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Posts Tagged ‘deer’

Gardener's Dictionary

I found this little jewel in Reader’s Digest. It’s good to know there are others out there that share my pain.

I’d like to add one of my own:
Plastic: The only plant guaranteed to be deer proof.

Anyone have any to add? Please, you frustrated gardeners, let me know you’re out there!!

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Mommy Deerest

Mommy Deerest

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Have you ever wondered when watching America’s Funniest Videos, how it is that someone has a camera ready and running to capture all that unlikely footage? Whenever anything filmworthy happens around here, there is no camera anywhere nearby, much less on and recording when the award winning action is going on.

Two cases in point:
Last week, I headed down to the barn for the morning llama feeding and chores. My two dogs, Bayley the Goldendoodle, and Mayzie the Bearded Collie always accompany me for a romp down the road and hangout in the pasture as I do my farm duties. Bayley is still a puppy, a nine month old cross between two hunting breeds, the Golden Retriever and a Standard Poodle. She has been enrolled in continuing education since the age of 10 weeks, and she has gotten much better about minding me on some things, but when she catches sight or the scent of a wild animal, the prey drive kicks in and a cannon would not deter her from the chase.

On this particular morning, as soon as I opened the gate to the pasture, Bayley shot off toward the back fence. There I saw two does grazing inside the pasture. When they saw Bayley barreling in their direction, one of the deer immediately jumped the back fence and was gone. The other deer started running along the length of the back fence in the direction of the corner post. Bayley was in hot pursuit.

Often seen view of deer grazing in pasture


Now mind you, Bayley gets a great thrill from the chase, but wouldn’t know what to do if she caught something. The most amazing thing happened. I watched as the deer sped toward the side fence line expecting her to fly over, but instead, she ran headlong straight into the fence. BONK… She hit the rail head first and was knocked flat on her side.

Bayley stood back in astonishment. She didn’t know what to do. She just wanted the deer to run, and it was down for the count. Within a few seconds, the deer recovered its senses and stood up totally befuddled. She knew she needed to escape, but Bayley had her blocked in. She made a mad dash, bolting right over Bayley and ran for all she was worth toward the opposite end of the pasture. Bayley loped along behind her until the doe jumped the far fence and was gone.

Now wouldn’t you like to have gotten that on film?

The second case in point: The dogs have a favorite outside toy; a Jolly Ball on a rope. This is an 8 inch rubber ball attached to a length of rope. Bayley and Mayzie love to play tug of war with it. My husband, who will henceforth be referred to as Road Warrior (he commutes 66 miles each way on I-66 to DC) took the dogs out for their evening constitutional. Bayley grabbed the ball by the rope and started running around with it swinging her head from side to side, causing the ball to swing in an ever widening arc. The ball started whacking her on the side of the head. She’d swing her head left, and whack, the ball would hit her in the head; she’d swing her head right, and whack, the ball would hit her on the right side of her head. She did this for 8 or 10 times, and finally the ball got enough momentum that it hit her in the head hard enough to knock her down. Bamm! Flat on her side. It took a couple of seconds for her to gather her wits and get up, grab the ball and start running with it again.

Now, not only would I have loved to get this on video, I would love to have seen it with my own eyes. As it is, when I think about it, I see a video playing in my mind’s eye, and it makes me laugh. Too bad I can’t share this with the world.

(A re-creation)


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Last summer, I wrote about the deer eating our decorative pond plants along the banks of our pond.

Caught in the act


The deer waded out and snipped off every leaf of our Purple Pickerel right at the water line and left the leaf stalk floating. It completely killed the beautiful plants that had flourished there for the last 5 years.

We were pleased that a few stray volunteers had established themselves on the edge of our island. They looked very pretty there this spring, the purple spikes contrasting with the burnt orange of the daylilies. We knew that they would be safe from the marauding deer since they were, after all, on the island.

A couple of days ago, we noticed one patch of the pickerels cut and floating on the water. We repositioned the game camera to catch the culprit.

As you can see from this series of photos, the deer climbs down the bank, swims over to the island, climbs out of the water, and heads over to the over side of the island to chomp off the remaining leaves.

Caught on Camera

Anybody looking?


Holding my nose… Here I go.


Doing the deer paddle


Now I’ll just climb up the bank…..


Nothing like dinner on the island.

What is so perplexing is that the deer doesn’t seem to be eating the leaves. She just nips them off at the base and leaves the mess for us to clean up.
We launched the garbage scow, our little paddle wheeler, and peddled over to the island with a pond rake and gathered up the wreckage. Go figure!

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I never tire of gazing down on the pasture from the house and watching the llamas graze on the grass. As an extra added bonus, most evenings this time of year there is a small herd of deer that enjoy munching on the grass alongside the llamas.

I’ve seen as many as twenty deer grazing in the pasture, does with their offspring, now outgrown their spots and standing nearly as tall as their moms. Occasionally we will spot a young buck in the mix. It is getting to be the rutting season so the bucks are coming out of hiding.

Yesterday, as I was mowing the pasture, I could see small oval depressions in the tall grass, evidence of last night’s repose. I must have seen a couple dozen “deer dimples”. I take pleasure in knowing that the deer come to bed down in our meadow. Some evenings we shine our spotlight down on the pasture and are rewarded by a field of sparkling gems, pairs of eyes peering back at us.

A couple of years ago, as I was driving down our drive, I saw our small herd of llamas all running full speed along the fence line. I wondered what they were running off to look at. As I watched, the llamas began to pronk, with each llama following the other like a line of bounding antelope. Pronking is an activity that llamas do when they are feeling particularly happy and frisky. It’s rare that we see our mature boys engage in this free spirited romp, but it always puts me in mind of the cartoon skunk, “Pepe LePew” as he bounced around in his love pursuit of the elusive black kitty that had accidentally gotten white paint down her back.

I looked around the pasture to see what they were excited about and saw 3 deer dashing along the outside of the fence rail. Since we have so many deer, the sight of a deer usually doesn’t elicit any interest from the llamas, but as I continued to watch, the deer rounded the corner of the pasture fence and continued running and kicking up their heels with the llamas in hot pursuit along the inside of the fence rail. They ran a complete circle around the fence and then the deer dashed off into the woods.

I figured that was the end of the show, but within a few seconds, the deer came bounding from the woods and started running along the fence in the opposite direction. When the llamas saw them, they resumed their pronking and kept pace along the inside of the fence. It was then that I realized that the deer and the llamas were playing together. The deer would run 3 quarters the way around the pasture and reverse direction and run back around the perimeter leaping and cavorting. All 6 llamas continued their pronking, one behind the other, like carousel animals on a huge Merry Go Round. They all remained interested in the game for about 10 minutes, but as my llama boys are not accustomed to such extended romping, they soon tired. One by one they dropped into their “kush” position.

As the sun was starting to set, they settled into their nighttime sleeping positions, each llama facing a different direction as if they were circling the wagons. Soon they were lost in the settling darkness. How I wish we could entice the deer to come and exercise our llamas more often.

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How to protect your landscape investment

Living in the Shenandoah Valley, not far from the boundaries of the Shenandoah National Park in northwest Virginia, we see deer all the time. I enjoy them. We don’t hunt them, as many of our neighbors do, nor do I allow anyone to hunt on our property. But as much as I love seeing them raise their young on our meadow, and graze on the pasture side by side with the llamas, the deer can be a nuisance. They eat anything, and there seems to be a mathematical correlation to their dining desires: the more expensive the plant, the more delectable it is, and our yard is haute cuisine.

When we bought the 20 acre property, it was a wooded tangle, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, briars and wild grape vine, running rampant and strangling the trees. Over the last 12 years, my husband and I have toiled to clear the underbrush and clean up the woods. 4 years ago, we had a ½ acre pond dug in the bog, and throughout the cleanup process, we have planted ornamental trees and shrubs, which the deer have appreciated.

In the beginning, we lost a large percentage of the plantings. That was before we found the definitive deer deterrent. In the meantime, we tried everything. There was the Deer Away, Liquid Fence, and the home made recipe my nurseryman swore by, with raw eggs, hot sauce and garlic, all of which may work for a short time after applied, but rely on constant reapplication, especially after a rain. With all the farm chores, and the heavy mowing schedule, we need a leave it and forget it solution to the deer damage.

We tried a motion activated radio, a motion activated water jet, fertilizer made from human waste, human hair cuttings, dog hair brushings, little clip on tubes filled with garlic odor that was so stinky it made us gag within 10 feet of the plant. We ran electric wire around a bed of ivy to keep the deer from pulling it up by the roots. When we noticed that the deer were just shinnying under the wire to get to the ivy, we added another lower strand AND something completely different – a small metal cap with a cotton ball in it that we attached to the wire at 15 foot intervals that we filled with apple scent. The idea was that the deer would smell the apple and touch their noses to the cap and receive a shock. We never saw it work. In fact, none of these deterred the determined deer. When the winters are hard and the ground is covered with snow, the desperate deer will literally eat anything. Forget the “deer resistant” label on a plant.

But we did find one simple solution that has consistently fended them off, and that is a bar of Irish Spring soap. It absolutely has to be Irish Spring and in the original scent because of its intense pungent odor. Initially we cut the bars in half and tied a half bar into the netting of a discarded bath pouf, and hung them from the branches of the trees and shrubs. One or two soaps will take care of most young trees. We had great success with this for several years, until one summer we discovered that some animal was actually gnawing though the netting and eating the soap. We never did discover the culprit, but the soaps that were eaten were on small shrubs right on the edge of the pond. We speculated that we had particularly fastidious raccoons that were washing their hands with soap before chowing down on a succulent sushi smorgasbord.

Modifications were required. What could we put the soap in that couldn’t be chewed through? We came up with the idea of putting a bar of the soap into one of the wire cages made for suet cakes. This has worked beautifully. The cages never disintegrate as the netting did, and it is easy to replace the soap when necessary. We have found that a bar of soap lasts at least a whole year, and maybe two, as it slowly dissolves with the rainfall. Trees that had been heavily devoured prior to the soap are now not touched at all.

Soap in a Cage

The one thing that the soap will not work for is our pond plants. For the last 4 years, we have reveled in the beauty of the purple pickerel that we planted either side of our boat launch. The plants have thrived and each year put on a gazillion purple flower spikes that last for months and attract butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees, hummingbirds, you name it. This year it attracted the deer. Before it ever had a chance to bloom, they ate it to the ground. Witness the culprits, caught in action by our motion activated game camera. (No, we do not have a fetish for motion activated electronic devices…Maybe?)

Deer Devouring Pond Pickerel

I can’t guarantee that the soap will work for you, as you may have a species of aberrant deer that actually loves the scent of under arm deodorant. But it is a relatively cheap, low maintenance setup, and it makes for a great conversation starter when your friends comment on your unusual taste in garden décor.

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My good friend, Susan Warren, yesterday commented on her facebook that she was going out to mow and remarked that she was starting to sound like me, insinuating that I mow too much, or talk about it too much, whichever. So I decided why not embrace it, and write an article espousing my new philosophy about mowing.

I used to look at mowing as a dreaded chore, an evil two hours spent on the seat of a riding mower after a long 8 hour work day, when I would rather be enjoying a glass of wine on the deck while perusing the days mail offering of mail order catalogs. But this summer I am unemployed, recently laid off from my job of 12 years, so I began to look at mowing and the other farm chores with a renewed sense of vigor. Things I used to put off doing, I began to look at as my raison d’être.

In fact, mowing has become an activity that I enjoy, and actually look forward to. We have a 20 acre llama farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a combination of cleared pasture and deciduous forest, and I regularly mow about 15 of those acres. I have divided the mowing into 2 hour parcels, and it takes me about 16 hours to complete the task. If I mow for 2 hours a day, by the time I have made one cycle, it is time to start all over again. I don’t mow every day, of course. Sometimes it rains, or I have more pressing obligations, but I average 4-5 days of mowing each week.

There is something very satisfying about making clean swaths of sweet smelling green, as I follow the path left by my last pass. I often like to get playful with the mowing patterns to break up the monotony, sometimes mowing horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Last week I started in the dead center of the pasture and mowed in increasing whorls to the perimeter fence line. I found great satisfaction in the resulting crop circle formation that was visible from the front deck of the house.

But the one amazing revelation, now that I don’t look at mowing as an intrusion on my precious free time, is that it can be relaxing, like a form of meditation. I have a set of really good sound blocking headphones. I plug in my ipod and set the playlist for my favorite classical music, something like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Within a few minutes, I am completely relaxed, the low drone and vibration of the mower, almost mimicking a continuous OHHHMM. My senses heighten as I feel the warmth of the sun and the cool brush of the breeze on my skin. I revel in the profusion of small wildlife that I stir up as the grasshoppers, crickets, tree frogs, and occasional snake scurry to avoid the whirring blades. I have company along the way, as the bluebirds and phoebes perch on the fence rails, waiting to pounce on a bug as I pass by. Occasionally I will have a brace of barn swallows pacing me, timing their swoops to avoid a head on collision with the front of the mower.

I’ve discovered that my mowing meditation has helped to reduce stress. It’s an opportunity to spend time by myself without feeling guilty about not having a job. For this summer at least, mowing is my job. It has helped me keep things in perspective, enabled me to detach myself from insignificant, yet irritating thoughts. Silencing my mind of worrisome thoughts, my mowing meditation allows my creativity to blossom.

My favorite chunk of mowing time is the mile of trails that we have cut through our mini forest. I feel like an artist swirling paint on a canvas as I carve paths along the creek banks and through the clearings. It is an ever changing palette, the progression of the wildflowers. In early spring, the ground is dusted with the delicate white blossoms of the toothworts, soon followed by the yellow marsh marigolds, (that I affectionately call our yellow marshmallows when I can’t recall the true name). And our one clump of Virginia Bluebells that we anxiously await each year.

As the spring gives way to summer, the variety of wildflowers gets bolder in color as they get taller in height. Now in July, we are enjoying the fuchsia color of the wild flox, the burnt orange of the blackberry lily, and the delicate purple of the monarda, or bee balm. Towering over all are the stems of the stiff ragweed that will eventually bloom a bright yellow flower atop a 6 – 7 foot stalk in late August.

About every two weeks I freshen up the forest paths and revel in the kaleidoscope of nature’s ever changing beauty.

So, today will be a good day for mowing. My chunk for today is the area right in the middle of our property, a 3 acre glade amongst the trees that we have named Central Park. The temps today are going to be in the low 90’s, but climbing during the week to near 100. I think today I will listen to some music from the impressionistic period, Debussey’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn”, a tribute to the doe and newly born fawn that we saw scampering across the pasture yesterday evening.

As I look ahead to the changing seasons and the evolving list of chores, I wonder if I will ever find peace with the snow shoveling. I’m thinking not. I do have my limits.

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Bonny and Mayzie

Someone recently asked me how old Bonny, my oldest Bearded Collie, was and I replied that she would be 14 in a couple of weeks. That got me to remembering a birthday several years back that turned out to be an outstanding doggie occasion.

I had almost forgotten it was Bonny’s birthday until that morning. I generally like to do something that makes the day a little special for the dogs and Bonny was turning 9 years old that day. We used to enjoy hiking in the woods with the dogs, but recently, we had been hiking almost every weekend with the llamas and our weekend llama trekking business and the dogs had been a little neglected in that department. We were just starting our summer break, having stopped the treks the weekend before due to the hot and humid Virginia summers. Mayzie, our younger beardie was now a year old and had never been on a real hike. So the plan was hatched.

The temperature was supposed to soar to the ninety’s later in the day, so we prepared for an early start. I quickly made a picnic breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches and orange juice and packed plenty of water and Gatorade. I filled the doggie canteen with fresh water and grabbed the extend-o-leashes and we were off. Some friends in the area had told us of a local trail that leads into the Shenandoah National Park and joins a park trail that terminates at the top of the Skyline Drive. The trail is a couple of miles from the house, so we drove to the trailhead and parked the car. We had not looked at the trail map before heading out, but had an impression that the trail was only about a couple of miles to the top. We figured it would take a couple of hours to go up and back and we’d stop along the way and eat our sandwiches.

The trail was beautiful. It is known by the locals as the Browntown Toll Road. It was built a couple of hundred years ago, long before the government claimed the mountain as a National Park, to provide an access for people on the other side of the mountain to ride into Browntown, a bustling little town for the early 1800s. The trail is still in excellent condition. It cuts through dense forest and luckily was well shaded, but we were sweating profusely in spite of our early start. We have a pretty good feel for distances as we hike about 4 miles of trails with llamas every week, so after about 2 miles, we started anticipating connecting with the Skyline drive. We covered another mile or so and were still not there.

The dogs were hot and tired and panting heavily. We were stopping frequently to give them water. They were plodding along dutifully, but the excitement and novelty had worn off. They weren’t as alert and observant as they had been earlier on, so it took us all by surprise when a doe leapt from the woods and crossed the trail no more than 10 feet in front of us. Bonny and Mayzie were instantly on guard and ready to take chase. Luckily we had them on leashes. I wondered briefly why the doe didn’t run down the hill away from us instead of choosing to run right in front of us the way she did.

We continued on up the trail about a quarter mile, when Tim pointed at a spot on the edge of the trail and said “Look”. At first glance, there was a sunny patch covered sparsely with low growing ground cover. But as I focused on the area, I detected a round brown hump with small white spots on it. At the other end of the hump were two pointed ears and two very wide eyes. We all had walked within inches of this new fawn and not even the dogs had detected its presence. It was incredibly tiny, and probably only a couple of days old. I was just saying to Tim that its Mom had given it strict instructions to stay put, and it was doing as it had been told, when it occurred to me that we had just encountered Mom. It became apparent why she had darted right in front of us on the trail. She was trying to lure the dogs away from her baby. We took a quick photo and moved hurriedly on so as not to distress the fawn any more than we already had.

We now guestimated that we had walked about 4 miles and still weren’t at the top. I had not come dressed appropriately for a strenuous hike. Anticipating the heat, I had worn shorts and tennis shoes. The trail in places was very rocky, and the bottoms of my feet were becoming increasingly tender. In other areas, the grass and weeds were a foot tall, and I had spied a goodly amount of poison ivy along the trail. We were debating on whether to turn around or keep going. I was spent, and starting to favor turning around. Tim wanted to see where the trail ended. We speculated that Murphy was on the trail with us, and that if we made the decision to turn around, the trail’s end would be a couple hundreds yards further on. However, if we continued to walk, it would be another mile at least. Finally we compromised. I found a log to sit on, and I stayed behind with the dogs, and Tim went on ahead to find the elusive end of the trail. He found it about a half mile up, and took photos to prove he was there.

The downhill hike was much easier than the going up. It took about 2 ½ hours to climb to the top, but we made it back down in about 1 ½ hours. The dogs were much livelier on the way down, having again found the bounce in their step. As soon as we opened the door to the house, they plopped down on the cool tile floor, and went instantly to sleep, dreaming, no doubt, of chasing deer all through the forest. I’m sure Bonny had the best Birthday a dog could wish for.

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