Basketball Patches and Plastic Jug Blossoms


People who pass on the road sometime slow down considerably when they see our patch of basketballs and our plastic jugs in bloom. Our gardens are beginning to look like a modern exhibit of recycled trash art. But we have gone berserk only in the sense that wild animals are driving us there.  We spend as much time now protecting our food supply from predators like deer and raccoons as we do planting and weeding.

The basketballs are holding up black plastic netting above the strawberries to keep the infernal deer from eating all the plants and the infernal birds from eating the fruit. If we laid the netting directly on the plants, it would depress plant growth too much and the robins would be able to get to the berries through the netting. Spaulding may not have realized it but basketballs are perfect for this job. The netting is barely visible from a distance so there seems to be no reason for the basketballs to be there. Friends like to make jokes, like what’s our yield of basketballs per acre this year.

The balls in the strawberry patch won’t hold air anymore. We have a fairly large supply of them because our grandsons are bent on sending me and their grandmother to an early grave playing basketball in the barn all the time. The stupid balls keep bouncing up against the roofing nails projecting through the roof.

The plastic jugs on stakes in the other picture are also holding up netting, in this case over the black raspberry patch. If the netting were allowed to rest right on the raspberry vines, the brown thrashers could easily peck the berries right through the netting. Not all the berries are protected with this remedy, but at least we get most of them. The netting does not hang all the way to the ground everywhere either, and eventually the birds figure that out and get under it. But we still get our share.

I think you can see behind the basketball patch another example of recycled trash art. Those tall crooked posts you see come from our tree grove free of charge— saplings that have died for one reason or another. Threaded over them and surrounding three sides of the bean and pea patch is a length of rusty, recycled woven wire fence that sticks up into the air about seven feet. Deer can jump eight feet, but they have never jumped over seven feet of my woven wire vines. I take the fence down and pull the posts out every fall to use again around another garden plot next year. When they rot at the bottom, there are always more dead saplings in the woods.

The woven wire extends only around three sides because I have to have a way to get into the plot easily. On that side, there’s netting hanging down loosely, which I can easily raise up when I need to get inside. So far it has fooled the deer. There’s chicken wire fencing all around the plot also, to keep out the rabbits. On the entry side, the chicken fencing is only loosely affixed to the corner post so I can swing it open easily to get the tiller inside. Those other crooked sticks are bean poles, also free from the woods.

None of this defense works for raccoons. I bet that they could learn to pick bank vault locks if that were the only way into the corn patch. We have to spend precious time and money on electric fencing, the only thing I know that will keep this four-footed Houdini away from corn.

We learned to use black plastic netting from our daughter who lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area, where deer roam the suburbs like the buffalo used to roam the prairies. She covers nearly her entire home landscape of ornamentals with it. Since the netting is almost invisible, it doesn’t detract much from the beauty of her plants. Her husband used it to cover their garden pond surface. That discouraged the great blue herons from eating the fish. But here’s one for the books. Wild minks moved in under the netting and ate the fish.

Here’s another one for Believe It Or Not. My sister and her husband have a garden close to their farm pond. The snapping turtles move into her pea patch every spring to lay their eggs.

People who do not farm or garden worry about the natural world. I have a strong hunch that wildlife will be here long after we are gone.


give up planting sweet corn

Whew. My first objection was that life might not be worth living. Garrison Keeler isn’t right about much, but he was very nearly right about sweet corn.

However, I did leave off for a few years. It didn’t help. I got down to where i was only planting tomatoes and the deer were eating them… not the fruit, — the plants. Anything that will eat a tomato plant is desperate. Anything that desperate will eat anything and is clearly in a serious over population situation.

I’ve also been getting erosion problems from the deer tracks. No joke.

    Erosion from deer tracks? That’s a new one for me. I see your point, though. Fresh summer corn truly is one of the better things in country life, I’ll make no argument there. Maybe what we need is to build some giant bear and wolf decoys? Unless those would just make the deer curious. To be honest, I’ve been surprised not to have had significant with deer and coons, even though my place directly borders protected state land, and I have personally seen large populations of deer, turkeys, and evidence of coons, possums, etc. We do have a dog, so maybe that accounts for part of it.
    One of the most frustrating things in this part of the country is the practice of non-resident land owners letting their places grow up to almost impassible brush to encourage large deer populations so that they can be sure to get deer the few weekends a year they’re around. This also has driven land prices up significantly, as its becoming a popular ‘investment strategy’ among wealthy hunters. If you can buy a piece of land and let it grow up long enough, you’ll soon be able to photograph a couple of large white-tail bucks on said land, at which point you can re-sell your land for almost twice as much.
    I’m resolutely supporting of healthy wildlife populations, but it’s getting to be fairly overpopulated, and clearly there needs to be a paradigm shift on the part of the general public towards viewing hunters and trappers as something other than soul-less neanderthals. (among other much overdue paradigm shifts)

You are a wise man, John Depew. That goose info could have really helped Jimmy Carter.

Not to sound too brazen, but couldn’t we just give up planting sweet corn in garden patches and focus on plants that the deer and coons won’t pick bank vault locks and run forty miles to get to?
Also, a decoy Canada goose does wonders to keep rabbits away, at least here in central KS. Geese are mean and rabbits are scared of them.

    That’s not to say I’m not a fan of sweet corn, and I’m definitely for an increase in wise animal population control, since we’ve removed all their natural predators from the midwestern region. There’s no one left to do it but us. But to some extent we have to be willing to adapt to our environment, and for me its more feasible just to omit sweet corn from my diet than to spend tons of time and money trying to protect it.

Hey, Roof, maybe the answer is to sic the wild critters on the Jehovah’s Witnesses! Let ’em cancel each other out. With all due respect to other people’s religion, they can believe whatever they want to as long as they don’t try to shove it down my throat. I seem to remember that what we are guaranteed in this country is that there will be no state religion, meaning, you can go peddle the Watchtower somewhere else. But as for the critters, I’ve always operated on the principle that I have to fence them out, and that if they invade, harass or otherwise bother my livestock or crops, they risk a bullet. We have enough mountain lions in our area that they and the hunters keep the deer population down, and any coon stupid enough to climb the fence and try to steal my dogs’ chow deserves what he gets. And God help anything that thinks it can snatch a bit of leftover food from the sow!

Our cultural problems, to me, always magnify what we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves. As Gene says, wildlife are seen as cute and in need of protection while livestock are slaughtered daily in abysmal conditions. And as Karen adds, those overpopulated creatures aren’t living Disney lives. Yet people who are comfortable buying animal products packaged far from the living source prefer to keep the illusion of wildlife sacred despite populations overrun without the natural balance of predators and forage depletion. Our delusions can be dangerous to animals and people.

A few years ago my husband was in a serious car accident, hit by a commuter swerving to avoid a herd of deer crossing the road. Although my husband’s neck was broken and the disability cost him his career, the other driver wasn’t charged nor did insurance pay. The presence of deer on the road was deemed, get this, “an act of God.” Proof that our long sought evidence of God has honed the deity down to one suburban chap, since the deer were crossing to get to his back yard where they ate cracked corn each evening.

I’m going against the grain here, so be kind. I live in a magical place in the woods, a big woods. I’ve lived here for eighteen years. I’ve never planted a garden here (I have a garden at a friend’s place six miles away), and I never considered raising chickens here. I knew I would lose those battles. I used to be a pacifist in that I would live trap raccoons and take them to a state nature preserve eight miles away. The first year I live trapped over 35 raccoons, so for you smug people who would have killed them, I would have traded a raccoon problem for a vulture problem. I caught fewer raccoons the next year, but began trapping at my neighbors’, which led to an important discovery. Once I asked them to bring their cat food inside in the evenings, the raccoon population began to decrease. I’m thinking now when those raccoons are warming their paws around their campfire, they tell stories about the last time they saw Uncle Bob heading over to get some cat food, and what a spooky place my valley is.

I’m living on a fixed income now, and with the price of gas so high, I swallowed my values in that I dispatch raccoons with a pellet gun. There aren’t that many. I’m like the Luca Brasi of the woods. Yesterday I went to a friend’s home to kill a raccoon who was killing her chickens. She lives next to a big woods, too. Sometimes I recall a bit that the comedian Sam Kennison used to do about the people starving on a desert, and I smile about the similarities. People have raccoon food and deer food in a woods, and get pissed that raccoons and deer show up, and blame everyone but themselves. I get pissed when the Jehovah’s Witnesses show up. I’ve never fed them, once.

I grew a backyard garden in the city for three years running, including corn and tomatoes. Amazingly, though a family of raccoons lives in the alleys of our neighborhood, they didn’t eat the corn! I was amazed. All I had for protection was a 4-ft brick wall with gates they could (and did) go under easily. For the cat food, not the corn. I guess they’re citified raccoons. They get mighty big, though, and have no fear of humans, so I looked into getting rid of them. I did learn we are NOT allowed to shoot them (dang it, I wanted to find a good hound and do a little coon hunting… imagine the echo of a hound’s bay by the full moon in Midtown…). Catch and release is our only option. I can’t allow myself to inflict these creatures on a farmer somewhere, so I leave them be and hope the city authorities get them for terrorizing cats or chihuahuas, or defecating on city property, or something.

To arms! We lost 5 of 6 pullets to a coon a few weeks ago. Time to string some hot wire and get out the “live” trap. Our beaches are closed to swimming a few times each summer because of high E. coli counts, primarily from duck and goose droppings. On the bright side, I can see how another economic downturn would solve lots of deer, duck, goose, rabbit, etc. problems around here. Shoot, saute and shut up!

We have dogs that keep the deer out of the yard. It’s all fenced so the dogs don’t wander, but deer are good jumpers- they did learn quickly not to come in as the dogs will chase them out. Rabbits too are less of a problem than when we moved in, although there are still some.

I’ve been reading your thoughts on this for years and I, like, TOTALLY agree with you. Our local farm supply even sells deer and raccoon chow – unbelievable! Here in the Sierra foothills, we also have the same problems with Canada geese and wild turkeys. They’re not native here, but some poor soul thought they would do well under our mixed forest, and boy do they! You can always tell a new resident as they go into raptures about seeing a flock of twenty or so turkeys. Once the garden’s been scratched up by one of those (kind of like having a velociraptor take a dust bath in your yard), they get real quiet about the joys of nature. Some of our posher gated communities are totally overrun with both turkeys and deer, and unpleasant encounters between wildlife and humans are increasing (not to mention Lyme disease – unfortunately, turkeys don’t seem to be fond of ticks as guinea fowl are). Most people have this Disneyesque vision of deer living long happy lives and quietly just lying down and passing away. HA! Around here deer don’t have what we would call a good death – usually they’re run down by dogs or cars, die of parasites or some terrible wasting disease or become dinner for mountain lions.
Yes, most people are so far removed from nature that they can’t even conceive of such a death, the reality for most animals. If we have some kind of disaster where the food chain is disrupted, however, I think they will change their attitude quickly.
Thanks for your point of view.

Gene, I know that before the advent of plastic netting and deer fence and before electrified fence, nearly all rural dwellers substantially relied on their garden plots for food. How did they manage the invading critters back in that day? Were there simply fewer because they too were a primary food source (at least the four footed ones anyway), or have those practices been lost in the competition with cheap plastic? I was looking forward to cucumbers, but maybe I’ll just have to settle for cottontail stew.

    Lloyd Clark: there were no deer, none, zero, in our county when I was a boy. Even when we first moved back 38 years ago, there were not enough deer to cause a problem. They had been hunted to near extinction in the 1800s and then there was very little good cover for them in the 1900s because livestock grazed most of the land now growing up in brush and deer cover. On the other hand, there were almost as many coon hunters as there were coons. Every farm boy, this one included, trapped coons and sold the pelts and many families at the meat. Now modern culture denigrates trapping and hunting as acts of nearly barbarous cavemen but the same culture doesn’t object when we slaugher thousands of livestock every day for our meat supply. Game laws overly favor the wild animals and in many cases, as with deer, even the recreational hunters favor strict laws because they want to drive out on Saturday morning of the first day of deer season, and get their deer with ease from the mounting herds that now ramble the countryside. In the meantime, we are enhancing the environment that favors animals like deer and raccoon (except for highways) as land formerly in pasture because it wasn’t amenable to big farm machines, grows up in brush. Some of us try to get special permission to take deer out of season but the red tape is hardly worth it. Even finding real hunters who know how to hunt deer effectively (it requires an inordinate about of time) is difficult. And our culture is far away on another planet with this problem. Many people are still feeding the deer and raccoons and in most cases, gardeners who trap coons, rabbits etc. drive off to some other neighborhood and let them loose!!! Those of us who try to point out that a crisis is in the making are considered ignorant country redneck conservative tea partiers. Hey, I am a political liberal and almost always vote that way. I know that the only way to change society right now is for everyone to garden for their food. Then they’d understand. No one would allow a herd of cows to run around loose but for some reason, it is okay for deer to do so. I know I sound a little strident here but really something will have to be done. When the deer herds rumble down Main Street and crash through store windows, I guess maybe things will change. Right now we are a culture that has no meaningful connection with nature. Gene Logsdon

      Deer are getting bolder, and have been attacking humans in southwest British Columbia. A buck chased down a cyclist and knocked him off his bike, breaking several bones, last year. Just recently, a doe — yes, a doe! — attacked and trampled a young woman, sending her to the hospital.

      But don’t worry; a reversion to the mean is inevitable. As we come down off this fossil sunlight high, people will once again be competing with deer for grazing land and hunting racoons. Can’t happen soon enough, in my book!

      Hear ya Gene! Thing is I have the deer threat pretty well under control. While they can, and will, jump a 6 ft chain link fence, I’ve seen little evidence that they have. As long as I remember to close the gate the deer don’t seem to consider the risk of entry worth the browse. There are raccoons around but I don’t grow sweet corn, or keep tempting trash in an outside bin, so they find better opportunity at my neighbor’s. It is the rabbits, marmots, possums and squirrels that are making off with most of my veggies and worse destroying young plants before they produce. But the lesson I take from your reply is that my aim should be to deny the pest population their cover and habit by cutting and removing undergrowth brush, and then by hunting or trapping, and killing and eating them.Seems only like common sense. I’ll get to work on it in that right order. Thanks for the advice.

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