Several weeks ago my wife and I were having one of our typical off-the-wall discussions when she asked me what I would think about putting in an orchard at the farm.
There had been an orchard there before, the small hill overlooking the farm is still known as “Orchard Hill” even though not a single apple tree remains. However, it is visible in the old aerial photos going back to 1939.
Orchards in general were pretty common and liberally scattered about the county up through the 1950s, but most of those – with the exception of a few remnant apple trees – are long gone now.
But back to the discussion about the orchard, my response was that could be okay, but before we plant the first tree I want to put in an 8-foot-high woven wire fence to keep the deer out. Back when orchards were plentiful, deer were largely absent.
The mostly self-sufficient family farms back in the first half of the 20th Century didn’t experience deer damage. However, when it comes to gardens and such today, a common expression is “Fence it or share it!”
Installing the fence before planting the first tree would be an example of planning. I know that deer pose a threat to young trees through browsing and rubbing, and that although deer damage control permits are available, they don’t actually prevent the deer from damaging the trees.
I don’t have anything against the deer, but I don’t want to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars and countless hours of time and energy into planting a bunch of trees only to have them browsed and rubbed into oblivion.
There is simply no way that I can watch over my hypothetical future apple tree saplings 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sure it might make me feel a little better by exacting some revenge, and possibly put a little meat in the freezer, but in the end I would still have deer-browsed and rubbed trees.
Since the deer aren’t going away anytime soon, and since I don’t actually want the deer to go away anytime soon, the only option I have is to come up with a plan of action beforehand.
So before I would plant the first tree, I would carefully consider how large I want my orchard to be, how much fencing it would require, how many fence posts, how much time and labor I would have invested in it, and how long it would take to get any return from my investment.
It is the same for a garden.
Consider all the time and effort you put into your garden—you probably check out the seed catalogs and decide what you want to plant and how much of each vegetable you want, you buy the seeds, and make sure your tiller is in good working order.
All of that takes place before you even touch the soil, then you have to go through and actually work up your garden, forming the rows, putting up stakes and strings, planting seeds, weeding and cultivating, fertilizing – countless hours – just to have Bambi and friends come along and munch your plants.
In many locations electric fencing can be effective, and it only needs to be turned on during the times that deer are active, nighttime and twilight. If you consider it as an investment, realizing that a fence system can last for years, you will see that it is a wise investment.
You can always use solar-powered or battery-powered fences in places without electricity. A little planning beforehand can save you a lot of frustration.
So when it comes to gardens, remember to fence it or share it. For more information about fencing strategies and damage control for deer and other wildlife, contact me at the Meigs SWCD.
Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist with the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at [email protected]