Your garden is very important to your off-the-grid lifestyle. To end your reliance on grocery stores and supermarkets, you probably started a garden. You can grow a myriad of different vegetables and even fruit, no matter what your local climate. In fact, having access to those fresh and preserved vegetables and fruit is likely a major source of your family’s nutrition. That means you need to take great care to protect it.
If you have had a garden and have struggled to keep it safe or even if you are just starting out in the garden planning process, now is a good time to think about protecting your harvest. The culprits who are out to get your garden are wild and maybe even domestic animals. Rabbits, deer, elk, groundhogs, squirrels, foxes, and free-roaming livestock are all likely to find your garden a great source of food. Just like you, they may rely on your plants for a major part of their nutrition. And why not? If you make it easy for them to access, they will eat it right up.
One of the simplest fixes is to plant your garden in raised beds. If you have little critters invading your space, this can deter them with minimal effort. If you already have a garden, of course, this is not so easy to do. If, however, you are in the planning stages, include raised beds. A raised bed garden is essentially a container garden. Instead of planting each vegetable in a different pot, you are creating one large container (or maybe a few of them).
Raised beds will protect your plants from the tiniest of invaders. Even if you do not see any mammals attacking your vegetables, surely insects are. Raised beds give you excellent protection from many crawling pests, like slugs. They just can’t make it up the steep sides. In addition, if you have had problems with rabbits and groundhogs or gophers, a raised bed with at least eighteen-inch sides will keep them at bay. They should be completely foiled by the barrier.
To make raised beds, you can use any number of materials. You just need something to create the eighteen-inch high border and then you fill it with soil and compost. Most people use wood, but you can use stones, bricks, concrete blocks, sand bags, or even bales of hay. Whatever you have on hand that will create that barrier should work. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just secure.
Fences offer another level of protection. With raised beds, you can deter rabbits and gophers, but anything larger will simply lean over and chow down. Deer are a very common problem for gardeners. They will not be stopped by a raised bed, but they will come to a halt at a sturdy fence. Deer can’t climb a fence, so if you can construct something that will stay put, you can keep the deer out of your garden. Fencing will, of course, also keep out the smaller pests, like rabbits, as long as they can’t get through the openings. If your fencing material has holes large enough for a rabbit, you may want to make raised beds as well.
Another consideration if using fencing to deter both deer and the little critters is the fact that rabbits and gophers can dig. They can go right under your fence and get to the tasty roots in your garden. When building a fence, be sure to sink it into the ground to a depth of four to six inches. It is also a good idea to bend that sunk fencing away from the garden. This provides an extra deterrent to little digging rabbit feet. And don’t forget that deer can jump. Your fence should be eight feet high to keep them out.
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Plants as Deterrents
If aesthetics matter to you and you cringe at the sight of fencing and wire mesh, you can use some natural deterrents. There are several plants that you can put around the edges of your garden to keep pests at bay. Marigolds, for instance, give off a smell that rabbits can’t stand. Both rabbits and deer dislike daisies, poppies, lupine, and purple cone flower. Anything prickly or thorny will also help to keep them away: cardoon, sedum, echinops, or eryngium.
Plants can also be used to lure pests away from your tasty vegetables. You might try planting clover at some distance from your garden. Also, keep the area around your garden clear of shrubs and other plants that offer rabbits a place to hide. They will be reluctant to make the dangerous sprint over open ground to get at your garden.
Protecting Your Trees
Both rabbits and deer will go after the bark on trees. Especially in the winter, when other food is minimal, they will nibble on tree bark for nourishment. If rabbits are your concern, or even beavers, you can wrap the first couple of feet of trunk in cloth. Wrap it loosely and make the cylinder of cloth taut by attaching it to stakes driven into the ground. To deter deer, you can use the same technique, but it will have to go much higher. You can also create a cylinder out of chicken wire or other type of mesh. Just remember to consider that rabbits can get through pretty small holes.
There are many things that you can use to repel certain animals from your garden. There are commercial sprays that can be purchased at any gardening store, but you can also find some natural alternatives. Fermented salmon fertilizer is a natural product that can be sprayed on any plants you intend to eat. The nasty smell will keep most animals away, and the oiliness of it will keep it from washing off of leaves in the rain. Other sprays need to be reapplied after rain.
Some people will swear by using wolf urine to repel herbivores. You can buy crystallized urine and make it into a spray. You probably don’t want to put this on your vegetables, but you can spray it around the perimeter of your garden to send a clear message to rabbits, gophers, and deer that danger is around the corner.
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Birds of Prey
A very natural way to protect your crops is to work with your local raptors. Birds of prey that are native to your area will happily eat many of your pest animals if you provide them with a good place to live. Erect twenty-to-twenty-five foot perches around your garden. Hawks will find these to be excellent places to nest and will eat or at least scare away many of the little animals trying to nibble in your garden. Owls can also be lured in to live near your garden, but their needs are more complex. To get owls, you will need to construct a nesting box with specific dimensions and with an opening of the right size. One barn owl can eat a gopher a day, so it may be worth your time to make an owl house.
You probably have several animals around the farm, and your dog may be another source of garden protection. Dogs can be trained to run off small animals. Repeatedly scaring off the little critters is often enough to keep them away. You need not train them to hunt out and kill the pests, although that may be an option as well.
However you choose to protect your garden, be sure to do so carefully and be thorough. Surviving off the grid means being able to come up with your own food. Don’t let that food go to waste by feeding it to wild animals.
©2012 Off the Grid News