One of the most difficult aspects of growing vegetables where I live is the determination to devastate each and every edible plant I try to grow by the hungry wildlife. Living in the chaparral with a desert-like climate, rodents of all descriptions seek juicy fruits and vegetables when the sparse green provided by nature bakes to a crisp on surrounding hillsides. Even the raccoons and coyotes delight in home-grown vegetables.
The best way I’ve found to fend off these hungry critters is to build raised vegetable gardens. You can construct raised vegetable gardens out of any material you want. You simply need to make sure there are no gaps accessible by the smallest of your wild raiders. Using decorative block or painted wood can make your garden ornamental. Just make sure you don’t use toxic materials (including paints and stains) that can leach into your garden soil. Be particularly careful of the creosote in railroad ties. If you aren’t sure about the materials you are using, then line the interior of your raised garden bed walls so the soil does not come in direct contact.
Remember that some birds can also damage your vegetable garden. So even if you build a well-sealed raised vegetable bed, you may have to construct a netted roof to keep your flying friends away from your prized edibles.
One of the less pleasant aspects about owning a dog is dealing with pet waste. Most people are well acquainted with the pooper-scooper. There’s also the handy plastic bag trick for clean up. Either way, the offensive messes usually end up packaged in filmy plastic and added to our ever-growing landfill areas.
There is another alternative, however. For people with a garden — or at least a yard — you can install a waste composter to take the place of those plastic bags that are polluting our environment since they never break down completely. Pet compost-makers come in a variety of shapes, forms and sizes. You can find them sold in pet stores or listed in catalogs or websites. Once you’ve ordered the one you want, plan to do a little digging. Check your soil to make sure you have ample drainage and locate it in sun so the moisture and heat will bake down the contents into an odorless material that takes up a lot less room than the fresh stuff. The concept is pretty much the same as for composting kitchen and garden waste except that you should NEVER use pet compost anywhere near edibles. Unlike plant compost, meat-eating pets produce composted waste that can carry parasites and other diseases that are transmittable to people.
Composters hold a lot more than you’d think by looking at them. As the feces break down, they become compressed. It should take years before you have to empty yours (depending on the number of dogs and the size you buy). Digging them out is easy and there is no odor at all. The light material — rather like damp sawdust — can be scattered in an area that is not heavily populated where it will melt naturally back into surrounding soil. Or, if that isn’t an option, you can now put it into a single bad to dispose of it. Pet compost-makers will work for any pets, not just dogs. Pets that do not eat meat or meat products (milk or eggs) will produce a safe compost that can be used in the garden.
Lighting brings a garden to life at night. It makes it lovely and romantic — and safe for moving around in the dark. Night garden lights are perfect for warm nights, barbecues and evening entertaining. You can use low volt lighting, LCDs, lighting on household current, or — easiest of all — solar lighting. Solar lights require no wires or fuss. They’ll light up in places where you can’t run electricity. And they’ll cost you nothing to run. The only problem is that they don’t last forever. Happily, repairing solar lights is usually very easy.
There isn’t a lot that will go wrong with outdoor solar lights. Either they simply become so old that the solar panels wear out or the batteries need replacing. In most cases repair is a quick fix with replacement batteries. Here is a little video showing how to repair these lights. Chances are your solar lamps are similar to the one shown here. Although designs for different lights and brands will vary, the concept remains the same. Adapt the repair to your own light fixtures and you should have your yard glowing as soon as the sun goes down. (Don’t forget that some new batteries will need at least a few hours of sun to charge.) Just make sure you use solar batteries. Regular batteries will not work. Also, check that you buy the right size. Sometimes the difference isn’t as obvious as with regular acid batteries. How Do I Repair Outdoor Solar Lights? — powered by ehow
Raccoons may look cute, but they are dangerous and trouble in the garden.
Look out for pests in the vegetable garden. Some sneak in at night, some fly in by air, some creep in under the soil and others find their way in riding piggyback on other wildlife. Pests will vary depending on where you live. Some are widespread and bother vegetable gardens in many climates.
There is nothing sweeter than a home-grown tomato. That’s why so many people find space to grow at least one tomato plant – even on a patio or balcony when there is no garden space. In warm, sunny summers tomatoes grow easily in all parts of the country. There are cultivars to fit into just about any space. You can even grow sun-dried tomatoes on the vine. But beware the ubiquitous tomato worm. It is green so it is hard to see and eats its way into growing very large (about three very fat inches long). Because these are the larval form of the hawk moth – a delightful creature often seen at sunset that looks like a tiny hummingbird – there are few places you can grow your tomatoes that will be inaccessible to the egg-laying adults. Hand pick the tomato worm or hornworm when you see it. These caterpillars are voracious and can reek a lot of destruction fast. On the positive side, the adults are important because they are prime pollinators of many plants — some can benefit from them more than from bees.
Even when summer ends, pests can be active in the vegetable garden. Insects can have a last rush at dining on your plants and even the animals that go dormant in the winter – like ground squirrels or gophers – are likely to want to party in your garden before taking a winter snooze. Racoons are perfectly happy to rummage through your landscape at any time of the year. In the eastern half of the country they can carry rabies, and even in the western half of the country in rural areas that had no raccoons they are becoming more and more common. I suspect it’s because of the increase in the human population. The recession may have slowed the influx of people in these areas, but the raccoons don’t seem much worried about the economy. The most useful deterrent I have found for these plucky critters (that can destroy ponds, vegetable gardens and trash can areas) are electrified fences for cattle or sheep. There is even a raccoon electric fence made specially for them.
Sometimes vegetables grow unmolested for the first few years until the wildlife discovers you’ve planted them a paradise. Those ridiculous old cartoons of people playing tug-of-war with a gopher on the other end of a vegetable plant lose their absurdity when you find yourself on the opposite end of your favorite plant as something greedy beneath the soil tries to wrest it from your grip. There are a hundred and one home remedies to use against gophers from chewing gum to kitty litter to tar-dipped corn cobs. Try them first if you want. Then try any of the noise vibrators, scent deterrents, smoking bombs, and, if necessary, poison baits. (Please use the last with caution so pets and other wildlife are not endangered.) If you don’t have success, go for the long-lasting solution of building physical barriers. Half-inch hardware cloth lining the vegetable garden underneath and up the sides, is usually a surefire, long term way to keep plants safe from gopher pests. Building a raised vegetable garden can help, too, especially if the bottom is lined with wire.
Physical barriers will keep out most of the other destructive rodents like mice, rats and rabbits. Mice and rats can be tricky, though, since they’ll find the smallest of spaces to sneak through. You’ll have to keep a careful watch on all gaps and seams. Rats and mice may find entryways before you do. I’m currently testing out the raccoon electrical wire to see if it will discourage the rats from entering the vegetable garden.
To keep out the rabbits, plan on making wire fences at least two feet high. And since rodents like mice and rats have skulls that can compress, these pests can fit into holes that look way to small for them to enter. You are safest using half inch hardware cloth rather than the chicken wire to keep them out.
For those of you who have better luck with exposed vegetable plants, sometimes cages wrapped with one-inch chicken wire are enough to protect sufficient crops for the table. When it comes to late season melons or winter squashes, try using plastic net bags (like the ones turkeys come in during the holidays, or sometimes onions and potatoes are sold in bulk with these nets). For some reason the gnawing pests seem to be put off their game by the bags, while air and sunshine are free to pass freely. Bag up young fruits and vegetables letting them grow to fill up the interior; the netting expands along with the growth. Maybe this trick will help you preserve more of your produce from those ravenous wild critters out there.
Insect pests are often controlled by hosing with water. If that doesn’t work, try an insecticidal soap or Neem®. If you still need to resort to poisons, make sure you read and follow the directions carefully for the most successful and safest applications. Personally, I prefer keeping poisonous insecticides out of edible gardens altogether if I can.
Speaking of insects, if you have celery plants, you might want to let some of them set seed. I find they often get aphids that then become magnets for ladybugs. Celery is best planted from seed and will be ready to crop in the late winter in warm climates. In the spring and early summer it will put out its flat-topped clusters of tiny yellow flowers that are likely to become loaded with ladybug families: eggs, pupae, nymphs and adults just in time to defend your garden from invading six-legged pests. All the members of the ladybug family (eggs excepted, of course) are voracious devourers of aphids all over the garden. You can even purchase live ladybugs. They will fly away over time, but only after their food supply of insect pests runs out.
Now if I could only figure out what plant I could cultivate that would intimidate the ground squirrel population. Maybe the electrified raccoon netting will work with them, too. (It shocks the intruders, but will not kill them.) I’ll let you know if this net fencing is successful as it is tested out in my garden during the coming year.
If you want to start your growing season a little early, add some light shade or keep out pests while growing your edibles, or want to extend your crops into cooler weather, there is nothing better than to build a roof on your raised vegetable garden. You can cover your raised vegetable garden beds easily with clear plastic sheeting or add netting to keep out pests. Plastic makes an excellent temporary roof for extending your growing season. But first you need to make a frame on which your roof covering will rest. Try creating bent U-shaped ribs. They are easy to make and you can leave them in place even after removing the covering in hot, sunny weather.
You can bend long lengths of PVC for ribs. Or you can use wood or bamboo. The trick to getting them to bend without snapping is to soak the wood or bamboo in water for at least 24 hours to soften it up.
Then attach heavy duty plastic sheeting to the ribs. Sometimes you can reuse heavy clear plastic that was used as a drop cloth for painting or other work so long as it isn’t torn or too dirty. Do not reuse plastic that has been used around toxic materials. You can use regular staples, tie the plastic on with recycled wire ties saved from vegetables at the grocery store, or twine thin wire around the supports to hold the plastic in place. You can re-use wire threaded through rolls of chicken wire to keep the rolls closed. These are just some suggestions.
Build a roof on your raised gardens to mediate temperature extremes and protect your raised beds from insect and larger sized pests. And you can do it easily, cheaply and even use recycled materials to roof your garden. Just remember to water the interior regularly. A timed drip irrigation system is one convenient way to make sure things don’t dry out.
Once upon a time gardens were made up of shrubs, trees and a few flowers. As exploration around the world presented more and more plants to the avid gardener, designing landscapes became more creative. Following discoveries came plant breeders who not only increased the availability of interesting plants, but became creative themselves by crossing species and developing more beautiful, adaptable and sustainable varieties. Along with all these changes, gardens benefited by discovering new kinds of plants — like ornamental grasses — had a lot to offer in texture, color and design effects. Decorative grasses are now a major building block of many gorgeous gardens in both private and public displays.
Grasses are still being used for lawns, but even lawn varieties have expanded to grow in a wider range of soils and climates. The flowering heads — inflorescences — are not usually as colorful as many garden flower petals, but add delicate sculptural shapes that dance gracefully in the breeze. Most ornamental grasses add that element of movement to a garden whether they are in bloom or not. The upright foliage also offers a vertical shape so often missing with the mounding growth habits of other most garden plants.
Another fine use of ornamental grasses is for foliage color. Some grasses or grass-like plants (like the Phormium or New Zealand Flax) are stained, splashed, striped or speckled with colors as showy as blooms. But colorful foliage doesn’t fade out when flowering is done. Colorful grasses can create interest in a flower bed long after all the flowers have faded away.
There are grasses that like it hot and those that like it cool. Some demand rich soil while others thrive where little else will grow. Find the right kind of ornamental grass for the conditions of your landscape and you can create a whole dimension of texture and color.
By the way, if you happen to have cats, flowering stalks make irresistible two-second cat toys. True, they won’t last long, but they are safe, natural and you’ll probably get lots of them!
Jane Schwartz Gates is a professional landscaping contractor, author, artist, and public speaker. Jane was born in New England. She started drawing before she could walk and spent her favorite childhood times in nature and in the garden, later earning her Bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. A post graduate degree in art and design followed from the Academia di Perugia in Italy.