How I Protect My Garden From Wildlife, Part 2
For very small gardens, creating a cage to protect your crops is often the easiest method. Some people make cages large enough to cover several garden beds and to walk inside, while other cages are designed to cover just one bed with its crops.
For my small crops, I just use my cold frame to protect my plants. I take off the lid and replace it with screening or hardware cloth. Securely built cages are often the only way to keep squirrels out of your garden, if you don't use a dog to keep them away.
My sister sometimes “caged” her square foot garden beds with nylon window screening. You can also use chicken wire, hardware cloth, or other material.
Hardware Cloth Under Beds
At my last home, I had a major problem with moles and voles. The moles didn't eat my plants (they eat earthworms and grubs), but they often accidentally destroyed many young seedlings with their extensive tunnels in my raised beds. The voles (small mouse-like rodents), however, did eat my plants – such as potatoes growing under summer mulch, and the thick juicy stalks of endive growing in my winter garden.
It was when I changed my garden to 4′ by 4′ square foot garden beds with wood frames that I found my solution! I secured ½ inch hardware cloth to the bottom of my wooden bed frames before I set the frames on top of the ground and filled them with soil. This was basically creating the underground portion of a “cage.”
I had to move to a new home when these beds were only 3 years old (and still working well), so I don't really know how long the wire would last before rusting away, but I suspected it would last until I needed to replace the wood at 5-7 years of age.
You should have seen me sitting on my porch, giggling hysterically, while I watched the moles tunnel around and around each bed – but never making it inside! Using hardware cloth wouldn't work with permanent beds, as it wouldn't last long enough. I don't have to deal with any moles at my current home, but if I wanted to protect permanent beds, I would probably pack down a couple layers of heavy gravel (maybe 1 1/2” – 2” stone) at the bottom of the raised bed before filling it with soil. This should prevent moles and voles from tunneling through.
For some people, using electric fences is a good option. Properly designed and installed, they can be very effective against a wide variety of wildlife. I once surrounded my garden with electric netting for one year. It helped control wildlife very well during the growing season, but it didn't work when snow covered the base of the fence and grounded it. I also didn't like accidentally killing snakes or turtles when they tangled with the mesh.
I now prefer to use non-electric rabbit fencing or solid walls to keep out rabbits. They work 12 months a year, won't accidentally kill non-target wildlife, and won't stop working if weeds grow up through it.
But I did use a simple 2-line baited electric fence very successfully for several years to keep deer out of my small orchard. This fence was created with two electric lines – one knee height, one waist height – with the lines baited with peanut butter. Baiting the lines every 2 weeks all year-round is critical! By getting shocked on the sensitive nose, the deer were trained to avoid the fence, even though they could easily jump over it.
I obtained most of my fencing supplies from Premier 1 Supplies. I am not an affiliate for the company, but they offer great information on their website, and I really liked the quality of their products. Your local farm supply store is another source of fencing supplies. Just make sure you obtain a high quality charger, as the low-end ones may not work well for deer and some other pests. Also, it's very important – for safety reasons – to strictly follow installation instructions!
Dog Inside Fenced Yard
This was, in many ways, my easiest way to keep wildlife out of my garden. It won't work with every dog, however. My dog, before she passed on, would chase any animal in sight. So, I surrounded my yard with a fence and placed both my garden and dog inside.
She wasn't a digger, fortunately, and she was easy to keep fenced. Some dogs won't consistently chase wildlife, constantly escape fences, dig holes everywhere, or worse. I was lucky. The only damage she ever did to my garden was accidentally crushing some frozen vegetables when I had thrown an old quilt over one raised bed on a really cold night to give the plants some extra protection. For some reason, she preferred sleeping on that old quilt over her heated sleeping pad that night!
It's very important to keep your dog and garden inside a fenced perimeter. This is why I include this method under “barrier” methods, instead of scare tactics. I had neighbors that let their dogs run loose all the time, partly to help chase wildlife away. We were in the country, and they ignored county leash laws. Their dogs ended up getting tired of chasing everything, and eventually just let deer graze the lawn right in front of them.
My dog and the local wildlife reached a different understanding. Outside the fence was their territory, and inside was hers. Animals quickly learned where it wasn't safe to travel. She also did a great job chasing the occasional squirrel away – an animal very difficult to control in the garden by other methods.
Your dog needs to be outside most (but not all) of the time – day and night, all year long – for this method to work well. My dog had a heating pad in her dog house during the winter, and a cool patch of shade during the summer. She came inside the house regularly to visit, and took rides in the car for exciting trips. Daisy loved her life, and she did an awesome job protecting my garden. I really miss her.
No wildlife control method is 100% effective for everyone, but good quality barriers have been far more effective for me than most of the repellants or scare tactics that I've tried. Keeping your garden small makes it much easier to protect against wildlife.
What pest control methods have worked well for you?
Visit my Pinterest board to view more photos of various fences and cages.