published: March 2015

As the Worm Turns: Animal-proofing the garden

by Leigh Mills

Note:  This is the last “As the Worm Turns” column.  April marks the beginning of “The Garden Guru” by Matie Belle Lakish.   Thank you for reading “the worm” and please welcome “the guru”.

Mountainous, high-desert gardening poses many challenges: drought, wind, burning sun, hail, early frosts . . . and animals.  If deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, moles, mice, robins, grackles and other birds, even various homestead animals like goats, chickens, and dogs, gain entry to the garden area, they can damage crops and ruin expensive landscaping. 

Depending on the garden’s location, there are various techniques you can use to protect your investment of time, (and money).  Fencing the garden area is a good place to start, but fencing can be expensive.  My first garden in Howard, CO didn’t have a fence because of the cost.  There were a couple of dogs, which helped keep the deer, and wild horses, away, and there was a small “zoo” down the road where we obtained big cat manure to spread around the perimeter of the garden area; after we moistened it with some water, nothing came near the garden . . . not even people!

Rabbits love gardens! There are quite a few wild rabbits in our neighborhood since we are without cats at the moment. I had to do some major rabbit-proofing on our garden fence these last two years and it seems to be working.

Gardening in the Baca Grants was pretty easy animal-wise when I grew there.  We had no fence, just a handful of cats; once in a while deer would come through, but it didn’t concern us enough to build one.  Then we moved across the valley into new terrain.  Luckily, the Heyokah Homestead garden has a few natural animal-proofing features.  The rocky soil helps prevent tunneling by rabbits, voles, and moles; seasonal hunting keeps the deer population in check; there are no squirrels, although chipmunks visit regularly; bears are few and far between, and so are other garden-damaging animals like porcupines and raccoons.  When it came time to build the garden fence, our main concern was keeping out our goats, the rabbits (domesticated and wild), and the handful of cows that came through once a year.

Being low-budget gardeners, my husband and I used what we had lying around the homestead to build our fence.  We had plenty of wood and chicken wire from past building projects and used that for our fence.  Ours has one-inch holes which keep out all animals but the birds and climbers:  chipmunks and cats.  Chicken wire is also pretty invisible and looks cool when layered with snow or hoar frost.  I like using chicken wire for fencing, but it is not strong.  Luckily we don’t have many bears, elk, or moose around that could break through and munch out.  If your garden needs a fence, do some research first.  What animals are you keeping out?  Will you need to dig down along the perimeter and construct a mole/vole/rabbit barrier?  Is a 6’ fence high enough to keep out deer that can jump 8’ if hungry enough?  Can you afford the materials?  If building a fence isn’t an option, there are other ways to keep animals away from your garden or landscape.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough space here to cover all the fence-free animal-proofing methods available, but there are internet sources and library books to help you decide how to protect your food, flowers, trees, and herbs.  I have Outwitting Deer by Bill Adler, Jr. in my personal library and the Saguache library has Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden by Rhonda Massingham Hart and Deer Resistant Landscaping—Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 Other Pesky Mammals by Neil Soderstrom.  I read through those before writing this article and I found them to be very informative. 

If you’ve got critters invading your garden and/or landscaped yard, there are many creative and inexpensive methods you can use to keep them out and your plants safe.  Look around and see what others are doing, ask them what has worked, or hasn’t . . . and have a great gardening year!

Leigh Mills has lived and gardened in the San Luis Valley since 2002 and written the “As the Worm Turns” column since 2010.  If you enjoy reading her monthly, visit her website, TheInfiniteBee.com, to view color photos and read journal entries about how Leigh cultivates life with Adventures, Homestead Skills, and Life Practices.