The Thing That Took Me by Surprise, When I Started Growing My Own Food.
By Anne-Marie Miller (Dash)
I have been growing food for my family for some time now, first at the community garden and then in my very own front yard garden. At my stage of gardening, I am researching new varieties and experimenting with the latest in pest control. Lately though, I have had some visitors to the homestead that are just beginning their adventure toward self-reliance. These newbies, if you will, have compelled me to wander back down the garden path to the very beginning. I write articles and start gardens for people because I want to inspire them to grow healthy food for themselves and their families. One thing I want to do is allow others to learn from my mistakes. This way they might be able to avoid some of the pitfalls in their own garden journey.
Here is something I have recently learned: You have to protect what’s growing!
I will never forget the first weeks after the creation of the community garden. We had worked so hard, tilling, adding compost, and hauling mulch. We planted and waited with childlike anticipation for our sprouts to come up and reach for the sun. They did come up. Those little green beginnings were such a welcomed sight to see. However, our joy would be short lived. One by one we went to check on our plots to find everything annihilated. I mean, it was like we hadn’t even planted!
Before you even start thinking about constructing your garden you will need to put up a fence to protect it. For the purpose of keeping out rabbits, it can be a short fence. The fence around my front yard garden is only 2 ½ feet tall. Chicken wire stapled on the inside of the fence and laid against the ground all around the garden provides an excellent rabbit barrier. Because my fence is in my front yard it needed to look nice, comply with city regulations, but still not break the budget. I came up with a way of transforming a free pallet into a fence section that looks like a pretty picket fence. I have step by step instructions on how to make the fence, with pictures included HERE.
Before you sit back and breathe a sigh of relief, know that there are a couple of other furry bandits that will be interested in your bounty. Squirrels will eat every melon you can coax out of the hard ground just as it turns ripe. It is enough to make an urban gardener go nuts! I wrote an article about the best way to defend your melons against these rats with good P.R. If you missed the article you can see it HERE.
Speaking of rats (the ones without a fluffy tail and the perks of a P.R. department) they will take out every bell pepper on your bush and most of your tomatoes! I know traps are a hard thing for some of us to use, but please, please do not use poison. Our raptors will thank you! We had a family of screech owls nest in my neighbor’s tree one Summer. It was so fascinating to see the owlets leave the nest and make their way into the wide, wide world. Poison is NOT an option for me.
Surprisingly, I believe that pressure from rodents is greater in an Urban/Suburban environment. Their natural predators have been virtually eliminated. I mean, after all, in my city we have a leash law on our cats! No one feels warm and fuzzy about snakes and our raptors, as I mentioned, are being poisoned. During the dry Summer months many pests are just after a cool drink. If I had to do it over I would have installed a fountain in the middle of my front yard garden. It would have been aesthetically pleasing and probably saved me quite a few tomatoes.
As an urban farmer it is up to you to protect the food for your family responsibly. Take it from me, I have tried every trap on the market. This is the one that worked for me. It is a 16”x 5” one door, small rodent trap made by Duke Company, model #1100. It is a live trap, so it is totally up to you what you do with the furry menace after you trap it. You can take it to a beautiful park and release it if you want to. Me, not so much. People ask me, “How can you make those hard decisions on the homestead? How can you take the innocent life of an animal/rodent?”
“As an urban farmer it is up to you to protect the food for your family responsibly.”
I would ask them a question in return, “Have you ever seen the hungry look in the eyes of a child, your child?” It’s more common in America than you think. On my homestead I will protect what I grow, at least from furry pests because I HATE that look.
Setting the traps has become a regular garden chore that I have added to my nighttime routine. It took me a long time of trial and error to find ways to protect my garden from these big pests before I could even address the tiny pest crawling around my garden.
There is one pest that you can use to your advantage. You would never guess what it is. If you play your cards right they will take care of insects in your garden for you. I am talking about song birds. The trick is to provide suet feeders. Opposed to bird seed, you will attract the protein eating birds, instead of squirrels. Song birds can eat A LOT of insects. Insects that are feasting on your food!
Last Summer I had a pair of Mockingbirds working my garden. Yes, I lost the occasional tomato, but it was worth it. It was like having a swift flying mafia presence guarding my front yard garden. They would dive bomb squirrels and scatter sparrows. It was their space that they allowed me to share. I provided them with suet feeders when food was scarce and fresh water during the dry months. They, in turn, protected my garden from tomato horn worms, cabbage moths and squirrels!
Some other techniques I have tried, with mixed results, were red Christmas balls in amongst my tomatoes, Summer pin wheels whirling brightly in the breeze and even a scare crow in the middle of the front yard garden. My daughter named him Gilbert. She is the giver of names on the homestead.
All I have to say about these techniques is that they have to be moved around regularly to be effective. I did a double take one day when I passed by a window and saw Gilbert in the middle of the garden. My first thought, “Who’s in the garden?” Then I realized, it was just Gilbert. I was relieved when two of my boys admitted that they had the same instantaneous reaction. After a few weeks we got used to Gilbert being the man in the center of things and the squirrels did too.
So, if you are going to use a scarecrow or pin wheels then mix it up and move it around. Keep it fresh and “scary!”
When I began a garden years ago I knew I would have trouble with insects and I also knew that unpredictable weather could present a challenge. However, I was totally taken by surprise by the other furry critters that I would have to constantly compete with for my food! I hope I have not overwhelmed you. On the contrary, I hope I have given you a heads up to a potential obstacle standing in your way to gaining a foothold in the steps of independence in the revolution of taking control of your own healthy food!
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog: BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.
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