I once posted about the plight of the Pacific Madrone trees on the property. Many of the trees in our woodland areas are weak and diseased as a direct result of decades of poor land and forest management.
This last weekend, while attending our first dairy goat show of the season, one of those diseased Madrones fell, and took out an entire 16 foot doubled run of deer fence, upslope of the garden and orchard.
As it’s peak fawn season, you can imagine what happened once the fence was down, and the farmers were out of town.
This should have been a post about the fun we had at this weekend’s dairy goat show, but show weekend was quickly eclipsed when we returned home and went to check on the gardens after an especially hot weather weekend. I expected I may find a few plants that needed a little extra water. I did not expect to find carnage throughout the summer garden and orchard.
I’ve spent a number of weeks leading up to show season making sure that the summer garden, and orchard, was at a point that it could be left to coast for a while. The warm weather this spring allowed me to get a jump start on transplanting early in the season, and when we hit the road on Friday I felt good about the state of things on the farm. It’s always difficult to be gone, but everything was growing along nicely when we left.
On our return, the first evidence of trouble that I spied was in the cucumber bed.
I intentionally over-planted pickling cucumbers this year, as I have plans for a lot of pickling and canning later in the season. When we left last Friday the vines were robust, and healthy, reaching toward the top of the supports, and producing plenty of blooms, and fruits.
At first I thought it was rabbits, but after surveying the rest of the damage, it was clear the deer had gained entry to the garden, and enjoyed the cucumbers immensely.
Then I turned my attention to the pepper beds. The sweet peppers were only slightly gnawed on, with just some of the plants stripped of their leaves.
The hot pepper bed though was decimated. Padróns, Jalapeños, Pepperoncini, and Anchos, were all popular with our garden invaders.
Strangely, the Tomatillos planted in the back of this bed were almost completely untouched.
As I turned the corner though, I was crushed to find that this is all that’s left of the raspberry bed.
There was ripening fruit on Friday, now most of the plants are reduced to mere stubs.
Miraculously the basil was completely untouched. I know that deer tend to avoid some of the garden herbs, like sage, and rosemary, but I would have thought that basil might be more appealing.
At least we have basil. The parsley is gone, but we have basil.
Then I noticed the heirloom tomatoes. Almost every plant had been torn, with branches snapped, or stems abraded where they’d been pulled through the cage supports.
I spent much of yesterday pruning off all of the affected pieces and parts of these plants to reduce the chance of disease in the wounded areas. It’s clear that if the plants had not been caged, the damage would have been MUCH more severe.
Most of what I had to remove where branch ends that were in full bloom, or had already set fruit. I’m hoping the damage is just a minor set-back, and they’ll recover, but wounded tomato plants can be rendered highly susceptible to disease.
The strawberry bed we renovated this winter also took a hit.
Fortunately, the new ProtekNet fine mesh netting we’d put over the beds spared most of the plants, but some around the edges of the bed were sampled.
However, the ‘Consort’ blackcurrants weren’t quite so lucky.
One of the tomato beds this year is right at the crest of the hill above the orchard. As I looked down the hill toward the fruit trees, I almost cried. The lower half of almost every single tree on the south side of the orchard was stripped of its leaves, with broken branches, and obliterated fruit.
Each winter we prune the trees for shape, carefully selecting which buds along a branch we’d like to encourage to grow. The deer clearly disagreed with our choices.
Last year voles took out two of my favorite rare Niedzwetzkyana crab apple trees. Their replacement has now also been heavily damaged.
The trouble with deer damage on some fruit trees, at least in our experience, is that the affected branches have a tendency to die back completely once they’ve been chewed on. As this replacement tree is still a whip, we’ll have to wait and see if it can manage to recover without the central leader dying back.
Esopus Spitzenburg, a relative slow-grower compared to some of our apple trees, also sustained an absurd amount of damage.
Our Aprium, which appeared to be setting its best crop of fruit ever, had its lower branches, and much of its fruit…annihilated.
The Cherry tree was clearly…chomped on.
Plums and pluots were purposefully pruned.
…and the peaches…well, I’m out of alliterations, but let’s face it, around here between the voles, and the deer…our peaches are simply doomed. I honestly sometimes wonder why we bother.
Along the edge of the greenhouse where we’re holding a dozen two year-old 5 gallon grafted apple trees for planting in the fall…every single one was decimated.
It’s been a rough few weeks here on the farm. Between a recent epic feud with a goat-hating neighbor that was caught spraying herbicide across our property, jeopardizing the health of both our goats, and our orchard, bobcats hauling off our poultry stock, and a single 24 hour fence breach resulting in this much damage, I’m finding it extremely difficult not to just throw up my hands and give up.
Fortunately, I’m not a quitter, but I am the type of person that has an innate need to proceed forward toward my goals, and this year I can’t help but feel that all I’m doing is damage control, and not actually making any progress here at all.
I’m exhausted, and right now phenomenally exasperated, and tired of being just one fallen tree, or one persistent predator, away from disaster. My relative lack of garden blogging recently is in part a result of my escalating frustration with the farm this year. The goats are the only thing keeping me even remotely sane at the moment, even though they’ve clearly sparked a war with one irrational neighbor.
Don’t get me wrong, Curbstone Valley is a special place, and I love the woodlands here, the privacy, the wildlife, the creeks, the views, and the rest of my neighbors, but I also am well aware that the farm has the potential to be so much more. Just not here.
For now though, this is where we are, so again, we’ll chalk this up to another experience, that perhaps one day we’ll look back and laugh about. We removed the offending tree, and another that was in similar condition along the fence line yesterday, and repaired the fence. Now we’ll have to wait and see how the damaged plants in the garden and orchard fare through the remainder of this season.
How can deer be so adorable at this time of year, as babies, and mature into the most destructive four-legged garden predators known to man?