The moral of this Instructable is: If you grow plants outdoor, your success depends on animals out there and how you set up your garden space to keep the animals from eating all your plants.
I started to like my house ten times better when I discovered I can grow vegetables on my backyard retaining wall a few years ago.
The first year I tried with a few pepper plants (photo 4). I was glad they produced peppers and was aware some animals were eating the pepper plants and peppers. Surprisingly they didn't mind the hotness of Jalapeño peppers.
The second year I tried cucumber and cilantro (photo 5).
The third year I planted all 33 places with cucumber seeds when I found once the cucumber draped down the wall it looked pretty. This time I found whatever animal it was, it was a terribly smart. They saw fresh soil, they would dig the soil and eat the seeds. I had to plant the seeds a few times to end up with seedlings. Then they ate seedlings and flowers. I ended up with about ten plants to fruiting stage (photo 6). Of course the animals shared cucumbers all summer long with me. I found only ten plants not only produced enough cucumbers for my family and the animals and many to give away, also it was a nice landscape scene when the cucumber plants drape down the retaining wall.
My dream for this year is to protect all cucumber plants from backyard animals to create a whole wall covered by cucumber plants for eyes and enough cucumbers for tummies of my family and many others. This Instructable is a document of my fight to save my retaining wall cucumbers from backyard animals. Hope it's helpful to you too.
1/2" Hardware cloth
2 ft Wood stakes
All surfaces construction glue
Glue dispenser gun
Various household tools and weight to brace while glue is setting
Hand sewing needle and thread
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Step 1: Install Hardware Cloth As Fence
Make sure you get 1/2" hardware cloth, no bigger mesh than that. The first time I used 1" chicken wire which is okay for big animals like rabbit. It's no use for gopher and mouse, especially the later, they could climb through the big holes and completely eat all my cucumber plants in a matter of one day. So this year, I had to remove the 1" chicken wire (1st photo, unnumbered) and replace it with 1/2" hardware cloth.
The 1/2" hardware cloth comes in 2 ft to 4 ft in height. My retaining wall needs 75 ft long of it. To save money, I bought 2 ft tall 1/2" hardware cloth and cut it to 1 ft tall. Depending on how much you can spend on it, how long you need, and how tall you want your fence to be, you can buy 2 ft, 3 ft, or 4 ft cloth in height, use it as it is or cut it shorter to make more yardage and save money.
Photo 1: Cut cloth in half to make more yardage.
Photo 2: Start by inserting the short end to the crease of the beginning two blocks of the retaining wall
Photo 3: Wrap the fence around the end of the retaining wall and along the whole retaining wall, use your hands and feet and whatever you can, or use a helper, to make sure the fence is in tight contact with the side of retaining wall blocks (photo 4), no gaps between them, because mouse and gopher can come over through the gap between them to dine on your plants.
Photo 5: Use garden stakes to keep the fence in place.
Photo 6: Use wood stakes to keep the fence in place. (These wood stakes will eventually rot and need to be replaced which is a fact I didn't like. But I found my backyard birds like to perch on them and come down to eat bugs which is a fact I like).
Photo 7: A gap between the fence and the wall, that's what construction glue comes in to solve.
Photo 8 Glue at many points to eliminate any gaps between the fence and the wall and to keep the fence permanently in place. Use various household tools and weights to prop and brace to prevent the fence and the wall come apart before the glue is set.
Photo 9: Sharp end of the metal cloth.
Photo 10: Use hand sewing needle, thread and fabric scrap to wrap the sharp end to prevent it from scratching plants or the gardener.
Installing small mesh fence and eliminating any gap between the fence and the wall are key to prevent animals like mouse, gopher and rabbit from eating the plants. Before I did that, the animals have dined on every singe cucumber plant I have this year, to different degrees. They have completely eaten a few of my cucumber plants which I have replaced with either pepper or bush bean. The majority of the cucumber plants have a couple healthy leaves left. These plants survived but their growth and yield were affected. A few plants that have been eaten only a few leaves already drape down the wall and are producing cucumbers. You can see these differences in the last photo here taken on July 14th.
Step 2: Install Traps As Second Measure to Protect My Cucumbers From Backyard Animals
Mouse is color blind. They like to run along walls and into holes when alarmed whether the holes are theirs or yours. It makes sense that I found d-con reusable covered traps work like a charm because it is just a black hole. So far these traps have caught more than 20 mice this year. Use one every five to ten feet along the garden wall or where you saw mouse running.
Another animal eating my vegetables in my backyard is what I call gopher. I actually don't know what it is. It has stripes on its fir. Its size is usually bigger than a mouse but smaller than a squirrel. I found Havahart traps work very well. There are small, medium and large traps. I use the one to which a gopher can go in through either end. It's a live trap. Place it where you saw gopher often. I usually give my "prisoner" a ride to a park and release it there. So far the one trap has caught about five gopher this year.
Sometimes rabbits eat my cucumber plants too. The tips of the cucumber plants in the third photo here are all gone, which I attribute to rabbits. I know they also eat some of my flower plants. I don't think they have done devastating damage in my backyard since all my gardens are raised almost 2 ft high. I heard they did huge damage to my neighbor's raised bed garden and he is using the large size Havahart traps. If I see a rabbit in my backyard, I usually just yell at it and it will go away.
In the ideal world, now I'm ready to plant. In reality, I planted first and then noticed the damage by animals and then installed the fence and traps.
Step 3: Planting in Retaining Wall
Fill each planting space with potting mix: Photo 1.
Cover the brick surface with a thin layer of grass clippings. Photo 2. The reason behind that is to pamper the plants because the brick surface is rough and absorbs a lot heat which can wound plants I think.
Plant one cucumber seed or seedling in each space: photo 3.
Caring of the plants: I collect rain water (photo 4) and use it to water my cucumbers once everyday in the morning. And that's all I need to do to enjoy cucumbers once the backyard animals are kept away from them. During mid- to later in the season, I may use water soluble all purpose plant food once every two weeks.
Mostly I eat cucumber as a salad, last photo, or just eat it raw as a juicy, crunchy, refreshing snack.
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