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The return of the enclosed garden

The interesting and entertaining reactions to my recent post about destructive wildlife in the garden encouraged me to ponder the situation more closely. Pondering things closely always leads me to weird ideas. I am thinking about the possible return of the walled gardens of Victorian times. How do you know they didn’t become popular in the first place to keep out wild animals including humans? And tame animals too for that matter because, in those days, livestock were allowed to wander about as freely as we allow deer to do today.

As long as most people are not involved in food production or avid gardening, I think it will be a long time before we are going to get the kind of social solidarity needed to enact measures to control runaway wildlife populations. It is easy enough to convince the gentle folk among us to get rid of mice and rats in the house but oh my, not those precious deer and raccoons in the garden. If there were deer that developed a taste for car tires, you can bet that society would rise up in wrath and settle that problem in a hurry.

A watchdog is good protection against raccoons and deer, but not dependable enough. Electric fencing works but is not totally dependable either. In the extremely dry weather we have been experiencing, we learned that raccoons can brush against electric fence and not be grounded enough to get shocked. It seems to me that garden farmers are just going to have to bite the bullet and spend the money on really foolproof enclosures or quit raising food.

I have settled for something a whole lot cheaper than garden walls but also a whole lot uglier. I drive steel posts into the ground and then slide sections of old recycled woven wire fence down over the posts, going in and out of the wire at the bottom and about two thirds of the way up to hold the fence to the posts. The fence sticks up above the posts to about seven feet tall. Deer could jump it (a deer fence should be eight foot tall) or knock it down, but so far they have not. The woven wire reaches down to only about two feet from the ground, so I attach chicken wire around the bottom to keep out rabbits. The sweet corn goes into a separate plot surrounded by electric fencing.

Our daughter Jenny and son-in-law Joe, who live in the Cleveland, Ohio suburbs where eventually deer will outnumber people if nothing concerted is done to reduce their numbers, wanted a garden fence for their vegetables that was very attractive as well as deer proof. They did not want the expense of a walled garden although they talked about it, so they chose wrought iron— that’s Jenny standing in front of the fence in the pepper section of the garden. What they have achieved is an attractive, formal vegetable garden. To keep down cost, the garden is quite small, not more than a thousand square feet, but it is amazing how much food they produce with very rich soil, close planting and trellising. Their garden is really twice the size of its dimensions because they train everything upward that will grow that way. Their tomatoes and pole string beans towered above my head this year and the peas grew to five feet in height. The fence is not eight feet tall, but so far the deer have not jumped it.

What if burgeoning wild animal and bird populations force most of food production into enclosed systems like the now popular plastic covered hoop houses? We know that adroit use of very close spacing, double-cropping and high trellises can triple and quadruple the amount of food an acre can produce. Perhaps that would lead to the abandonment of poorer farmland to forest to grow wood for renewable fuel… And for the wildlife population to increase and multiply and dominate the earth. Imagine deerburgers replacing hamburgers.
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