It’s mid-July already, halfway through the summer and we’ve already lost 15 minutes of daylight since the season began. I was struck by how quickly the living year passes just the other day when I realized it was time to pull up the last of my snap peas and plant something else – a “fall” crop, no less. I had waited patiently all winter for the snow and cold to go away, anxiously testing the garden soil every day in anticipation of getting my peas planted well before the frost was completely out of the ground. Now the peas are in the freezer, the pea vines are in the compost pile and I’m waiting for the broccoli and rutabagas to sprout.
This has been an interesting year for gardening, at least when it comes to keeping the deer out of the succulents. A nearby neighbor has his garden about 100 yards from his house while mine is a few steps away from the back deck. Deer, turkeys and other ravagers of fresh produce have been eyeing his neatly-tended rows of beans, squash and cucumbers since the first true leaves appeared. I’ve long known that the wild critters are masters of knowing when a crop is just ready to harvest, and they inevitably show up the night before, sampling every fruit and vegetable, devouring others and effectively trashing a long spring’s hard work.
Because this isn’t my first grow-your-own rodeo, I cleverly went the extra mile and purchased a few bags of Milorganite, a nasty-smelling fertilizer that deer find particularly repugnant. Milorganite is manufactured by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. The District captures wastewater from the metropolitan Milwaukee area, including local industries such as Miller Coors. This water is then treated with microbes to digest nutrients that are found in it, and cleaned water is returned to Lake Michigan. The resulting microbes are then dried, becoming Milorganite fertilizers. Sounds gross, I know, but it’s cheap, effective and perfectly safe. You’re more likely to die from a shark bite or lightning strike than from Milorganite poisoning, or so they say. Most of us were raised on processed foods that have more scary stuff in them than Milorganite, and I know for a fact that spreading Cheerios around the garden won’t keep the deer out.
Anyway, my neighbor decided that it was entirely too expensive to spread Milorganite around his garden ($18 a bag and good for five weeks per application) and decided to take his chances. Of course, those who take chances also take risks, and he was willing to risk his entire crop of beans. Score one for the deer, because one night last week the voracious whitetails came in and devoured every one of his bean plants – three rows – and, surprise, they didn’t touch a single plant in my garden, not even the half-dozen fruit trees I’d just put in this spring.
The stuff definitely works; I happened to be up late one night and saw three deer circling my garden, snorting and stomping, looking for a way past the odiferous barrier, till they finally gave up and headed for the neighbor’s yard.
There are many other methods of repelling deer but none have worked for me. A walk around the garden every few weeks sprinkling Milorganite along the edges seems to be the trick. I’m not sure if it works on moose, bears or other scavengers but it sure does send the deer packing!
Speaking of scavengers, of late I have been inundated with woodpecker broods of various species. I’m actually going through more suet this summer than I did all winter. At first it was the adult birds coming in to steal gobs of suet for their growing broods, but now entire families are zipping back and forth from the maples to the porch to gag down their share of the fatty stuff.
When one thinks of woodpeckers its normal to imagine a black-and-white speckled bird that can walk vertically up and down tree trunks and branches with ease, a unique talent shared by only a few other species, primarily nuthatches and flickers. One might also think that upwards hopping is a natural instinct but this year’s crop of woodpecker fledglings seem to indicate that it’s a learned skill.
For the last several days I’ve been watching the newly-hatched woodpeckers practice their flying, landing and foraging skills and from what I’ve seen they are not born knowing what to do. Flying alone is an adventure – they completely miss their targets, sail on by the porch posts and flail like runaway helicopters when they try to correct their flight paths. The few birds that manage to reach the 4x4s on the porch immediately slide down past the suet baskets and hit the railing with a thud, and then begin to thrash and scramble their way back up. Some land directly on the basket but upside down or sideways, and it’s obvious that they are not sure how to right themselves. Most end up flying back to the maples and trying again, and in some cases the practice sessions last all day without meaningful results. Woodpeckers, apparently, have a hard time learning not only how to fly but also how to land upright, providing many hours of amusement for me. I have seen them bump into the posts, the railing and each other in their efforts to land on the feeders. One landed in a pot of marigolds and another dove head first into a tangle of morning glories. I have to admire the young woodpeckers’ persistence and patience but in some cases I think they may have done better if they’d just walked across the yard to the feeder.
Not that the other animals competing for feeder treats are doing much better. I’m still playing the “boot game” with the chipmunks that like to gather sunflower seeds and hide them in my rubber boots on the porch. About once a week I find a gallon of seeds in the boots and simply dump them back into the feeder. More kudos for persistence and patience are due the chipmunks but you’d think they’d realize that all their efforts are going for naught. We humans are not the only ones who are obsessive and compulsive!