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This weekend we had plans to finish up the construction of some of the raised vegetable garden boxes so that we could transplant out our seedlings.  However, our plans for working on that project were thwarted on two fronts.

Raised redwood boxes under construction

The first issue was the weather, which seems to have reverted to a soggy winter pattern, the other situation was much more sinister.  We had a very nasty surprise in the orchard on Saturday morning, causing us to immediately halt the other projects we were working on.

We’ve been invaded.  Those dastardly devouring deer have found a way into our orchard.  Despite installing a 7 ft high perimeter deer fence around the entire orchard and vegetable garden area this winter, there was no denying we’ve had a breach.

Somehow, the deer managed to get into the orchard

The damage was first noted on a large swath of agapanthus recently given to us by a friend.  These plants looked like someone had attacked them with hedge shears.  It’s a tough plant, and barring further damage will no doubt grow back.

Recently transplanted, someone decided the agapanthus needed to be trimmed...but it wasn't us

Our attention though quickly turned to the fruit trees.  The Satsuma plum…nooooooo, not the plum!

This Satsuma plum branch tip was stripped

This branch on the Satsuma plum tree fared better

Closer inspection of the other fruit trees revealed that the Santa Rosa plum, the Flavor King pluot, and the Frost peach had all been gnawed on too.  The big questions were, how did the deer get into the orchard in the first place, and what will it take to keep them out!?

No great surprise, deer like peach trees too

Thankfully, none of the damage was catastrophic, and was mostly limited to the stripping of some leaves, newly forming fruits, and a few branches were ‘pruned’.  However, as the trees are young, it won’t take many more night-time raids to damage a tree beyond the point of no return.

Torn and damaged branches will need to be pruned

A walk around the perimeter of the fence showed the fence was intact.  No deer had managed to break through.  That left the option of jumping over. The severity of slope makes it impossible for them to jump into the orchard from the bottom of the hill.  However, uphill, we found some evidence to suggest where they may have been able to get a running jump from the slope above the orchard to gain access.

Recent rains helped us identify an area just inside the fence where the soil was disturbed, uphill of the gardens, where the deer were likely gaining entry

Downhill, the erosion control blanket was displaced, suggesting where they were exiting the orchard, just above the road.

 

A section at the base of the hill, below the gardens, where the deer seemed to have found a way out of the orchard once inside

We knew our slopes, especially the uphill section, could become a weak-point in our deer fence installation when we first erected the fence.  Fortunately, the remedy (we hope) is relatively straightforward.

Deer can jump up to tremendous height, but they have more difficulty jumping upward and outward at the same time.  As such, on uphill sections of slope it is usually possible to screen deer out by installing a second line of fence 4-6 ft back from the main fence.  This is far enough back to create a divide too wide for them to jump, but not so far back that they can still get a running jump in toward the fence.

 

A second 100' run of fence was installed uphill (left) of the main perimeter fence (right)

So, instead of working on the raised beds for the gardens this weekend, we spent all of Saturday, our only fair-weather day this weekend, installing a 100 foot run of secondary fence uphill of the main perimeter fence.

A walk around the orchard this morning shows no additional damage, at least not yet.  We’ll continue to scrutinize the fruit trees this week, watching for any additional damage that would suggest a second entry point into the orchard.  In the meantime, before transplanting out all of our vegetables that we’ve started from seed, we’re going to place some ‘sacrificial tasty greens’ in the gardens to see if anything absconds with them.  Let’s hope this time the deer get the message, and go around the gardens, rather than THROUGH them!