  Insects, birds, squirrels and raccoons are another matter, although the latter two so far have not been a problem.

Critter-proof fence
We installed a typical 5' livestock woven wire fence around the 30' x 50' garden. Under the bottom of the wire, we buried pressure treated 2 x 6s on edge to discourage moles, gophers, ground hogs and digging rabbits.  Next we attached rabbit fencing along the bottom of the woven wire fence and stapled it to the tops of the 2 x 6s as further rabbit proofing.
Obstructions and torturous pathways to discourage jumping deer.

Outwitting the Deer
But what to do about the deer who have no trouble clearing a 5' fence from a standing start?  As a result of surfing the internet, Dottie laid out the pathways and plantings in mini-maze fashion so as not to give jumping deer clear-cut landing areas.  But just to make sure there were no safe landing areas, she hauled in all matter of junk metal, such as bed frames, rebar and big things that defy 
description, and positioned it in such
a way that no self-respecting deer would risk a broken bone or a concussion by jumping in.  Then she strung brightly colored streamers from the tallest piece of junk outward to the corner fence posts.  Finally, she strung heavy translucent fishing line from post to post 6" or so above the top of the woven wire. Apparently, curious deer are repelled by contacting the line with their noses at night. Judging by the fact that the line has been broken a couple of times with no signs of deer in the garden, either the junk or the line or both are working.  Or maybe they are repelled by the dill plants around the periphery and the Marigold plots within -- both reputed to be offensive to deer and other invaders.
Junk appears soon after the initial tilling 

Insect Patrol
Dottie grew up in a big rural family that depended heavily on its garden. Being the eldest child and, as such, a surrogate mother to her younger sibs, she was only too happy to spend time gardening in order to get some personal time. Hence, her green thumb today.  Those of us who have never gardened fail to appreciate its nuances beyond tilling, planting, weeding and harvesting.  Insect patrol is one of these.  I swear she can spot an aphid from 20' away.  She opens into the squash stems to excise a borer that kills the plant otherwise.  Her major effort last year was against the Egyptian beetle (stinkbug) that bloomed in these parts.  The methods she used are too complicated and off-the-wall to address here except to say they did not involve store-bought insecticides.

The garden was tilled initially to kill the turf.  Since then, it has been no-till which not only cuts down on the amount of work but is more sustainable.  She starts saving cardboard boxes in the early Spring.  When planting season arrives, she flattens the boxes and covers the ground with them.  To plant seeds in a row, she cuts a narrow strip out of the cardboard or leaves space between boxes and plants through the hole.  With plants, like tomato plants, she makes an "X" shaped cut, folds the flaps back, plants the plant and closes the "X" around it.  Then she covers the cardboard with wheat straw.  The cardboard keeps the weeds from sprouting and keeps moisture from evaporating from the ground.  The straw also helps hold in moisture but, to my way of thinking, it covers up the ugliness of the cardboard until the plants get tall enough to hide it.  (So far, the neighbors have been very understanding about the junk, the streamers and the cardboard, although it probably helps to have shared the veggies with them.)

Dottie's farmer-brother-in-law accumulates an obscene number of PVC 2 gallon containers after mixing the surfectant with his Roundup for crop spraying. He suggested we drill a holes at their bases, fill them with water and set them next to plants needing irrigation.  Accordingly, by trial and error, we found that a 1/16" hole will require 2 hours for 2 gal of water to irrigate the base of a plant.  Also at his suggestion, we covered the bottom of each container with an inch or so of pea gravel to stabilize against the wind and, in case the can does not set level and some water is retained, to keep from breeding mosquitoes. The containers kept us from loosing bare-rooted seedlings during the 2012 drought and since have come into play in the garden, for new seedlings and for the new blueberry patch.

Native Plants and Therapy

Amongst the veggies, Dottie is growing several varieties of wildflowers that will eventually to be part of the native landscaping after the house is built.   Meanwhile, they add interest to the garden and are safe from construction activities.

The garden is Dottie's sanctuary -- her relief from her multitasking world.  And it is a great way for her to squeeze in some strenuous exercise that's good for her sciatica.

September 2015 Update
We are happy to report that the deer still have not invaded the garden but the groundhogs have.  Dig under the fence, you say?  Nope, they climb the fence high enough to get over the secondary rabbit fencing then jump off.  As bulky-looking as they are, who would have thought that they could squeeze through a woven wire fence?  Japanese stink bugs wreaked havoc last summer but have not been a serious problem this year.

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