Going on vacation? What’s a gardener to do?
Sometimes life interferes with being a gardener. Here it is, mid-summer and most of my vegetables are nearly ready to be eaten or to be put up for the winter. But I was invited to a wedding of a dear friend in Tanzania, and I am going! So I will be leaving my gardens for nearly two weeks in August. If you are going away, there are things you can do that will help your garden thrive in your absence. Here are some of the things I am doing.
First, I am thinking about the deer. I have a vegetable plot this year that was lent to me nearby, but it is not adjacent to my house. At home the deer rarely bother my garden -- there is plenty of activity every day, and a vicious corgi, Daphne, lurking around, ready to take them on. (Unless she is asleep indoors, which is most of the time). But this vegetable plot is more remote, and I have been battling deer all summer. Untended for 2 weeks? It might get munched to the ground.
Because the garden is about 250 feet long and 15 feet wide, I haven’t fenced it in. Fences 8 feet tall are the best defense against deer. Even light-weight bird fencing is generally effective, especially if you hang strips of cloth or reflective tape on the fencing so that they can see there is a fence.
Instead of fencing, I have tried various smelly things to make them think poorly of my garden. I tried hanging bars of Irish Spring soap, but that did not deter them. Then I sprayed Garlic Barrier on foliage. This is a garlic and water spray that comes in a quart bottle. Diluted and sprayed on, it is quite stinky, and deer, like vampires, generally avoid garlic. The garlic oils are supposed to penetrate the leaves, repelling insects. But why not deer, too? It can’t hurt, and if it repels some bugs, too, all the better. The directions suggest spraying every 2 weeks, so I’ll spray my plants just before I go.
The last resort, and one which so far this summer seems to have helped, is coyote urine. It is sold along with little plastic bottles with holes drilled in the sides near the top, cotton balls in the bottom, and wire loops for hanging. I poured some coyote urine on the cotton balls, and hung them from short forked sticks in the garden. Since I have done that, I’ve had no losses to deer in the garden. Deer are creatures of habit, and I am hoping they have decided that my big plot is one to avoid. We’ll see. I’ve also heard that aluminum pie plates hung on strings in the garden will ward off the deer, but haven’t tried them.
I have 50 sweet potato plants in that plot, and the deer ate some of the foliage the first night after I planted the slips (some of which had leaves). Most plants recovered, and I covered them with "row covers" to keep away the deer and to hold in heat. Row cover is a spun agricultural fabric that breathes and lets rain and air pass through it. I use stiff wire hoops to keep it above the plants and give them space to grow. So now my sweet potatoes are not available to the deer.
Writing this article in yet another thunder storm, I have to admit that I am not worried about watering my garden while I am away. Still, if you have a dry garden and we get a dry spell, there are timers that will turn you hose on and off . They are battery operated and will turn off and on every day, or every other day, or once a week for a predetermined period. I have used timers made by Melnor and they are easy to program and use. You just need to have sprinklers or soaker hoses set up to water your garden.
It helps to have a friend or neighbor who will turn the timer on if you get a dry period, or turn it off after a big rain. Presumably there are now phone apps that will allow you to turn timers on or off from a smart phone. I’m just not that smart -- nor is my phone (which is not an old fashioned rotary, but close)..
Potted plants often suffer in August when people leave without giving them thought. It’s best to move them out of the sun to keep them cool and reduce their water needs. Give them a good soaking before you leave -- I find submerging pots in a big bin of deep water is best. Hold them down until they stop bubbling.
And I know you are not going to like this piece of advice: weed your garden well before you leave. Yes, you’re busy getting ready to go. But if you let weeds get big, flower, and make seeds, you will be paying a price for a long time to come. Seeds can live a long time -- some even for decades, or centuries. So have a good look around for weeds getting ready to produce seeds.
Lastly, remember if you offer your neighbor free beans or tomatoes or lettuce, they are more likely to come and fuss with your watering device, or even water the potted plants. And veggies need to be picked in order to keep on producing. Have a great trip!
Henry Homeyer will not be answering e-mail questions this month. His Web site is www.Gardening-Guy.com.
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