Gardening can be a real challenge sometimes. This year is proving to be no exception. As if the grasshopper invasion wasn't bad enough now the deer have shown up and decided that my green tomatoes are the latest best snack. Deer don't usually eat green tomatoes but sometimes you get a nut case that somehow develops a taste for them. The result can be pretty devastating. They will go through your tomato plants and pull off every tomato that they can find. I have only picked one ripe tomato so far this year and sure enough a tomato eating deer turned up. The evidence is plain, pieces of tomatoes laying around and broken plants and lots of tracks. But this time I came up with a plan. I decided to try booby trapping the plants.
Step 1: Fireworks
Booby traps are also called pull string fireworks. When the strings are pulled it sets off a small bang. Its not as loud as a firecracker but it does make a pretty good pop. In states were fireworks are legal they are sold all over. They are not very dangerous because they have no fuse, do not need lighting and are very low yield. For making noise in the garden they are perfect.
Step 2: The Plan
The plan was very simple. Create a maze of string, using monofiliment fishing line, which is invisible at night, with booby trap fireworks spread out in the line. When a deer walks into the line it pulls the strings and sets off the caps. If they run the wrong way they may go through several of them, making it an even more unpleasant experience. The hope is to scare them off without causing anybody or anything any harm and saving a few tomatoes for me.
Ya know, I wouldn't mind sharing with the deer, but they don't understand that concept. They will leave you nothing if you don't somehow force them to relocate. They will come back every night, across miles of fields just to destroy your food. Not a very nice neighbor.
For those who have expressed concern about the line being a hazard please look at the picture. It is a fine enough line that it will not pose a hazard to any animals, including dogs and cats. It is the thickness of thread and it is as close to invisible as I could find. That is the way you want it to be. The line does not do anything more than trigger the booby traps. And when the traps are pulled apart the line is in pieces. This is not for snaring or trapping, its just for scaring off problem animals.
Step 3: Setting It Up.
I have a lot of small fence posts from my old electric fence and they work perfect for all kinds of things including this.
Place the posts around the tomatoes with lots of open ground in between. Tie some fishing line to one post and reel it out to another post. Cut it somewhere in the middle and tie a booby trap string to each cut end. Tie it to the other post and if the line is a little slack then just wrap it around the post until its nice and taut. Don't get it to tight and set off the trap. Continue around the plants running line where ever it looks like it might block the deer's path. When your done you should see what almost looks like a spider web running through the garden.
And in case you run into the problem, the booby traps are not water proof. If they get too wet they will not work. A very simple solution for that is to wrap them in a little piece of cellophane or plastic food wrap.
I have now found an easier and better way to waterproof the traps. I got a can of spray sealant called matte finish. This is the stuff that artists use to spray chalk drawings to keep them from smudging. A lite coat of it on the traps makes them water resistant. So its just a fast spritz and that is it.
Step 4: A Good Night.
You know its all worked when you check on things in the day and find several popped traps. And the best thing is, no damaged tomatoes. Its hard to guess if it will continue to work. Sometimes deer get used to things and then start ignoring it. I just hope it works as a deterrent long enough for me to get some tomatoes without having to go to the extreme of building protective fences around all the tomato plants. So far so good.
Some other thoughts:
You might wonder why not just use the electric fence? I do have lots of that wire left over from when I had horses. The problem is deer just jump over fences. Or the go under them. Fences that are a barrier to deer are about 8 feet high and made of a woven or welded wire. Deer usually just go where they feel like going and not much stops them.
We have only a few more weeks until it frosts here, so I don't want to go to a lot of effort for this. This is just a temporary solution. If it was at the beginning of the summer I might put up a chicken wire cage around the tomatoes, but that has a lot of drawbacks by itself. Like I said deer don't normally eat tomatoes. They don't like the taste of the plants at all. I have had times when they bit off some to try and just dropped it because it tastes bad to them. But the ones that get a taste for green tomatoes are a big problem.
Every spring when I plant snow peas I have to cover them completely with welded fence wire. The deer love them so much they will eat them to the ground. But squash and other things they leave alone. Once in a while they take a few bites of potato plants but again they don't really like them. Lettuce however they will eat to the ground. So, its a challenge, figure out what they like and protect it the best you can and plant a lot of what they don't like and hope they leave it alone.
Another solution is a dog that likes to chase them. I had one of those for years and then she got run over on the highway. And sometimes a dog can do as much damage to a garden as a deer can, only they don't eat stuff, they just dig it up and tear it up. For this moment and for this problem this appears to be working. So far.
A Final note for the fall.
We just had our first frost so this experiment is coming to its end. It has worked far better than I ever thought it would. After the first 3 incursions the deer left my garden totally alone for more than three weeks. After that they tried one more time and have yet to return. . I just set off a few of the traps that have been in place since the beginning and they still pop with no problem in spite of being rained on. So all of that together has made this a successful experiment. I will definitely use it again next year for a longer period of time and may even try putting some of them in the paths that the deer are using.